None of the assembled media inside Beaver Stadium’s press room knew what to expect from Coach Franklin. This season’s press conferences delivered the stunning (Ivan Drago), the captivating (the Dalai Lama), and even the questionable (Abe Lincoln beard growing contest). But following Coach Franklin’s post-game presser against Ohio State, the hardened veterans of central Pennsylvania’s best sports beat prepared for whatever may come.
Well friends, “it” came. Into the room and onto the stage strode James Franklin in John Wayne’s 1948 Red River costume, replete with six-shooter by his side. And just like The Duke, Coach Franklin pulled no punches, barking his deep baritone lines into the microphone.
“Ten years and I’ll have the PSU Chipmunk on more people than you’ve looked at anywhere. I’ll have that brand on enough beef to feed the whole country. Good beef for hungry people. Beef to make ‘em strong, make ‘em grow. But it takes work, and it takes sweat, and it takes time, lots of time. It takes years.”
Um - beef to “make ‘em strong”, Coach?
“I don’t like quitters, especially when they’re not good enough to finish what they start.”
His fist violently struck the podium - and that was it from Coach Franklin’s Thomas Dunson reprisal. Corey Geiger let escape a frightened whimper in the far left corner of the room. The message came through loud and clear. He doesn’t say much. But what he says, he means - and he’ll hold you to your word, even if it means killing you, which doesn’t bother him half as much as if you’d broken your word or quit. It’d already been 4.5 long years of positivity. This spectacle stood in stark contrast to all that came before it. It was a landmark point in Coach Franklin’s Penn State tenure, and not one we’ll ever soon forget.
And Then The Presser Started
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Going to try to add to our tradition and history here. We’ve got so many unbelievable things that one of the things that we discussed a couple weeks ago and were able to get it running, and we’re going to do this, start a new tradition here for the homecoming game each year, we’re going to have a lead bus that brings us to the stadium for our normal walk into the stadium and that bus will be full of Penn State lettermen. So they are going to lead us into the stadium. That first bus will be a number of Penn State lettermen, basically it’s first come, first serve. Once the bus is full, the bus is full. I thought that would be a really nice thing for us to do every single year on home coming.
We have so much respect and appreciation for our lettermen. It’s another way to show our respect to them and honor them in a way. So that’s that. That’s maybe some of the changes for home coming, and then also what we’re able to get done in the bye week.
Shifting to Michigan State, got a lot of respect for Coach Dantonio, what he’s been able to do in his career and the Michigan State program. It’s very, very impressive what he’s been able to do in his 12 years there.
Very consistent. We’re facing a team that’s got as many returning starters as any team in the country, 29 of 30 starters returning off a 10-3 team. A group of guys that know how to win and a bunch returning from a leadership perspective, as well.
And then offense, Dave Warner has done as good a job as any offensive coordinator in our league over the time that he’s been there.
They do a lot of different things. You know, they are as multiple as you’ll probably see. 11-personnel is their lead personnel group. 12-personnel is their next most popular personnel group at 63 percent and then they also get into 21-personnel, which it’s almost like you never see that any more and also 22-personnel.
We’ll get a lot of different things we have to defend. We have to be ready for the power, the kick play, the truck -- we call it truck. Some people call it pin-and-pull. We have to be ready for all those things.
I think time of possession is something they do very well. They rank No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 10 in the country. We have to protect the football. They already do a great job of time of possession, so we can’t turn the ball over and put them in a situation which is really the style of play that they want to play with.
And guys we’re impressed with on offense, the quarterback, Brian Lewerke, seems like he’s been playing there forever: 64 percent completion ratio; is a guy that can beat you with his arm, his mind, his legs. I think he’s what most people are looking for at the quarterback position. He’s also 6-3, 220 pounds.
And then they have two wide receivers, Cody White is playing at a high level and then Felton Davis seems like he’s been playing there forever, as well, and done some great things and both of those guys have given us headaches in the past.
Defensively, Mike Tressel, Coach Dantonio, this defense is kind of what they have made their name on, really since Coach Dantonio has been there. You look at them: They are big, they are stout and they are physical, especially up front. They are a four down base defensive front.
They probably have a little bit more diversity from a coverage perspective than what you saw a few years back. They used to be a, what we call, quarters 4x and zero; they press the two outside receivers and play the two quarter safeties. They are playing other things now. They are playing cover one a little bit more than they have in the past and playing a little bit more fire zone than they have in the past, and they are pressuring about 30 percent of the time overall.
