If you pegged James Franklin as an Edgar Winter fan, collect your winnings on what could only have been extremely long odds. As central PA’s hardened beat writers entered the press conference room, there stood Coach Franklin behind the dais, in a skin-tight polyester suit from the 1970s, elevated to well over seven feet tall with enormous platform shoes. Flowing white hair and bushy pork chop sideburns completed his look.
Surprised? Well that actually wasn’t the most shocking aspect, friends. No - the truly stunning part was that Coach borrowed a shtick from another 70s icon, William Shattner, and recited altered lyrics in a convulsive, spasmodic, spoken-word performance, as the clavinet twanged it’s happy fun times beat.
“Nittany mountain is high, Happy Valley is low
And you’re confused on which way to go - and whether Schultz was the cops.
So I’ve come here to give you - A HAND,
And lead you into - THEE ELITE PROMISED LAND!
COME ON!!!!, and take a FREE RIDE!!! - from good, to great.
Come on, and SIT BY MY SIDE - from great, to elite.
Come on, and take a freeeeee. (motioning with his hand) Riiiiiiiiide.
All over the country I’ve seen it the same.
Nobody’s winning at this kind of game.
We’ve gotta do better, it’s time to BEGIN!!!!!
You know all the answers must come from WITHIN THIS ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT.
Yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh GREAT yeh yeh yeh
Yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh ELITE yeh yeh yeh
And Then The Press Conference Started
COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, thanks for coming out and covering Penn State football. Both the people in attendance and online. Kind of a quick summary of the Wisconsin game. I think that the biggest thing is kind of like we talked about after the game, we were able to win the critical stats that these stats usually equate to success on the field and team success.
We won the turnover battle. We won the penalty battle. We won the drive start battle. We won the sack battle. And we won the explosive play battle, although we didn’t completely reach our goal. We still had more explosive plays than they did.
I thought those were the biggest factors in the game. Players of the game were Miles Sanders on offense and Rob Windsor on defense. Some overall general notes: I thought one of the positives in the game was a big part of their identity was time of possession.
And whenever you’re able to take someone’s kind of identity and how they do things and able to flip that stat in your direction, it’s helpful. It’s very helpful.
So we were able to do that. A big part of that was third down. Our offense was 40 percent. Their offense was 26 percent, I think, is what I got.
Wisconsin’s 10 points, fewest points scored since seven points against Michigan in 2016. We held Wisconsin to the fewest passing yards since having 46 against Nebraska in 2014.
I thought we played really well on the defensive side of the ball. And we were able to get four turnovers. Yetur Yetur Gross-Matos, Amani Shareef and Nick Scott. So that was really good.
Couple other things that kind of jumped out to me, we’re doing a really good job in the red zone. We’ve done that all year long. Scored in all three trips inside the 20-yard line. We’re 38-of-40 on the year. And 33 touchdowns.
We’ve got to get a little bit better in what we call the fringe area. So that area really just before you get into the red zone. Going back and just kind of studying, doing some self-scouting studying, I have felt all year long that our running game has been improved this year.
The stats back it up. Last year we were averaging 4.9 yards per rush, which was I think is 32nd in the country. This year averaging 5.17, which is 24th in the country.
I think the biggest difference there, and we’ve talked about this, is tackles for loss. There was too many times in the past where the ball would be handed off and they would have a free edge rusher, usually from the field, and we’d have tackles for loss.
So last year, 11.36 percent of our plays were tackles for loss, which was 111th in the country. This year we’re at 23rd in the country. So we’ve made a dramatic improvement there.
Obviously there’s other areas where we’ve got to improve. Protection, we’ve got to be better. And drops we’ve got to be better. I think once we can get those two things going, I think it’s going to give our offense a chance to really take the next step.
So a little bit more information than I normally give, but I thought I’d share it with you because I just got done going over the stuff with our staff.
Obviously the game this week, Chris Ash and Rutgers, really looking forward to this opportunity. Obviously we’ve got a bunch of players on our roster from New Jersey. We’ve got a huge alumni base there. Lettermen. All those types of things.
Really good opportunity. They have 15-of-29 starters back this season. You look at them offensively. John McNulty, who I’ve gotten to know pretty well. He’s a Penn Stater, their offensive coordinator. He’s from Scranton. Spent a lot of time in the NFL. Was at Rutgers with Coach Schiano when they were having a bunch of success and is now back there.
