You’ve seen Head Coach James Franklin’s competitive nature on Saturdays. He’s iced kickers, and he’s challenged bad calls whilst leading by 7 touchdowns with less than one minute to play. But if you’ve believed his competitive nature waned the slightest once the game clock read 00:00, you’re badly mistaken.
No, friends, James Franklin competes all the time - including at his Tuesday press conferences. Apparently, this week James believed he’s in competition with Illinois coach Lovie Smith, who attempted to grow an Abraham Lincoln-like beard this off season. As Coach Franklin rode a horse to the podium this week, and dismounted in grim silence, it became clear that he’d embraced Lovie’s President Abe look-a-like contest.
And if Lovie meant this to be a competition, then friends, James won in a romp.
A wild shock of black and grey hair covered his normally bald pate. Long side whiskers and a scraggly, unkempt chin beard complimented his genuine 19th-century formal-wear. James raised his right hand solemnly, silently asking assembled media for attention. And then he spoke with the stately, resounding baritone of Gregory Peck.
“Three score and five years ago, Rip Engle brought forth on this continent, a new football team, conceived in athletic scholarships, and dedicated to the proposition that eastern football could win mythical national championships.
Now we are engaged in a great college football war, testing whether that team, or any team so conceived and so dedicated, can win yet another national championship in this era of television and bag men. We are met in a great stadium press room of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as luxury suites for those who here gave their money that that team might win another title, post sanctions. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The wealthy people, living and dead, who donated here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget the money they spent here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who donated here have thus far so ostentatiously advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from their honored dollars we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of tax deduction—that we here highly resolve that these donations shall not have died in vain—that this team, underneath obscenely large scoreboards, shall have a new birth of championships—and that college football of the TV, by the TV, for the TV, shall not perish from the earth.
Also, because Jim Delany would lick a dog turd if Fox Sports guaranteed him one more dime. Which is why we must play in Champaign, IL this Friday night.”
And Then The Presser Started
COACH FRANKLIN: Appreciate everybody coming out to cover Penn State football. Got some notes from the previous game and then get into some thoughts on our opponent this week and then open it to questions.
But in the Kent State game, the one thing that we didn’t do a good job of is protecting the football. That is going to be critical. It’s going to be a lot of what I talk about this week, because that’s something that Illinois does such a good job of is turnovers. So we’ll talk about that a little bit more. But we didn’t win the turnover battle. We had one interception, but the ball was on the ground too many times. And they had none.
Penalties, although it didn’t necessarily feel like that, because we were sloppier than we’ve been. We won the penalty battle. We won the drive-start battle, which so far Blake has been a weapon for us.
We won the sack battle pretty handedly, seven sacks to one. And then the explosive-play battle. We won that pretty handily as well, offensively, at 21 percent and defensively at five percent.
Coaching staff, players of the week, on offense was Trace McSorley. On defense was Shareef Miller. And on special teams was a combination, we had two winners, K.J. Hamler and Isaac Lutz. Very pleased with those guys.
In general, some comments, some of these I covered after the game. But number one, positive notes we won, 63-10. Two, we stayed healthy. Three, we’ve got a lot of guys reps and experience, some for the first time. We had 11 guys play for the first time. Seven of those 11 were true freshmen.
We were able to limit reps of our starting unit, which is going to be obviously important this week with the turnaround. And then I saw some really good examples of discipline, which we talk about with our guys all the time.
So it was a couple of penalties, one specifically on the sideline where their guy was shoving and pushing us, and one guy took a swipe at us after the whistle. And we didn’t respond.
And we talk about that all the time with our players, because if we would have responded, it would have been either unsportsmanlike conduct on both teams or a lot of times the second guy in is the one that gets the penalty.
So we didn’t respond. They got the penalty. That’s an opportunity. That’s a time that you have to swallow your pride. These guys are prideful guys and they want to defend themselves. And you can’t. You walk away. So I thought that was a real positive.
Opportunities for growth, we’ve got to be more consistent in all three phases. Defensively we’ve got to eliminate the presnap penalties, those three offside penalties. Obviously, especially the way they played out, our free yards and free opportunities that we gotta take away. And then offensively we took 21 points off the board with two holding penalties and a pass interference. We’ve got to be better there.
