Coach James Franklin welcomed Central PA’s beat writers to the press room wearing an elegant, late 18th century Viennese suit of clothes, in a brilliant Wisconsin-red with gold embroidery, and a powdered wig of the same era. His eyes, sullen and war-weary, yet warmly empathetic and affectionate, begged the crowd silently to sit.
Once assembled, but without even a murmur between them, Coach and the press corps locked eyes, frozen in place. Seconds passed like hours. A whirlwind rush of mute communication swept through the room, too frenzied, too raw, too brutishly blunt, despite the still silence, for any possible understanding beyond base, naked emotion. Schemes, quarterbacks, timeouts - this rusted scaffolding of ordinary press conferences blown away, replaced only by barbarous, ripped-bare, thumping, soundless emotions - fear, anger, joy, disgust, sadness, surprise, misery - omnipresent in each man’s pounding heart. Their tornado of tension raged toward an explosive crescendo - broken, finally and mercifully, by Coach Franklin, as he gently whispered only one line, and that in Latin.
“Lacrimosa dies illa qua resurget ex favilla judicandus homo reus”. Then, with a subtle nod at SID Kris Petersen, the music began, reservedly at first, before boiling over us in a tidal wave.
And Then The Press Conference Started
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: First thing, obviously, summary of the Michigan game. The critical stats, we did not do a good job with: We turned the ball over three times. We did win the penalty battle, drive/start battle. We did not win the explosive play battle.
Interesting thing is when you go back and you watch that game, obviously we played a really good team, a very talented team on the road and didn’t play well. Seems like whoever has been the home team the last couple years in this series has had a lot of success.
It’s amazing when you kind of look back at that game, I think with like a minute to go in the third quarter, it was 14-0, and then we just made some mistakes that allowed the game to go the way it went. We had some opportunities with the blocked field goal and made a critical mistake there that would have tied the game up at 7-7 but we just didn’t play well. We did not play well.
We have to take responsibility for that. We’ve got to man up to that. We have to watch the film and make corrections, which we did on Sunday. Give Michigan a bunch of credit because they are a very good football team, and obviously move on to Wisconsin. We did that on Sunday. Felt like we made some good progress there, and obviously yesterday was off and then today’s our first day back to practice.
Looking forward to the opportunity against Wisconsin. You know, kind of talk about Wisconsin a little bit. Paul Chryst obviously does a really good job. He’s got tremendous history with that program, obviously growing up in that town and coaching there for a number of years. Great situation with him being able to come back home and has done a great job representing that program and coaching that team.
17 of their 22 starters back. Obviously it starts with their offense and what they are able to do up front with their offensive line and their running back. They are a multiple formation, based around the tight ends and personnel groups. 75 percent runs on normal downs. They are going to try to establish the run. That’s who they are. They are going to run the ball. They are going to run the ball. They are going to run the ball again and then complement it with play-action pass.
Guys that we have obviously been impressed with, Taylor, a kid from New Jersey that we’re aware of. Not only is he going to be able to get four to six yards a carry but he also has the ability to go 70 behind that offensive line.
Danny Davis, the wide receiver, who seems to make a bunch of big plays for them. And then obviously their offensive line, with 170 career starts with that unit.
Defensively, Jim Leonhard, second season there as defensive coordinator, third season overall. Big, physical, strong, what you would think of a Wisconsin defense. I would say they base out of odd personnel, three-down personnel, but depending on what personnel group and formations you’re in, you can get even spacing. So they will play for of a four-down front with three-down personnel.
Base, they are going to base in some type of two-high coverage, either quarter, quarter half or quarters.
Obviously looks like they won’t have their nose guard, which I think in a 3-4 odd-front defense, that’s a big part of what they do is that position. It kind of all stems around that position. We’ve been very impressed with the middle linebacker, number 53, Edwards seems like he’s been playing there for ever.