The thing that jumps out to everybody is they are No. 1 in the country in rush defense. No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 1 in the conference and in the country, so that’s something that jumps out.
We think the middle linebacker, No. 35, Joe Bachie, we think may be the best linebacker in the league that we have seen. Very productive, very physical. Great leader for them. Runs really well.
And then their defensive end, No. 48, Kenny Willekes, is really making a bunch of plays from a lot of different ways. Eight tackles for loss, four sacks, four quarterback hurries, 29 tackles.
And their cornerback, Justin Layne with, him being 6-3, kind of stands out to you on tape and during games. Seems like he’s been playing there for ever, as well. Has had a nice career.
And then special teams, Paul Haynes, is running their special teams right now. Paul has been a head coach and been very successful. You look at them, we are going to need to be ready and we have studied a lot of this and we have made a lot of cut-ups.
They are willing to run a fake at any time in the game. That goes back with Coach Dantonio. They are up by points; they will run a fake. They are down by points; they will run a fake. Different field positions, overtime to win the game.
You look at 2018, they ran a speed option versus IU.
They ran a kicker sweep versus Maryland in 2017.
They ran a kicker ISO against Rutgers in 2015, all on field goals.
Notre Dame, 2010, overtime to win the game, they run a tight end wing switch pass.
Notre Dame in 2016, they run a muddle two-point play.
They have run punt fakes versus Ohio State.
They ran a punt fake in 2016, and Northwestern on a kickoff; they ran a popover.
We have all these things cut up. We are showing them to our players to get prepared because they have a history of doing these things and they are going to look for these things and take their opportunity when they see them there.
We have got a real challenge. This is a program and a team that is very proud; that knows how to win, has been doing it for a long time. We have had some serious battles that have gone back and forth.
So look forward to the opportunity, and open up to any questions.
Q. You and others have talked about not allowing a loss to linger, and I was wondering, what have you seen from your players and coaches in the last ten days on that front, and secondly, how can Shane Simmons impact your defense?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we’re really excited about having Shane back. He’s a guy this spring and this summer we were really excited and he has not been available up to this point.
You know, we’ll see how much he plays, but even if he can give us ten to 15 plays on Saturday, and play those reps at a really high level, then I think it’s a win for us. And we’re excited about getting him back. He’s more of a complete player than he’s been in the past. He’s over 250 pounds. He always was a pass rusher but now we think he’s going to do a really, really good job, and playing the run, as well. So excited about that.
The other thing, you know, it hurts. It hurts our fans. It hurts our coaches. It hurts our players. I think the last thing you want to do is ignore that. You recognize that. You watch the film. You evaluate the film, you make the corrections and you move forward.
The thing that I’ve been really harping to the team this week is really two things, and I say this week, probably the last two weeks -- is really two things. No. 1, we’re at a point in our program, we have to fight for every little gain we possibly can find, and it’s not going to be in one specific area. Can we improve 1 percent in nutrition; can we improve 1 percent in sleep; can we improve 1 percent in scheme; can we improve 1 percent in terms of practice, effort and focus, in meetings, in taking notes and all those types of things. Because that’s really where we’re at.
So we spend a lot of time talking about that, and challenging each coach, including myself and the players, to all look at it that way. You know, how can we get 1 percent better in multiple areas and there’s tremendous value in that. So that’s been the one thing.
And I think the other thing is this -- and this I know has been helpful to me and helpful to our players and our coaches is, you know, I think the people that study our program closely, you guys, the media, our fans, our coaching staff and our players, it’s always got to start with a simple question, and that is: Have we gotten better?
I know we did not finish the game the way anybody wants us to finish the game. I get that. But okay, we understand that. We study that. We learn from that. We grow from that.
But let’s go back to that first question: Did we get better from week one to two? Yes? Did we get better from week two to week three; we’ve gotten better every single week. If we continue to do that individually and collectively, I think we’ll like where we’re going to be.
You know, those are things that we can control. There’s other things outside of our control. Do I think some of those things probably helped this week? Yeah.
Our players, we didn’t as coaches, but our players were able to sit around and watch college football all day and a lot of teams across the country got beat. Me and my wife were talking in between schools, and we were saying, is there a way to get every single team in the country to lose this weekend. I don’t know if that’s mathematically possible, but me and my wife were trying to come up with a way for that to happen.