The one holding penalty was not a holding penalty. It looked like it. Menet got called for it. If you watch the play Menet got locked up on the guy and the guard comes and knocks the nose over. And if you’re watching it and you just see the end of the play, you think Menet pulled him down but what really happened is the guard just came in and cleaned him up. So it is what it is. But in my opinion that was not a penalty.
Getting into Illinois, obviously got tremendous respect for Lovie Smith and his career, what he’s been able to do. His third season as the head coach at Illinois, 14th year of head coaching experience. Illinois, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears. 19 years of NFL coaching experience. 11 as a head coach. One Super Bowl appearance as a head coach and one as defensive coordinator with the Rams.
Look at what he was able to do with the Chicago Bears -- three division titles, two NFC Championship game appearances, a Super Bowl appearance, AP Coach of the Year in 2005. And is the third winningest coach in Chicago Bears history. So obviously the guy’s won a lot of games and is a very, very good football coach.
They returned 17 of 29 starters. And we think we’re going to have some challenges. There’s no doubt. It looks like this week, looking at their depth charts, they’re going to have some guys back that haven’t been available to them that they feel like are some of their better players.
Rod Smith is a first-year offensive coordinator there. Is an old Rich Rod guy in terms of system and scheme. He’s been at Arizona. You look at the numbers that they were able to put up when he was the offensive coordinator at Arizona with Khalil Tate. They did some great things.
Was at Indiana as a co-offensive coordinator. Before that was at South Florida. He’s a veteran offensive coordinator. They’ve got five returning starters. They’re an 11 personnel team 70 percent of the time, about.
Though they will go some 12 personnel and 20 personnel about ten percent of the time. There’s a lot of carry-over with what our defense saw at Kent State and from our offense.
They use multiple two-by-one and three-by-one sets. They run split-flow zone read. They run the stretch play. And they read that as well. The same thing with the counter. Play-action pass, screens and boots a lot.
They put up pretty good numbers statistically offensively. It’s going to be a challenge for us. Both their starting quarterback AJ Bush, who I think has a hamstring pull and missed last week’s game, as well as the backup, M.J. Rivers, have both played really well. They’re both completing over 60 percent of their passes.
Running back, Mike Epstein, who we’re familiar with, is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is averaging seven yards a carry. Reggie Corbin, the backup, is averaging 6.5 yards a carry. Then they’ve got a wide receiver, Ricky Smalling, we’re impressed with all those guys. And some of the guys we’re obviously aware of through the recruiting process.
Defensively, Lovie has a defensive background as well as Hardy Nickerson, the defensive coordinator. Been there three years, played in the NFL for 16 years, got a tremendous background. Seven returning starters, seven starters returning for them. They’re well-sound. They’re opportunistic.
I think the biggest factor in this game, no doubt about it is going to be turnovers. I think they’ve gotten a turnover in 17 straight games. They have not turned the ball over this year. One of only a few programs in the country that has done that. And they’ve gotten multiple turnovers in almost every game this season. That’s going to be the storyline of the game. That’s what they’re doing a really good job of.
There are four-down front. They’re going to play cover one, cover two. In the back end, overall 15 percent pressure, 14 percent normal downs and 25 percent on third down.
We’ve been impressed with their productive linebacker, No. 35, Jake Hansen. Their nose tackle Tymir Oliver, who is from Philadelphia, West Catholic. Whenever I see that, I always kind of look back and say: Why is there a guy from Philadelphia playing for Illinois and not Penn State? Obviously we didn’t do a good enough job there because not only is he a good player but he’s a captain. We always revisit those things. And then DB, No. 31, Cameron Watkins, we’ve been impressed with him.
Special teams, Bob Ligashesky, I’ve known him a long time. Bob is a PA guy, he’s done a nice job for them. He’s got 15 years of collegiate experience as well as 12 years of NFL experience. I think you hear that a lot.