They have five starters returning on offense going into this season. They’re multiple personnel, multiple formation, West Coast offensive-based-type team. Use controlled passing attack, very similar to the West Coast approach. They love screens. They love nakeds. Rasheem Blackshear is a guy that jumps out to us. He’s leading them in both rushing and receiving. A young man that we know very well went to Archbishop Wood, same high school as Coop and as Bates. Doing a nice job for them.
And then the other kid is a true freshman, Isaih Pacheco, I think I’m pronouncing it correct, is doing a nice job for them in the running game and an offensive lineman Tariq Cole. They’re big and physical up front. That will be a challenge for us.
Defensively, you’ve got Jay Niemann. But I’ve done a bunch of reading this week and I know Coach Ash has got much more involved in the defense over the last three weeks.
They’re doing a really good job statistically against the pass. They’ve got a good-looking team. They’re another team that is going to play both an odd front, Okie front, as well as an even front, the way they slide their front in the three technique, base out of two high, playing some quarters. They’ll mix in some cover one.
Guys that stand out to us is No. 95, Jon Bateky, if I’m pronouncing his name correct, I hope so; middle linebacker, No. 6 Deonte Roberts, and No. 5, the Will linebacker, Trevor Marrs, good-looking guy. Special teams, doing a real good job Vince Okruch, I think that’s how you say his name, been in the league for a long time, in our league in the Big Ten. They’ve done a really nice job.
Couple guys that jump out to us is Tyshon Fogg, a kid that we recruited, a linebacker for them, started on all four units. And then also DB, Abraham, is a gunner. Has got four tackles, has done a nice job for them. A real good challenge. I know our guys are looking forward it. We’ve got practice later on this afternoon. Had a really good practice on Sunday.
Had a great week of prep on Monday. And looking forward to getting out there. So open up to questions.
Q. What would it take for you to consider 2018 a successful season? And is it within your reach?COACH FRANKLIN: Yes. It’s hard for me to say that right now, because the season’s not over and we’re talking about the season. So we’re focused on Rutgers. So at the end of the season, when it’s all over, we played all our games, I think there’s a lot of things to be proud of. I think there’s a lot of things that we can build on.
But, yeah, we’ll have time to discuss those things after the season. I really don’t want to start talking about season accomplishments when we’re focused on Rutgers. But I get the question.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your decision to flip-flop Ryan Bates and Will Fries, what went into that, and how do you think they did against (inaudible)?COACH FRANKLIN: This is one of these questions that you guys ask me that I’d love to just answer completely. But it’s not the right thing to do for our program and from a competitive advantage against Rutgers. But mainly based on a lot of information, we just felt like the best opportunity for both Ryan and Will to play their best football and give us the best opportunity to protect our quarterback consistently would be to move Will to left tackle and Ryan to right tackle.
A lot of it stemmed about Bates making sure that he was comfortable with it and okay with it, but like always, Bates, there’s another example of a guy that’s just going to do what’s best for our team.
So probably did not pan out as well as we would have liked. But we’ll obviously look at it again this week and see what we think is in our best interests moving forward.
Q. You mentioned some better third down success against Wisconsin. How much of that was a factor of not being in so many third-and-long situations? What do you think was the key to getting more of those third and three, third and four situations?COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that definitely was a major contributing factor. I think we’re running the ball better right now. And I think we’ve got more of a commitment to doing that, especially with Miles. Getting the ball into his hands, trying to have some schemes where people can’t do things to force us to pull the ball and throw it on the edge or pull the ball and have Trace carry the ball.
That’s always going to happen. There’s a lot more runs called in the game. And depending what the defense does, it puts us in a situation where Trace will pull it and run himself or we’ll throw. Usually when that happens, it creates some pretty advantageous situations. Sometimes they’ve done a good job as well from a scheme perspective.
But I think us making sure going into each week that we got some runs, that we can hand the ball off to Miles and allow him to get downhill, also helps our offensive line from a number of different perspectives. But I think that was the biggest difference. We had more manageable situations.
Q. How has Juwan Johnson approached the past few weeks of not playing, and how has he handled this season in general? Also, when might you expect him back?COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know Juwan, obviously, is fighting through some things. Juwan’s been through things like this kind of throughout his career and throughout his life. And our team has been awesome with him. Very talented guy. He’s flashed some brilliance at times.