D’Cota Dixon, No. 14, strong safety, and Ryan Connelly No. 43, who I think was actually named a finalist for the Butkus Award. That will be a real challenge for us.
Obviously Chris Herring is their special teams coordinator. Has done a really good job for them, as well. Very balanced. You look at their kickoff guy, he’s crushing the ball right now. 84 percent of his kicks go for touchbacks. I don’t know how many opportunities we will get there.
Aron Cruickshank is a kid out of Brooklyn that we recruited at wide receiver. Kick return guy who can run and make plays for them, a bunch of big plays, a couple have been called back for penalty.
Chris Orr, who starts for them on three units and does a really good job for them.
A couple other notes I just thought I would mention. Obviously this week is the THON game. Charlie Shuman came to us representing THON and talked about us putting a sticker on the back of our helmet. I don’t think we’ve ever done that before. Our guys are excited about that.
Obviously our team embraces the THON and what THON has done for this community, what THON has done for Penn State and most importantly what THON has done for those families and those kids. Our guys really embrace it.
Then having honorary captains Devon and Leah [Still] back is cool, as well, because of their connection to THON and university and our program. They have a kid on their team from Fond du Lac, as well. I thought they went to the same high school, but I guess Fond du Lac has two high schools in it.
I’ll open up to questions.
Q. Do you feel that you guys have played or coached up to your standards this season?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: No. Obviously our standards and our expectation is to win every game we play. So we have not done that for a number of reasons. I mean, I think you can list them all out but at the end of the day, we have not played up to the standard that we have because our standard is to go out and put ourselves in the best position to win every single game, and we haven’t done that.
So you know, we will not be satisfied until we’re in that situation. But yeah, you know, we have very, very high standards and expectations of who and what we want to be.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Miles Sanders and the run game, your thoughts on the last couple of weeks?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Last week, obviously that was a big story line in the game was up front, especially their D-Line and linebackers against our O-line and tight ends and we did not play well enough there. We did not put our players in the best position enough. So we’ve got to get our running game established.
Miles has shown that he can be a big play back in this conference and that he can carry the load and get you the tough yards, as well as the big plays. It’s going to be very important that we find a way to establish the run game, again, so there’s not so much on the shoulders of Trace McSorley.
Q. What stood out most to you about John Reid with how he’s progressed and dealt with recovery and the rust that came with that early on?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think early on, you’ve got the physical aspect of coming back from the injury and you also have the mental aspect of coming back from the injury. I think weekly, he’s grown and gotten better and gotten more confident and those types of things.
We believe in John. Got a lot of confidence in John. He’s a tremendous leader for us. He’s a tremendous teammate. Has the ability to be a big time playmaker for us, as well. We’re expecting him to have a great game this week.
Q. Last week in response to a question, you discussed experience and stability counting with regard to coaching staff. How has your offensive staff handled the changes made in this off-season and how have they approached that stability and experience component throughout the course of this year?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously when you lose at many staff members as we lost from one side of the ball, it has an impact. It has an impact. Obviously being able to get Tyler Bowen, who really kind of understands our culture and has been involved in this offense for a number of years, that helped.
But yeah, there’s a transition there. So I think at times, we’ve done some really good things and at other times, we haven’t. That’s really kind of at all three phases: Offense, defense and special teams. It’s going to be important that we just continue to grow and continue to evolve and get better this week, and build on it. You know, keep taking steps in the right direction, and that’s players, that’s coaches, that’s all of us together.
Q. Your pass game operation, what do you think would be one thing that’s the biggest issue or what’s your most disappointing, and at this point in the season, how can you fix that or get that better?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I think one of the issues that we’ve been battling all year long is drops. We’ve had too many drops. I think that’s obviously been stated a number of times in here, people asking me that question.
You know, last week, we had protection issues. So a combination; a combination of those two things. We’ve got to be more consistent in the throws we make. We’ve got to be more consistent in catching the ball; when we have an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to make a play, and we’ve got to be able to give our quarterback as much time as he needs to go through his progression and his reads.