But you know, I know our players sat around watching college football and a lot of teams got beat. A lot of teams got upset. So the things that we can control, which is getting 1 percent better in multiple areas, that’s all of us, players, coaches and everybody as a program is something we can control and focus on.
The other thing about, have we gotten better every single week, I don’t think there’s too many people out there that could argue different; that we haven’t gotten better every single week.
So those are the things that we can control and that’s what our focus is going to be and then all the other things that are outside of our control, we’re going to try not to listen to those things and we’re going to try not to focus on those things and we’re going to focus on our process.
Q. You brought up Brian Lewerke, the Michigan State quarterback. He had a pretty big game against you last year. What do you think are a couple of keys trying to defend him better this year?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think his mobility is a major factor. Being able to make sure that we can take some of those easy throws away from him, keep him in the pocket so he can’t extend plays.
So I think getting pressure is great, but being able to get pressure in a way that we keep him in the pocket; so he can’t extend plays, and now it’s difficult to cover anybody for that long.
I think that’s the biggest thing. If you look back with Coach Dantonio over his career, they always want to establish the run and when they are able to do both, they are difficult to defend.
But I think with their quarterback, I think the biggest thing is make him hold on to the ball and try to keep him in the pocket. Our contain rushers and things like that cannot allow him to break contain and get on the perimeter, where now he can hurt you by running the ball, or now our defensive backs have to cover for an extended period of time, which is always challenging.
Q. What has stood out most to you about Pat Freiermuth so far, and how quickly has he been able to pick things up as both a receiver and a blocker?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think the thing that we notice pretty quickly is the stage just isn’t too big for him. It hasn’t been in the weight room. It hasn’t been in practice. It hasn’t been in meetings. You never know when the lights come on, but it hasn’t seemed to be there, as well. He’s a very confident guy. He’s a very poised guy.
He’s physical. That’s something that we have shown the team, examples of big runs and big plays that he’s had where he’s pan caked people. He’s playing really well right now.
But we also have a lot of confidence in our other tight ends, as well. A couple of those guys have been banged up or had some injuries and things like that. It’s great having Bowers back. We think those two guys are a really nice complement.
We felt like Holland had a really good off-season and summer camp. So being able to get him back, as well. We’re expecting to get all these guys back this week, and Danny Dalton has done some really nice things for us.
I think it’s a really good unit and we have enough depth there; so that when we do have a bump or bruise or whatever it may be, we have enough depth there that guys can step in and get the job done for us.
I’m pleased with how Coach Rahne has recruited that position when he was coaching that position, and I think Tyler Bowen has come in and done a nice job with his O-line background at that position, too. Been very pleased with him and the whole group.
Q. Do you expect K.J. Hamler to be able to play Saturday?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah.
Q. Staying with your receivers, can you explain the inconsistency with the older guys, where that’s headed in your mind, and also, can you tell us where Justin Shorter’s progress is right now?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, a lot of confidence in our wide receivers. I know they want to play at a higher level and I know Coach Corley wants them to play at a higher level and they have done some really good things, but it’s consistency. I think between Trace and those guys getting on the same page and doing it every single day at practice, that will translate into the games. We’re very confident.
I believe in those guys. I believe in how we do things and how we operate. So I have a lot of confidence; I have a lot of confidence there.
You know, Justin Shorter, got banged up and got some bruises and things like that during camp and missed a significant amount of time, and I would say it probably seems like it’s more significant because when you’re a young guy, those reps are critical.
So it’s delayed some of his opportunities and slowed down some of his development but we feel really good about that whole freshman class. That’s a really good class. They have all done some really good things at times.
But we also have that redshirt freshman class that factor in for us, as well. We’ll just continue working with these guys and keep developing them and keep loving them up, but I think that unit has a chance to be really special and I know it’s going to happen at some point. Hopefully it’s this weekend.
Q. You talked after the Ohio State game about trying to make everyone -- their team was too comfortable being a great program and now you want to make them uncomfortable to become elite. How have you seen your captains and your team leaders taken what you said about that and how have they gotten the message out to their teammates and how have you gotten the message out to the team?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: A couple things.
I’m going to answer the question, but you know, what I would probably say to everybody is, you know, we had a press conference last week on the field after practice. Had a chance to answer some questions. I really kind of want to move on to what we did during the bye week and what we’re going to do against Michigan State. I don’t want to be talking about something from two weeks ago, but I will answer your question.