But we’ve got to get him healthy. And once he’s healthy he’ll be able to go out there and contribute at a very high level and we need him. But like I’ve talked about all year long, got a tremendous faith in Juwan, got a lot of love for Juwan. But we’ve just got to get him 100% healthy so he can go out and be the type of player we know he can be. And when will that be, again, I’m not going to speculate.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Miles Sanders. At this point in the season what has impressed you the most about him as a runner, how he’s handled his carries? And also is there a next step for him going forward?COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah. You know, I think overall I’ve just been so impressed with his overall development. The type of teammate he is, the type of leader he has really grown into. How thoughtful he is. How supportive he is. Not just when things are going well but when times get tough.
He’s been really good. He really has. I see him take an active role with our offensive line, loving those guys up as well. But he’s done a really good job. He’s done a really good job in knowing who he is and getting north/south, which I think has also been a big factor in us eliminating the tackles for loss that put us and him in a tough situation.
And I think probably the next step for him, I think we can still be a little bit better from a ball security standpoint. And we were fortunate on Saturday, the one they waved off. But I think like any running back, that’s a critical piece of it. So this isn’t something I’m saying to you guys that we haven’t discussed as an offensive staff. And specifically with Miles as well. Don’t get me wrong, I think overall he’s been pretty good. But I’d like to see him get in a situation where we’re talking about record number of carries without putting the ball in the ground.
Q. Are you pleased with the improvement your team has shown on a week-to-week basis from September 1 until now?COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah. I think obviously we’re doing I think a pretty good job at that early in the season and then we hit some adversity like a lot of programs do all over the country and I think we’re headed back in that direction as well. Excuse me, we’re headed back in that direction again.
So I’m pleased with that. Obviously there was some time there during the season that I didn’t think we were doing that. And that’s something that I’ve taken great pride in throughout my career as a program that individually and collectively gets better.
So I think we’re back on that track right now. I think last week was an example of that. And we need to do that again this week.
Q. It seems like your team is relatively healthy. Obviously you would know better than us. It seems like you’re about as healthy as you could expect a football team to be this time of year. So is there anything that you have learned about managing workload, injury prevention, that kind of thing, recovery, that kind of thing that you think might have contributed to that?COACH FRANKLIN: A couple of things. We spend a lot of time managing these types of things. We spend a lot of time having challenging and difficult offseasons to build ourselves for these things. I think Andy Mutnan and our training staff have done an excellent job with that as well.
And the other thing is I don’t talk about it with you guys. It’s the next man up. I think sometimes it’s really good from a competitive standpoint. I think sometimes that’s bad. Because there’s questions that you guys ask that if you knew everything what was going on from a medical perspective, I think it would clear some things up for you guys.
But again, I want our guys focused on the next-man-up mentality. I want our guys focused on finding a way to be successful. And I don’t want to give what I think is a competitive advantage to teams that were playing.
So I think we are in a pretty good place. But there’s obviously a handful of issues that you guys aren’t aware of that factors in. That factors into some of the things that shows up on Saturdays.
But again I still feel strongly that this is the right thing to do for our program.
Q. After the game, you said Sean Clifford did some things on the sideline that you found impressive. Is there an example you can provide with him, and what kind of things do you look for from younger players who maybe aren’t playing a lot that make you realize that they’re maximizing their development when they’re not playing a lot?COACH FRANKLIN: I think that’s a really good question. So obviously it’s things that we see in practice every single day. It’s how they are in meetings. It’s how they are in terms of taking their tests.
Sean is one of the more competitive guys that I’ve been around. I think I mentioned to you guys before very competitive, very prideful, which early on it made him difficult to coach sometimes. Tommy Stevens was like that as well. Because they feel so strongly about what they’re doing. They’ve got conviction. Which I think is a great thing. So it’s that fine line.
One of the things that we talk about all the time is embracing your role. And he was doing some things on the sideline from a leadership perspective. And one of the guys kind of was jabbing at him kind of poking fun and he kind of turned around and snapped at the guy I’m maximizing my role; I’m going to do everything that I can to help this team and he was deadly serious locked in. That’s kind of how he is with everything. If it’s a race, he wants to win the race. If it’s academics, he wants the highest GPA. It’s all of it.
I’m very pleased with his makeup. I’m very pleased with our quarterback room in general. It’s been really good like that. And I think obviously Coach Ron has had a big part of that, but I think Trace in general has had a big part of teaching the young guys in the room and guys behind him; he’s going to leave a legacy from that standpoint. We talk about that a lot. Leaving a legacy in how you prepare, how you work, how you train, how you treat people, all those types of things.