It’s a little bit of all of it and that’s how we’re going to have to approach it. I don’t expect us to just get dramatically better in one area. We’ve just got to get a little bit better in each area and do that weekly.
Q. You had mentioned after the game Saturday that the guys, your team is really hurting in the locker room. When you saw them on Sunday, were you pleased with the response they showed, or did you feel they were still a little bit down?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think obviously, the losses hurt. There’s no doubt about it. But I also want to make sure that we’re doing a good job of managing those losses and how we approach them and how we talk about them and how we recover and move on to the next win -- or the next game, excuse me. That is critical, to give us the best opportunity to go out and get a win.
I think the meetings were good. All the feedback I got from the coaches were really good. The team meeting was really good. The offense, defense and special teams meetings were really good. I thought the messages were great. I thought the questions were really good.
I see all the signs we’ve had the last couple years when we’ve had success. We just have to consistently make more plays and be more detailed.
Q. Your first go-around with the new redshirt rule, how do you feel like you’re managing that and have there been any surprises about that? Has that gone about the way you wanted it to?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think so. Obviously Jahan is a guy that we’re playing and probably had planned on trying to kind of hold his redshirt, but back to the point we were just discussing about, you know, needing a little bit more production in the passing game and a little bit more consistently catching the ball, he’s a guy that’s done that. Whenever we throw the ball in his direction, he seems to find a way to come down with it. That’s probably the one that’s gone a little bit different than what we had kind of planned for.
But I would also say that part of the plan for -- production and other things, we would evolve and change as things went. In a perfect world, you’d love to be able to hold those guys if you could but it didn’t necessarily play out that way.
Q. How do you compare and contrast the style of the two Wisconsin quarterbacks, and how does it change things preparation-wise for you guys when you’re not sure about the health of the starting quarterback for the other team?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I would say for us, we always kind of go about things that we plan for the starters, no different than last week. We’re going to plan that the starter is going to be there and those types of things.
I would say, though, that in today’s day and age with concussions and things like that, when you know a guy is in a concussion protocol and he’s been in it a couple times this year, I think that’s challenging. I think we’d better be prepared for not only the starter, like we always do, but also the backup.
I think at the end of the day, with them, I don’t know how much it will factor in because I think it will start with the run game. It’s going to go with the run game through the second and third quarter and it’s going to be the run game in the fourth quarter. It starts and ends with the run game for them, and then obviously they are going to compliment it with play-action pass.
So we’ve got to be prepared for those things, but I don’t really see the style of the game changing based on the quarterback that they have in there.
Q. Away from football, but with the election being today, how important do you see your role as a leader of young men when it comes to civic duty, social issues, political issues and the importance of voting?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it’s really important. I think a lot of times as coaches and as football coaches, especially during a season, you kind of go into the submarine and a lot of times, you don’t know what’s going on in the world. You don’t see sunlight; you get in early in the morning and you don’t leave until late at night, so that can be challenging. Obviously I think that’s something that’s very, very important.
One thing I think we’ve done a good job as coaches, but more so in the last year, we’ve hired some off-field positions that are dealing with these things and they are dealing with them 24 hours a way, 365 days a year, whether it’s internships, whether it’s job fairs, whether it’s voting, whether it’s all these types of things.
I think one of the things that’s really good is making the process as easy as possible for our guys so that a large percentage would go and do it. So making sure our guys knew what all the options were on-campus, off-campus, things like that. I think it’s really critical.
I read something early this morning about, I think it was Coach Peterson at Washington and they were having a discussion about everybody talking about political issues and arguments and heated debates and things like that. Asked for guys to raise their hand who voted and very few had voted, and said, well, how can you have a real strong opinion if you’re not involved in the process.