I think it’s funny, the responses of that have been interesting. I’ve gotten a lot of really positive responses from athletic directors across the country within our own conference, from high school coaches, from recruits. There’s other people that haven’t liked it a whole lot.
But I will tell you, one of the things we talked about with the players and with the coaches is this is really what we’ve been talking about for a while. We’ve made some pretty good strides.
Again, I think the people that cover our program closely from before we arrive to since we’ve arrived and what we’ve been able to do the last couple years, I think it’s clearly obvious to everybody that we’re making great progress and we’ve done some things that probably people would have questioned before arriving.
So I think the trajectory of the program and what we’re doing is really good, but I’ve talked about this for a while; that, you know, as hard as we’ve worked to get to where we are now, there’s another step that has to happen, and that is difficult to do. That is challenging to do, and every stage you get to, you fight like heck to get to that stage and then break through and get to that next level and that’s kind of where we’re at.
You know, one of the things that we talked about a little bit with the players is that year we started out 2-2 and the coaches were all over everything, the players were all over everything. We had a players-only meeting and we had a lot of discussions with the leadership council and the captains and then we won nine straight. There was a shift. There was a shift, and there was a change in how we approach things and our standards of how we do things: Holding each other accountable, that’s coaches; that’s players; that’s coaches to players; that’s players to coaches, that’s everything. We need to continue on that path. We need to continue on that path and challenging each other and pushing to have that next breakthrough.
Again I’m very, very pleased with the direction of the program and where we’re going, but we’ve got to fight to get to that next level. We have to fight to get to that next stage, and like I said, it’s not going to be any one moment, where you have this “A-ha” moment and the light goes on.
It’s that daily grind on little things that most people overlook. I think you guys have heard me talk about: You go eat at a nice restaurant, a very successful restaurant. Why is that restaurant successful? Because they do all the little things better than anybody.
You stay in a really nice hotel and that hotel is really successful and it’s been successful over years and years and years; why have they been successful? It’s when you call down to the front desk; it doesn’t ring more than three times and someone answers it.
It’s all those little things that add up and we’ve got to look at our organization the same way, how we sit in meetings, how we take notes in meetings, coaches going back through the game plan and looking through everything with a magnifying glass, in as much detail as we possibly can because we’ve got to fight and scratch and claw to have that next breakthrough as a program. I think we’re headed there. All signs show that. But it’s still going to be a lot of heavy lifting.
Q. Can you take me through the process of C.J. Thorpe making the transition from an offensive player to a defensive player?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, so we talked to C.J. this summer about it. It was a discussion. We have some veteran players who have played a lot of football and then we kind of have a gap of some young players that haven’t played a whole lot of football, and he is a big, strong aggressive, powerful, violent kid with a motor.
You see it on offense, and that’s why the offensive coaches weren’t real fired up about losing him. And I would still make the argument, his greatest long-term potential is on the offensive side of the ball. He’s got a lot of characteristics where you’d like to recruit ten C.J.s and plug them into a lot of different places.
It just came to the point where we had a need, a more urgent, pressing need. We waited on it this summer and then it got to a point where we felt like we needed to make a move. So we revisited it, brought him in, and C.J.’s first response was, “is this because you guys” -- I think he said, “Is this because you guys think I suck on offense?”
And I was like, “No, no one thinks that. Quite the opposite. It’s because we feel like you can go over and help us.”
He’s very strong, very strong, especially in his lower half. He’s aggressive. He’s explosive. He’s about 323 pounds. So it gives us an older guy.
I think I got a question last week after the Tuesday or Wednesday practice, whatever it was, about why C.J. Well, instead of a redshirt freshman possibly when he’s competing with, he’s a redshirt sophomore, another year in the program, developing growing.
Now it’s all the fundamentals and technique and I think the thing that’s challenging is although he picked up the system fairly quickly, there’s still all the fundamentals. Coming off the ball as an offensive lineman is very different than coming off the ball as a defensive lineman; where you put your hands, how you accelerate your feet, the way your base is. It’s very different.
But he can make up for a lot of that lack of technique and fundamentals with those other traits that I’ve already described. So we’ve just got to continue speeding up his maturation process with the techniques and fundamentals, and we think we’ve got, you know, a guy that could be a problem in there at the nose tackle position.