And these veterans that we have, they’ve done that at a very, very high level. Obviously Trace tied the all-time win record, I think, as a starting quarterback in Penn State history, right? And there’s no more important stat for a quarterback.
So I think those guys have been fortunate. I know it’s not always fun sitting behind someone. But I think a guy that’s done it at such a high level, both on and off the field, there’s tremendous value in that, too.
Q. Do you think your defense has gotten the credit that it deserves this season? You were mentioning some of the stuff against Wisconsin earlier. And what areas specifically do you think Brent Pry has done a good job this season, in particular?COACH FRANKLIN: I think the thing that I would say about our defense, and coach, is we got guys that aren’t selfish. Offensive coaches. Defensive coaches. Special teams. You have to be careful. Sometimes you get in a situation where coaches are making decisions based off of stats. They want to be able to say that we have these stats.
They want to be able to, on Sunday, whether you won or lost, to be able to focus on these stats. And I think we’ve got a group of men -- I think Brent’s a great example -- that it’s about winning.
And there are some things and choices and decisions that are made that probably go against stats. Go against having really strong stats offensively, defensively, special teams, and we’re making decisions that we think are in the best interests of the team: Winning football.
It’s funny, sometimes I’ll go in to reinforce a point with stats. And I’ll bring up something about player rotation and how this guy’s leading us in tackles and things like that, and Brent’s not concerned about those things. He obviously takes the feedback and likes the feedback, but, again, for him it’s about him watching the tape with the coaching staff and what we’re doing well, accountability and trust and discipline and those types of things.
So, yeah, I think our defense puts a priority on winning. And not being selfish and doing what’s in Penn State’s best interests and doing what’s in our kids’ best interests.
So that’s the thing that I know as a head coach that I really value. And obviously me and Brent go way back. We’ve got a lot of history. A lot of history to his first year coaching at East Olsburg when I was still playing and his dad being my offensive coordinator. He knows me inside and out, probably better than I’d like him to. And I know him inside and out probably better than he’d like me to.
We go way back. Both the good and the bad. So I’ve got tremendous respect for him and our entire defensive staff and they’ve done a tremendous job for us and will continue to.
Q. Five of your six receivers in the last game were either first- or second-year players. How do you think they did, especially Dotson and Shorter. And just for the sake of clarity, is Polk in the same situation as Juwan Johnson, if you can say that?COACH FRANKLIN: Jahan, we talked about him a decent amount already. He continues to do good things. I thought the thing he did last week which was really impressive is moving to another position. That shows that he was learning concepts rather than just memorizing plays at a position and routes at a position and responsibilities at a position.
He was studying and understanding concepts which I think is critical in our game, that you’re teaching concepts so you understand how it all fits together.
So I thought that was really impressive. And he continues to do good things for us. Shorter has shown some real flashes. And it’s allowed us to kind of build on that with him.
We expect that to happen again this week. He gained a little bit of time last week and did some good things. So we’d like to build on that this week.
And then I think obviously K.J.’s doing some great things. But we’ve got some decent amount of youth there. But so far so good. You guys have heard us about being excited about it. And then we’ve got some veterans that are working through some things. So hopefully we’ll get those guys back, and now have gained some experience of some young players which is going to pay dividends for us not only the rest of the season but also next year, and then also you get some of these vets back, and we can take the next step.
It’s hard to say the same, because there’s a hundred variables that go into it but similar. There’s some similarities there, yes, sir.
Q. When you look at Rutgers Raheem Blackshear, I think he leads the team in rushing and receiving, what kind of challenges does he present for you guys?COACH FRANKLIN: He does a great job. He’s explosive. He’s quick. Plays with a lot of confidence. Obviously being a PA guy and playing Penn State is going to be motivation there. But there’s no doubt for us, going into it, you know their running back position in general has been very productive for them. So that’s going to be our biggest challenge in the game is their running backs and obviously the O line and the running game and their running backs the way they’re using them out of the black field or Blackshear they’ll line up in the slot and do things like that, we’ll have to be aware.
So as I try to do is we talk scheme, which scheme is important, but then what I try to do is come in with you guys and identify the guys that we think jump out on tape and could be problematic. And we need to have an awareness of who those guys are, where they are, how they try to use them in their offense or defense, where they line up. And he falls in that category.