You know, I think it’s a big part of what we do and how we do it. I think obviously, you know, for us and for the players and for fans, we understand the importance of the wins and the losses but in college football, we also have a very, very strong responsibility of making sure that we’re educating our guys beyond just the game; that football and college athletics is a complimentary piece of what they are learning in the classroom, and then on top of that, you know, that we’re also having discussions about all these other social issues and challenges and things that we also have responsibilities for.
I think one of the things that you guys may or may not know that we do, that kind of falls in line with that, is we have a guest coach program where we have a professor travel with the team during home and away games. I think that’s been a real positive of building those relationships on campus, and our players being able to develop those relationships and also the faculty members see maybe a lot of the things that go on behind the scenes that they weren’t aware of.
I think all these things are important in college athletics; that we are all working together for our campus and we are all working together for our communities, but also, for society. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing in athletics and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing specifically in college athletics and on college campuses.
Q. Going back to Mike’s question about red shirts. You’ve been able to bank a lot of games for your true freshmen. Do you plan on using some of these kids in the final three games and can you address specifically Justin Shorter?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, that was our plan is to make sure that we had the Bowl game available for guys and also try to be strategic as the season goes.
It’s hard to say, you’re going to play guys in these two games because of injuries. So we started out trying to get some guys experience when we could early in the season and then we wanted to save some games for injuries or for late in the season in general.
We try to maximize those games out as much as we possibly can, with those players, and specifically, Justin -- now, if a guy is not ready to play, we’re not going to play him just to play. It’s those guys that are right on the bubble and I think Justin is a really good example of that.
I could see those guys with the number of games that we have left, I think you’re going to end up seeing some of these guys over the next few games.
Q. Do you think Justin is on the bubble, being ready to play?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, he’s done some nice things. He had some injuries early on that slowed him down. In fact -- he wanted to meet with me about some things. He’s looking at his college experience very similar to his high school experience, where he started out maybe a little bit slow and worked himself into being one of the best receivers in the country, if not the best receiver in the country.
I think you’re going to see a similar development with him here just because of his approach and his attitude. His mom and dad have been awesome. He’s been great. I think a lot of times, when you get these high-profile recruits like, this they don’t always handle this stuff well. Him and his family have been unbelievable. No different than the recruiting process. No. 1 receiver in the country; he commits, never goes on another visit. Never, you know, talks to anybody else. He shuts it down and it’s over. No drama. None of it.
They have been unbelievable, really, since day one.
Q. How does Jonathan Taylor’s style compare to --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think in some ways he’s similar but I would say he’s probably got the best combination of body type, balance, vision, speed. We’ve gone against some guys that you know are going to get you the tough yards, you know, six or four yards or eight yards. We’ve gone against some guys that can take it the distance. But it’s hard to find a guy that can do all those things.
You know, he has the ability to do all those things and it’s magnified because of the type of offense he plays in and because of the type of line that he plays behind. So it’s going to be a real challenge for us. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, you know, for our defensive line and for our liners and for our secondary.
Like always, it’s going to start and end up front. Our defensive line has a tremendous challenge against their offensive line, and then I think the experience that we have gained with Jan and Micah and guys like that, I think is really valuable. Koa has obviously played a lot of football. Cam Brown has played a lot of football for us. But Jan’s development, and even Ellis. Ellis Brooks is really doing some good things now. I think that helps in this type of game.
Q. We saw Tommy get in to provide a spark. Do you think there’s an opportunity for him to get in a series or two at quarterback over this final stretch?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we’ll probably continue approaching it the way we have with being able to mix him in in some of the packages that we’ve used him with either two quarterbacks or have him in for a receiver or tight end or a running back.
We’ll probably continue to approach it that way, which is a way to get him some experience, but also, allow Trace to get in a rhythm and for our offense to get in a rhythm, which is important. That’s the thing we haven’t done a great job of the last couple weeks is we’ve got to be better on first and second down.