Q. How has Michigan State been so good against the run? Are they doing something that you notice that really impresses you in that area?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think the biggest thing is up front. Their D-tackles and their D-ends are big, are strong, are physical, are very, very aggressive. They have got the two Panasiuk boys inside that we recruited that are problems, that are problems, very physical, very physical inside.
Raequan Williams is massive. He’s 6-4,300 pounds. When you watch the tape and you’re looking at all those thighs and legs and rear ends, I mean, they are massive.
The defensive end, Willekes, who we talked about before, is very disruptive, as well.
And then they have a middle linebacker that I already mentioned that we think is one of the better linebackers that we’ve seen on tape this year in Bachie.
They are committed to it. If you look at this system with Coach Dantonio, with Coach Narduzzi, with Coach Tressel -- I throw Narduzzi because they come from the same family, the same tree; they have been good on defense and specifically stopping the run for a long time.
So they take a lot of pride in making you one-dimensional, and you know, you see that on tape, as well. You see that on tape, as well. I know they take a lot of pride in it.
Q. What positives do you take out of your defense and what did you learn about them from the first 52 minutes versus what do you think happened in the last eight minutes? Did they get tired or worn down, or was it just things that Ohio State was doing to take advantage?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, again, I want to answer your question. But I already said a few questions ago, that we talked about that game after the game in the press conference and then we talked about that game last week on Tuesday when we had a little press conference -- Wednesday, excuse me -- after practice.
So I’d like to really talk about the bye week. I’d like to talk about Michigan State.
I can talk in general about our defense. I think we took a real stride last week. Again, I think our defense played really well last week against one of the best offenses in the country, but we’ve still got work to do. Again, I’d prefer to answer questions about the bye week and about Michigan State and our focus on that moving forward.
Had some questions about how do you move on to the next game; it’s by stop talking about the previous game.
Again, I know you’ve got to do your job and that’s a question you want to ask based on what you want to write, but I’ve already kind of said a few questions ago that I prefer to keep my answers about the bye week and the upcoming opponent.
Q. Can you talk about how big the bye week was for a lot of the true freshmen that you have playing, and also, do you have redshirt decisions to make now on P.J. and Ricky because they are at that four games and they didn’t play in the last game?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don’t think anything’s really changed. We had already green-lighted Ricky. We had already green-lighted P.J. We had already kind of made that decision. We weren’t really counting games with those guys; unless something happened, we were going to play those guys this year.
I do think we have some other guys that have only played a little bit and we need to manage that, and there’s still time to make that decision. Those guys want to play.
So are we going to green-light them for the second half of the season; are we going to manage it and try to take them up to the limit where they play a decent amount but not enough to burn a year; that’s the stuff that still needs to be managed, but no real changes in the original plan have been formed at this point.
You know, the bye week I think was good for a lot of our non-travel guys, whether that’s older guys that are doing a great job for us each week or whether that is young guys that have just joined the program that are trying to kind of figure some things out.
Yeah, they got an extra practice. They were out in full pads getting some live work when the vets were just in really helmets and cleats and things like that.
A lot of these plans are based on years of experience of other places that I’ve been, as well as talking to the sports science people and everything else. I thought the bye week went probably as good as it could have gone. But again, we’ve got to use that moving forward.
Q. How do you assess what you’ve gotten from gross Matos through the first five games and where has his game developed most over the past year?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think just more complete. A lot like some of the other guys we talked about, like with Shane, I think a lot of those young defensive ends, I think early on in their career, they are just more focused on sacking the quarterback and a lot of the speed-type stuff, and maybe don’t have the bodies yet to be the complete players that we need them to be in the Big Ten. They can be role players in certain situations.
And I think that’s kind of where Yetur is growing. He’s much better against the run right now. He’s very physical. He’s very strong. He’s got a really good motor and I think he can be even better. We’ve seen flashes of really good stuff.
You’d like to see a little more production, but I think he can be more productive in terms of sacking the quarterback, tackles for loss, tackles in general, things like that. But I do know he’s a disruptive presence out there and I think you’ll see him continue to grow as he gains experience.
Q. With the bye week, when you look at the offense from points per game, yards, etc., what are your thoughts on the job that Ricky Rahne has done, and how has he evolved since taking over full-time as the offensive coordinator?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think really good. Again, I know his coaches, myself, and all the assistants, with the fans and with the media, you focus on specific plays and specific situations, and trust me, we’re looking at all those things as hard as anybody, but I do think your point is a good one.