Q. With Micah on Saturday leading the team in tackles, where have you seen him make the most growth in the last few weeks, and is there anything more he can do to earn a start at outside linebacker?COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think Chris sent me a quote the other day -- I don’t know who said it -- but I think it was a really strong quote that, you know, he is now not just relying on his athletic ability and his natural instincts, which is what he was doing early in the season. He’s now using the techniques and fundamentals and keys and things like that that are allowing him really to take his game to the next level, and also build that trust that his role continues to grow. I think you’ve seen that all season and specifically last week. And we’ll just continue headed in that direction.
This week is a new week and we’ll make the decisions after Thursday’s practice and Friday morning and what’s going to be the best situation for us to be successful on Saturday. And there’s so many factors that go into it. Kind of back to that point that we just got done talking about, about stats. It’s more than just the stats. It’s all of it.
Q. I was curious if you could assess Tommy’s ability to read the defense, what you’re seeing from him. He’s run the ball 22 times the last three games and only thrown about eight times. Is he too quick to pick off? Would you like to see him throw more? Or is he executing as you wish?COACH FRANKLIN: No. Really good. I mean obviously you guys the last couple of years have got a chance to see him throw and throw really well. The same thing in practice. He throws for a high percentage and really good decision-maker and has grown.
The reality is from a game plan perspective, especially when we lost Mark Allen and we had some young guys that got a little nicked up, we were trying to take some runs off of Trace and really Miles. So that was the way to manage some of that in some ways we were using him as our backup running back. So that was strategic.
So we’re very pleased with his development as a quarterback. And that’s a full commitment that we make in practice all the time. Obviously being able to get him in the game and do some of those things whether it’s designed runs or whether it’s RPOs or whether it’s just some drop-back passes, we’re very pleased with his development.
I know there was some frustration with Trace’s injury and he’s kind of on the seesaw. He’s in one minute, he’s back out, he’s back in. And that’s natural. That is natural. But as you can imagine, he’s handled all these things really well over the last three years, all things considered there.
But there’s tremendous confidence on our team and Tommy. But I also think you guys also understand that Trace McSorley has kind of earned the right to tell us kind of what he thinks when he thinks he can go it’s a balance of what the doctors are telling us, the trainers are telling us, and you look at Trace McSorley and eyes, we’ve been in that situation for a long time with Trace. And he fells like he can go and you think it’s the right thing from a health and team perspective you’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Q. Jake Penigar told a story before he enrolled about you and Galiano and some assistants taking him into Beaver Stadium getting in his head, running him through the rigors there before you gave the offer to him. What did you see that that day and now to send him out for seven 40-plus-yard field goals in the past two home games, obviously seeing something there as well. What’s your evaluation of this young man?COACH FRANKLIN: I think he’s done a nice job. Obviously we had a specialist camp. Not only did we see him here but also at one of the travel camps. And I think where the camp experience is really important, both for us and the parents and the kid is everybody thinks they’re going to Penn State. And then you come to camp and you work with a bunch of guys at the same position and that’s a wake-up call a lot of times.
It’s really helpful for us because you can compare and contrast apples to apples. Sometimes I think it’s great for the parents that all think that their babies are the best and they’re not and then they see them against other players and it becomes obvious.
And I think sometimes for the prospects as well; it shows them what they need to work at. Because if they’re on their high school team and they’re obviously the most dominant player on their high school team at that position, it’s hard for them to kind of compare and contrast. So I think there’s a lot of value in that.
So for us, that day, he looked different. There was four or five specialists there that had offers, scholarship offers, and he looked different than them. And that’s how it should be, to be honest with you.
It should stand out. And he looked different kicking the ball. When the ball hit his foot, it sounded different and it looked different. And on that day he kept hitting the ceiling and nobody else was.
It was banging off the ceiling, which is a good sign. So, yeah, we always thought he had ability and for him when you have that leg strength, you know, it’s really not about the distance. It’s about the consistency of the movement, the muscle memory, and what he’s trying to do. Because the reality is if you’re doing it right, whether you’re kicking a 30 yard field goal or a 45-yard field goal, it shouldn’t look any different.
It’s like that old expression in golf, and I don’t golf, but I’ve heard people say “Let the club do the work.” And it’s kind of the same way. When they’re kicking an extra point or 45-yard field goal, it should be the same.