Q. Did you vote? How were the lines?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I actually did not. Planned on voting this morning. Something came up. My wife went. Something came up that I wasn’t kind of able to get out, so still -- I voted last year, and still trying to get over there but something came up that the time I had scheduled to go, I wasn’t able to go.
Q. Last year you had four receivers, four pass targets get 50-plus receptions and no one is to 30 yet. We saw K.J. get fired up on the sideline. There are frustrations boiling with those guys individually whether it’s their inability or a scheme situation where the production has not been there through nine games?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, they are frustrated with us not having the team success last Saturday. That’s kind of where our guys are at. Our guys want the team to be successful. They want to contribute towards that success. But you know, I think that’s really kind of been the approach and how those guys have handled it.
Q. If you have a player that has possibly lost confidence, is there a way that you can maybe manufacture success or positions where they can be in to succeed that could boost that confidence, or how do you good about rebuilding that in a player that may not be playing to what they are capable of?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it’s conversations and things you talk about and things you say.
I think how you interact and how you talk to players is really important, especially at times like that. I think that’s really important. I think being able to use the sports psychologist is important, as well.
And then I think some of the things you talked about; putting our guys in advantageous positions in practice. How we talked about managing Jake Pinegar early on, putting him out there for field goals we think he had the best chance to make and either going for it on fourth down or punting and other situations. It’s part of that, as well.
I think it’s a combination of all those things and then I think the biggest way to build confidence is to be able to have repeated success, and that doesn’t necessarily always have to be in games. That’s in practice. That’s through preparation. I think people are more confident the more prepared they are.
It’s a combination of all those things. I think one of the things that I talked about a little bit last week was I see a little bit with us is everybody else is waiting for someone to make the play and then we’re going to rally behind that person. And what I talked about is every single one of them was brought into this program to make that play, not to wait for everybody else to do it.
I think that’s something that’s really, really important is those guys are understanding that they were brought here to make the plays; they are capable of making the plays and they need to go dos them. I think right now we are kind of waiting for someone else to make the play and when that happens, everybody gets excited and rallies behind him, where I think our approach needs to be: You’re going to make the play and when the opportunity presents itself, you’re going to take advantage of it.
Q. How have you been managing the timeouts --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, obviously there’s been some situations; that one on Saturday that we did not manage well. I think what happened was it was the first time that we had good field position, and my gut was saying that we needed to do something to spark the team there and maybe take on some risk and go for it.
Obviously, you know, called the timeout and then after doing it, realized that wasn’t the right thing to do, so punted the ball. I don’t think that situation really impacted the game a whole lot. But that’s kind of what was going through my mind.
No different than the kickoff return. At that point we didn’t have a whole lot of offense. Wanted to put the ball in K.J.’s hands and give us a chance to kind of spark some things. So yeah, after the fact, there’s no doubt about it, when things don’t go well, you second guess those things.
We’ve made some decisions in the past that have been maybe somewhat unorthodox that have been very beneficial to our success, but yeah, on Saturday, obviously that was one that I did not handle well.
Q. You guys haven’t really been in this situation for, you know, 30-some games, where you’re coming off at least a lopsided final score. Is the role of the coaches and everybody magnified in a regrouping mode? And also, wondering about Miles, his state of mind and the exchanges there because there’s been some really untimely fumbles?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: That was a big one. That one wasn’t Miles. It was indecision in the hole.
You watch it, the ball is on his hip, not in the pocket when we let it go. So there’s no doubt about it. There’s been a couple of those that we’ve got to get cleaned up.
But yeah, you know, I would make the argument, there’s no doubt about it, that Saturday was a tough one for all of us to swallow, but I’d also make the argument, we’re one of the few programs in the country up to that point that had not had a lob sided loss. We’ve had some tough losses in tight games, but we had been one of the more competitive programs over that stretch in the country.
So we’ve got work to do. There’s no doubt about it. And there’s nobody in the building right now, you know, that is comfortable with where we’re at. That’s coaches, that’s players and that’s everybody, and we’ve got an opportunity to get a win against a really good program, a storied, historic program in this conference that’s had a lot of success like us here recently. And we’re going to have to play well.