You know, look at where we’re at. Look at where we’re at across the board, not just in specific plays, not just in specific moments. That’s myself, that’s the offense, that’s the defense, that’s special teams.
But I think we’ve been pretty productive. I think we’ve been pretty consistent both in the run and the pass. We’ve done a really good job. I think at one point we were leading the nation in scoring.
So you know, I think overall, I think Ricky and Brent and Phil and all of our coaches have done a really good job. Again, I know after last week, there’s criticism. I get that.
Again, and that’s me included. I understand; I get that. You don’t fill up 110,000-seat stadium without passion. When you win, there’s nothing better. When you lose, you know, that same passion spills over into other areas, as well. So we get that. We embrace that. We know that comes with the territory.
But I love our coaches. I love our players. I love what we’re building and where we’re going and what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with. We’re just going to keep plugging away.
But again, there’s nobody more critical of us more than we are.
Q. You mentioned in the bye week that you were going to take a look defensively at how teams were tackling you and what you could do to counteract that. Is there anything that’s declassified or any interesting nuggets you might be able to share? And how do you balance that philosophically when being so aggressive has made you very successful but at times has also led to a lot of big plays?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I think you essentially hit it right on the head there. When you’re aggressive, and you play really good, with any scheme, with anything you do on offense, defense, special teams, there’s strengths and there’s weaknesses.
If you’re blitzing a lot, you’re susceptible to the screen game, and you need to identify and know what that weakness is so that when you are blitzing and you are being aggressive like that, everybody needs to know how people will attack you when you’re doing that and what our answer is.
And it can’t just be: I’m going to pin my ears back and so sack the quarterback. Those responsibilities are critical, are critical, as well. So the screen game is a big one. We’ve worked on whether that’s a traditional screen to a running back or whether that’s a perimeter screen to a wide receiver. You know, people trying to get their athletes in space, athletes in space.
You go throw, you make an efficient play cut-up, you make an explosive play cut-up, you look at it and say, what themes are there, what plays are hurting us more than others. That’s other things, as well, that we see that are themes that people try to do to attack us week-in and week-out. So those are the things that we spend a lot of time during the bye week in talking about.
But overall, you know, again, I go back to I think we have gotten dramatically better from week one, and we’ve got to improve in those areas, and we’ll be saying that in week 11. There’s things that we’re doing really well and these are areas we still need to get better at.
But I think as we gain experience, not only in terms of fundamentals and technique and confidence in playing, but also, I think as young players, you spend so much time focused on the defensive call or the offensive play or the special teams assignment that you have, and we’ve got to get to the point where their responsibility and their assignment is second nature and now they are thinking about: How is the defense going to try to attack; what do I need to be aware of.
What you’re really trying to get all players to do, which is critical at the quarterback position and critical at every position, is: Can you anticipate? Okay. We’re calling this defense, and they line up in this formation, and in this formation, they typically do these two or three things, and if they do this, this could cause us problems because in this defense, our weakness is here.
In this offensive call, you know, and play, our challenge is here, and I think that’s where we have to get as a program. We have to gain that experience. If the guys aren’t thinking about their jobs any more, they are playing fast, and they are able to react to what the offense or what the defense or what the special teams is doing.
That’s the next step for us, and I would say, we probably have more players doing that than not, but we’ve got to get those not guys, you know, up to that level where they can anticipate, because that’s when you really start playing fast is when you can anticipate as a quarterback or as an offensive player, based on safety rotation or linebacker skew, you know what they are going to do before the ball snaps. That’s when you hear players say, well, the game has slowed down. That’s what’s happened. They are able to anticipate before the ball snaps what’s going to happen.
That’s the same thing on defense. They line up in this formation based on all the film study we’ve done, they are going to do one of these three things, and now, I can identify it as quickly as I possibly can, and I’ll go play fast because I know what’s coming; I know what they are about to do.
Q. I know you guys like to kind of prepare, go through every scenario and last year, after Michigan State, you said after the game that you guys would totally analyze that weird delay and how you went about doing that. How did you break that down in the off-season and what were some of the things that came from that in case you were ever faced with that situation again?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think we talked about that at an earlier press conference. I think I got asked that when we first came back, but I’ll cover it again.
Basically what we found is, it’s a challenging solution to come up with because essentially each team in the Big Ten doesn’t really have the space needed. Who has got a room big enough that’s not being used on game day to house 150 people? Is there all going to be the advantage to the home team? No doubt about it, based on their space.