So for us the distance doesn’t really factor in with us for him a whole lot because he’s got a very strong leg, it’s is his plant foot correct? Is his contact on the ball consistent? Is our operation time good? Is he following through? Is he pulling his head out early? Those types of things.
So just basic fundamentals of the position. So we’ve got a lot of confidence in him, but it’s more about getting him comfortable and consistent and then building his confidence of doing it in a stadium like Beaver Stadium with big-time football. That’s something you never truly know until you get out there.
Q. You mentioned Saturday night about the fumble that you wanted to watch it on film. What did you see there and can you kind of maybe use that as a teachable moment since you guys got out with the win?COACH FRANKLIN: Are you talking about which fumble?
Q. The fumble at the end with Tommy and Miles.COACH FRANKLIN: Obviously it’s four-minute offense. I really liked our plan. We did not execute the motion well obviously. I know people are saying why are you running that style of play anyway. That’s not really the issue. The issue is in the execution. I know people would love to see a lineup and four-minute offense and go two tight ends, one receiver, two backs and hunker it up in there. But that’s not who we are. And I know sometimes that’s difficult for people to kind of grasp in their mind. I’m going to be honest with you, it was hard for me to grasp at first.
When you go to this style of offense, you can’t go to four-minute and then try to become something you’re not. You’ve got to run your offense.
And we spent a lot of time now on four-minute and saying what’s going to give us the best chance, both throw and pass. And we have really changed our approach to four-minute offense this year in terms of how we prepare for it.
So at the end of the day, although that didn’t look good, it really came more down to our execution of what we’re trying to do because on film we had what we expected and what we were looking for. But we did not time up the motion correctly.
And the last thing I’ll say and I’ll move on, this is a long answer, snapping the ball to Tommy and running the ball is one thing. But when you can give the defense something else to worry about, a hand-off to someone on the perimeter, some eye candy, something that’s going to give them a little bit of misdirection, there’s tremendous value in that.
We see it day in, day out.
Q. Way back when Ricky Rahne was announced as offensive coordinator, he said one thing he wanted to bring to the offense was that he wanted to be a tough, physical, gritty team. As a whole, do you think you’ve accomplished that so far this year? Where do you think the offense’s identity has gone since then?COACH FRANKLIN: I think we have done that for a number of reasons. I think the stats that I talked about in the beginning of this press conference about us running the ball better, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re running the ball better. I think the two areas that we need to be better at is protecting the quarterback more consistently, which we’re not doing right now well enough. And consistently catching the ball.
If we do those two things at a little bit better rate each week, our offense will explode. And that’s been kind of the theme all year long. We have run the ball better. We have not consistently thrown the ball better.
When I say throw the ball better, I’m talking about all of it. Too many drops and too many sacks. So obviously that’s been a big focus point for us. On Sundays we discussed it again literally about an hour before it just came over some things that we can do better in managing some of the things we’re talking about in terms of personnel, all of it. All of it. So that’s kind of how we’ve gotten to this point and kind of where we’re at.
We’ve also discussed in here and as a staff how that’s affected our defense with play counts and things like that, being able to be more efficient on third down, helps our defense, because it keeps them off the field. But also just like last week, it wasn’t just our offense being better on third down, that dramatically changed the play count. It was our defense getting off the field, complementary football, which Mike was asking me about last week.
We did a better job of that last week managing all those things, complementary football, winning the important stats, and although the score, even though it wasn’t a dramatic score, when you watched the game, it felt like we were in control for most of the game because of those things that we just discussed.
Q. You said earlier stats aren’t everything. With Amani, (indiscernible) tenth in the country, second on defense. What do you see out of him this season, how he’s held up?COACH FRANKLIN: Don’t take it the wrong way. I’m not one of these guys that are like completely against stats. They’re a piece of information. They tell a story. There’s no doubt about it. But a lot of times there’s more to the story than just the stats is what I’m saying. So Amani has been great. He’s had a great career here. He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a great leader. Done real well academically. I could not be more proud of him to see the success.
He’s another guy, although he’s played a lot of football, this is his first year kind of being the starter. Played a lot of football on a complementary role and things like that. I think last year he led us in interceptions and wasn’t technically a starter. Although we viewed him that way. So I’m really proud of him. He’s a guy that’s really trusted the process. He’s worked really hard developed on and off the field in the weight room, all those types of things.