We’re going to need all the fans’ support. Mother Nature is not being as cooperative with some of the parking being shut down but we’re going to need the fans. We’re going to need the fans there supporting us, supporting our players, supporting Penn State because we’ve got a real challenge. Most importantly, we’ve got to find a way to get a W against a great program on Saturday.
Q. Mentioned Dotson earlier as a guy that’s played well enough that it warranted you burning his redshirt but that takes reps away from KJ Hamler. How are they both going to factor in going forward?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: That was a big challenge. That was a big part of the discussion of redshirting him, based on that discussion, there’s no doubt about it. But the reality is, K.J. can’t play every rep. He can’t play every single rep in the game.
So we want to make sure that when he taps, that Jahan will be able to go in there and make some plays for us, and then that also allows us to move some other guys around, too, like Mac Hippenhammer, who has done some good things for us, too.
That’s going to be an important part of this week is kind of finding out what’s going to be the best lineup to get those guys on the field and give Trace as many options to make plays from as possible.
Q. Upon evaluation, what would you have approached that differently, a few days later in retrospect? You talked about making that decision, maybe Trace should have been taken out earlier, get Tommy in there. Do you adjust the timeline as a staff going into this next game?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: What do you mean, adjust the timeline? The specifics --
Q. Do you keep a tighter eye on Trace and try to make a more decisive call early in the game, rather than get to the point where there’s regret about not making it earlier?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I guess that’s where I struggle with is it’s very easy after the fact when something doesn’t go well to go back and say, should have handled things differently and we do that. We look at those things very well.
I think at the time it’s hard to say what we’re going to do this week because there’s a thousand variables that go into making those decisions; how the game is going, how guys are playing, all of it; health. There’s a lot of factors that go into it.
To sit here to try and predict that, I don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense. I understand you’ve got to ask the question, but after the fact, when something doesn’t go well -- there’s decisions that I watch every single Saturday in our games on TV or on Sundays on film. If the call doesn’t go well, it’s going to be critiqued. I get that. That’s why you play the game and why you take all the information you possibly can ahead of time based on practice and game plan and you make the best decision at the time.
It may not always seem to everybody that doesn’t have all the information, maybe doesn’t make sense sometimes, but that’s what it’s about, and I get that comes with critique. I get that.
Q. You held them to three quarters of the game --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Really, four quarters.
Q. Seems like the way Wisconsin plays where it’s a slow burn offensively, so by the end of the game it looks different than what it might have at the second quarter. How do you evaluate how your defense did through that and how might you feel about that going into a game versus a team that has a similar style offensively?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think that’s a great question and I think that’s very fair. When you see the final score, it would probably tell you something different if you had not watched the game or if you had not studied the game. Our defense really did some nice things. There was obviously times you’d love to get him off the field and obviously some times you’d like to be able to swing field position and things like that.
But overall your point is a great one. That’s one of the things I led the press conference is with very little time left in the third quarter, it was 14-0 and it really should have been 7-7. Should have been 7-7. I think we had some opportunities to make it a very competitive game against a team on the road and we didn’t do that.
Brent Pry’s response and the defensive staff’s response is always going to be, we didn’t do enough and I get that, but I think there’s also some really good things that were in there, too.
Q. Before the season, you said you thought this would be the best offensive line you had and it would be the strength of the team. At this point in the year, do you think that’s held true and how do you think those guys have done?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously based on last week, no. And some of those guys are dinged up and fighting through some things. I felt early on, we were doing that. Last week we did not. Obviously Michigan’s done that to a lot of people, and they are the No. 1 defense in the country for a reason in multiple categories.
So yeah, obviously that question coming after last week, it’s really hard for me to answer it any other way than, you know -- but it’s hard for me to answer that right after this past game.