I’d like to be critical of other people’s visiting locker rooms, but ours isn’t great. So I think you’d better be careful when you start taking shots at other people if you haven’t really looked at yourself.
Could we travel more food? Yes. And have we talked about all those things? Yes. How do you get out of -- how do you get out of your wet clothes when you don’t have dryers and you don’t know how long the break is going to be, whether it’s 45 minutes or three and a half hours? So now are we traveling extra underclothes so we can take off the underclothes and put a new set on; all those types of things.
So the things that we can control, yeah, we’ve got a plan for, but just there’s so many things that there’s not an answer for, unless Penn State and every other school in the conference is going to build massive structures for rain delays; that you’re going to leave open, whether there’s good weather or not, in case you get thunder and lightning. That’s not going to happen.
As much as we studied and look add it, what came out of it is every school in the Big Ten should have a protocol that they go to so that it’s not a scramble, because a lot of it, you’re reliant on that home stadium and what they are able to provide to you.
Q. Could you assess the field goal operation at this point and your confidence level and also your ball protection.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, there’s no doubt we’ve got to do a better job of protecting the football. I think you guys have heard me talk about it enough. You guys have studied the game enough. We all understand, you don’t turn the ball over; your likelihood of winning skyrockets.
We talk about that. We drill it every single day, more than any place that I’ve ever been and that has been good to us. That plan has been good to us, so we’ll stick to the plan.
In terms of field goal percentage, in terms of kickoff, I think those guys have done a nice job. Our operation is good. Those guys are kicking probably at a higher level than I would have anticipated, when you combine practice and games.
Do we need to be more consistent in games? Yes. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, both with field goal percentage as well as kickoff location and things like that.
But again, we have two true freshmen that I have a lot of faith in and that I have a lot of confidence in, and I think both those guys are going to have great years this year as well as great careers here at Penn State. I believe that.
Q. With K.J., the sample size is small, five games and 13 catches, but I think he has 24-and-a-half yards per catch. Have you been around a wide out that has that big-play potential? And also with Donovan Johnson, do you expect him to play this weekend?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I’ve been around -- if you look at my history with wide outs, I’ve been around some pretty good wide receivers. I think we’ve got record holders here at Penn State in terms of the Big Ten. I think we had the all-time leading receiver in the SEC what I was there in Jordan Matthews and Hamilton here at Penn State.
You look when I was at the Green Bay Packers, Donald Driver had the best year of his career up to that point. You look when I was at Maryland, we had Smith and Bay. You look when I was at Kansas State, Jordy Nelson in our offense, I think had 122 catches in one year for 1,600 yards and finished second in the Biletnikoff Award.
So you look at our history with the wide receiver position, production has been really good. Now, is K.J. right up there with those guys and as impressive as a redshirt freshman as I’ve been around? No doubt about it.
I think the thing that I probably like about K.J. just as much as how productive he’s been, is he is an energy giver. His ability to make meetings fun, to make practice fun, the locker room fun; coaches want to be around him; players want to be around him, and I think that undervalued.
I look at what’s going on in high school and I look at what’s going on in college and I look at what’s going on in the NFL, and you see really good examples of positive leadership and you look at examples of things that could be distractions.
K.J is what’s great about college football. He’s got an awesome mom and he’s got an awesome dad that couldn’t be more supportive of their son and couldn’t be more supportive of Penn State and what we’re doing here. He never asks for the ball. Just the opportunities he gets, he makes the most of them. He’s a positive impact on his teammates, on the coaches, on the players, on this community.
K.J. is like a lot of guys in our program. I could not be more proud of what our guys are doing in the classroom, what our guys are doing in the community and what our guys are doing on the football field. Partly that’s the type of young men we have. Partly that’s who we are bringing here. Partly that’s the development once they step on campus and the leadership that we have in the veteran players, as well.
He’s doing great, but I’ve been around some pretty good wide receivers in my career, and he’s right up there with them.
I probably missed a couple wide receivers out there. Whenever do you that, you hurt someone’s feelings. I didn’t mean to do that but I’ve been around some pretty good ones.
Q. Last week you mentioned the fact that because you tightened up who was getting reps, that resulted in some running out of gas towards the end. Do you try to make that your formula for the next seven games, or do you reassess to opening it up to a rotation or how do you find that balance?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think that’s a really good question and I think that’s a fair question.