Got a really strong core group of supporters and friends, a guy that will obviously come from a little bit farther to come to Penn State. He’s got an unbelievable support group and unit. And he’s really been successful. He’s been successful in his previous role and now with a little bit more on his plate he continues to be successful.
So I’m very proud of him. He’s got a very bright future. I think he’s going to finish out this year really strong. It’s funny because he came up to me I think it was on Friday or Saturday morning and said, “You know, I’m feeling it today.” I said, “Good, I’m glad. I’m glad you’re feeling it today.”
So he’s just got real good mojo. Got a lot of confidence. Got a lot of belief in himself. And I think he’s another guy. He’s been a great example for the young players in our program.
Q. Over the past few weeks the pass defense has been really good, even against Michigan only gave up about 140 yards. How much of that is the front seven getting a lot of pressure, how much is the secondary playing really well? Do you find they’re maybe even a little underrated?COACH FRANKLIN: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think at the end of the day, you guys have heard me talk about this, and I feel stronger and stronger and stronger about it every day, is offensive line is going to dictate your success. And defensive line is going to dictate your success. It’s not even close. If you don’t have those units playing at a high level, you can be the best play caller in the country, best running backs, best quarterbacks, all that stuff, doesn’t matter. The same thing as secondary.
If you have those pieces and they are dominant, everything else kind of flows from there. So for us investing in that development of those positions and how we train those guys in the offseason is so important. How we recruit at those positions is so important. And I think that’s what you see right now with our defense. We came into the season having major questions at defensive tackle depth and at linebacker.
And I think what you’re seeing right now is you’re seeing our linebackers gain confidence and experience and you’re seeing our D tackles gain confidence and experience and then you’re seeing the D ends who we already felt good about, you see them taking the next step as well.
So, you know, we got a lot of production out of those guys. Right now you think about what Yetur has been able to do and Shareef’s been able to do and you think about what Windsor has been able to do, and the guy that’s not getting a whole lot of love is Kevin Givens, but Kevin Givens for us is killing it. He’s doing his job consistently.
And sometimes when you do that, other guys shine, but as a coaching staff and as a team, we know the value that Kevin’s bringing. And then although we’ve had a number of injuries, again that we don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about, you’re seeing other guys having to step up and make plays for us as well, which has been great. I thought PJ Mustipher played by far his best game last week.
And, again, it doesn’t always necessarily show up in the stats sheet. But his impact allowed other guys to have success, too. So we’re getting better, which is exciting.
Q. You mentioned Tommy essentially in the backup running back role. Wondering how you managed that message with the running back room where you have three guys that probably feel like they have an argument there. Is it just the fact that Tommy still has to make reads that these guys, they don’t have to do because they’re not practicing at quarterback? How do you manage the backup quarterback as kind of a backup running back?COACH FRANKLIN: Again, this is one of those questions you ask me that I can’t really completely answer, but it’s not a difficult discussion when the running backs know why we’re doing it. So my point is I think I’ve stated this before so I’m comfortable stating it again. There was a time where we lost Mark Allen and then Slade jumped in and did some pretty good things. And I think I’ve already mentioned he got nicked up. And then we’re trying to bring Journey Brown along. So when you’re in that situation, you know, it wasn’t a tough conversation to have because there really wasn’t a whole lot of other options.
It was Journey who started to come on and it was Tommy. So I think when it’s challenging is when you do that and the other guys are being limited and they don’t understand why. It was pretty obvious to everybody inside the program. So the challenging one is what you’re talking about and that wasn’t the scenario we were in.
Q. In the last six games, third quarter you’ve only scored 22 points. Why has it been so difficult making the halftime adjustments?COACH FRANKLIN: I guess I wouldn’t necessarily look at it that way. You would look over our time we’ve been pretty good at halftime adjustments. I think again I don’t look at things in small snippets of time. I look at the whole spectrum.
There was one year here where we didn’t even play first halves of games. We just came out and, like, won second halves and made it exciting and dramatic. And at that point the question was how are we going to play better early in games.
So I think there’s just kind of natural ebb and flow of games but I’m very confident in our staff’s ability to make those adjustments and things like that. Again, part of that is we play pretty good competition. I think Chris sent me a stat the other day. I think we played the seventh toughest schedule in the country. And we had a stretch there that was pretty challenging.
So sometimes it’s us that we gotta be better. There’s no doubt about it from a scheme and from an execution standpoint on offense/defense and special teams. But part of it, too, we played some of the better teams in the country over a four-week period of time.