If you look at us, we’ve gone back and studied. Again, we have looked at everything. You look at the games that we have lost like this, and there’s been a few of them, what are the themes, what are the patterns and that’s part of it. That’s part of it. We play our best players, and we get worn out late in the fourth quarter against really good football teams. The two things that we have to do is we have to be more willing to play the depth that we typically do.
As you guys know, I think a few weeks earlier, you guys were asking me tough questions, like why are you playing all these guys? Why not just play your starters more. And then we do that, and then we run out of gas.
Well, we didn’t do that because of your suggestions or your questions, but my point is, we’ve done that over my eight years as a head coach. I think the next step for us as a program is to really continue to work really hard at developing that next level player, that second team player that we have more depth there; that there’s not as much of a drop-off.
I think most programs around the country, the ones are the ones for a reason. But whether it’s for injury or whether it’s to keep guys fresh, that’s the next step for us. We have got to have more depth that the coaches feel great about playing; that when we know that when we put them in the game, they are going to play at a really high standard week-in and week-out.
Now, what we do is, we try to develop that, and then when we get to a game like we had last week, we had come up having discussions as a staff and with the players that this was our plan. You could make the argument after the fact that we should have played some of those guys, but I’d also make the argument, the plan was what got us to that point in the first place.
So again, that’s more just about studying kind of where we’re at as a program and the next steps for us and what we need to do.
But everything has been looked at. You guys question us, which is good. The players questioning each other and the coaches, the coaches questioning the players, coaches questioning each other, offense/defense, and defense/offense, and not from a defensive standpoint, I think that’s something we’ve done a good job of creating a climate.
I’ve been places where the defense knows the offense is doing something and there’s a tendency -- or the offense knows that the defense is doing something and it’s not sound and they don’t say anything because they don’t want to overstep their bounds. We don’t live like that.
We have really good conversations in other people’s words to give perspective. And then I go home, and I get in bed and my wife questions and challenges, and I think all those things are good. And I’m working really hard at not being defensive because you’re defensive because you care so much and you’re prideful, but all these questions are good because they allow you to make sure that you don’t have holes or blind spots in your program.
And the questions allow you to double-check and make sure those things don’t exist.
Q. This is not an Ohio State question. It’s just context.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Thank you.
Q. There were six plays in that game, some of the biggest -- no I promise.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: You guys are unbelievable (laughter).
Q. I promise. There were six plays in that game, some of the biggest yardages that you gained, in four of them, you lost yards and didn’t gain yards after that. How much of a process is it learning how to continue punching after chunk plays, especially when the past two years or so, that was something you guys were good at?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think being able to use momentum and continue that momentum is really important. There’s a lot of things that go on that you guys and the fans are unaware of and never will be because this is not the setting or the place to do those types of things.
But there’s reasons for when we don’t execute; that is, coaches making better calls; myself; the coordinators; the assistants. That is execution in terms of guys knowing their assignment and doing their assignment and that is -- sometimes, the guy across the field or the guy across the line, made a really good play.
And there’s a lot of different things that kind of go in there with those types of things.
We have to control the things that we can control. We’ve got to make the calls that we need to make at the right time, and we need to execute the plays. What happens is, it doesn’t seem like a lot but the O-line makes a critical error; the D-Line makes a critical error; the wide receivers make a critical error; the coaching staff makes a critical error; and you have, I don’t know, six, ten of those in a game; when your margin of error against an opponent like that is so small.
Now, don’t get me wrong, they did, too. And at the end of the day, it’s going to come down, when you’re playing that type of opponent and you’re going back and forth, two really good teams; it’s not going to come down to a lot of times who makes the most plays. It’s who makes the least amount of mistakes.
So that’s kind of what we’re doing is looking at all those things and we seem to stall out at around the 30-yard line and it comes -- it’s all of that. It’s a little bit of scheme. It’s a little bit of execution. It’s a little bit that they got really good players, as well.
I mean, the fourth and one call, again, here we are going back; but the fourth and one call, their defensive end makes an unbelievable play. He gets his hand up, bats the ball down. We’ve got a huge play. He makes a really good play.
So I really want to move on, but it’s hard to answer your guys’ questions, and you guys keep asking them, and if I don’t, then I’m rude. So I don’t know what the balance is. I’m still kind of trying to figure that out.
Kris, help; at some point jump in and help me here.
KRIS PETERSEN: You’re done.
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: That’s the best way to do it. Thanks, guys, appreciate it.