A lot of NFL experience on this staff. They’re returning five of their seven starters on special teams. We’re impressed with linebacker No. 10, James Knight. Kicker, No. 43, Chase McLaughlin, seven field goals, a long of 54. I think he’s the record-holder in Illinois’ program history of field goals over 50 yards. I think he’s got four of them.
And then 16 touchbacks this season. So a really strong leg. And just like everybody else in college football, they have an Australian punter who does a nice job, a nice job for them as well.
So just kind of wanted to give you some overview, some thoughts, some ideas. I like where we’re at. It’s going to be important that we practice well today and take another step in the right direction. So open it up to questions.
Q. What’s been the biggest challenge in preparations this week and how have the players adjusted?COACH FRANKLIN: For the players, I think it’s easy. You think about all the freshmen we have playing, they’re used to playing Friday night. For them they’re good. And we were very specific all summer about planning of how we were going to handle this week.
I think we have a really good plan for it. I felt good. I thought yesterday’s practice was excellent. I thought Sunday’s practice was excellent.
I like where we’re at. We’re not talking about this week any other way than this is game week. I do not like talking about it any different than that, because I think it has a psychological effect and we won’t do that.
We’ve got the same days, amount of days to get ready that Illinois does. So I kind of voiced some of my thoughts before this week started. But now that it’s this week, this is game week for us.
So we’ve embraced it. We got, like I said, I think we got a really good plan from our strength staff, as well as our administrative staff, as well as our sport scientists and studying all these things and I like our plan. I feel good about it.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your red-zone success this year. Offensively I think you guys are 16-for-16 with 15 touchdowns and you’ve been good defensively, just four touchdowns on eight possessions. How much do you emphasize that? And are there one or two things that you see that maybe explain that hot start?COACH FRANKLIN: Well, yeah, I think we emphasize it. There’s no doubt about it. I think we’ve done a good job in opening drives. We’ve emphasized the importance of starting fast.
Right now, as you know, as a coach, you don’t always spend a whole lot of time on the things you’re doing well. You focus on the things you think you should do better. We’ve had a lull in the second quarters of games.
Instead of just saying, we’ve got a lull in the second quarter games, we need to study that. Why do we have a lull in the second game? Is there some things we can do in terms of being very strategic and intentional about that, to study our second quarter plans. And is there some things we can do to help ourselves there?
There’s no doubt that we’re scoring touchdowns at a high rate in the red zone. And that usually puts your team in a really good position to be successful.
Red zone, you’ve really got two different storylines. And I think a lot of people focus on touchdown success in the red zone compared to field goals. Field goals, if you’re kicking field goals in the red zone that’s going to come back to get you beat at some point. So obviously we emphasize the touchdowns.
But I think the other thing that’s probably just as important is red zone trips. That’s something that we spend a lot of time talking about as well. You want to get into the red zone as much as you possibly can. That’s probably even a stronger indicator of offensive success than anything. The more times you get to the red zone, good things are going to happen for your ball club. So we talk about that a lot.
But I think Trace obviously has got a good feel for that. I think Ricky has done a really good job for the offensive staff at having a plan and how your offense needs to change in the red zone.
I think one of the things that we’ve done a good job of is getting into 12 personnel, which is something we hadn’t done in the past, and being able to run the ball and be more physical in that area of the field, which typically your playbook shrinks because you lose your vertical passing game in some of those shots down there.
So the best teams typically, year in and year out, in red zone performance are the ones that run the ball the best. So I think that’s helped us as well.
So we spend a lot of time talking about situational football, understanding how to operate in those different areas and those different field zones and those different situations. And I think our guys have embraced it.
Q. You’re just talking about situational football. You’ve scored just before halftime in all three games and then you add in the tying touchdown in the fourth against App State. What’s been the key that you’ve seen to your 2-minute offense so far?COACH FRANKLIN: I mentioned this last week to you guys, if you go back to even our first game, we’ve been pretty good in two-minute situations, and we spend a lot of time on it. And I think the way we do it, instead of coming up with some arbitrary two-minute situations, using actual two-minute situations that we’ve been through or that our guys have watched on Monday Night Football or whatever it may be, I think there’s a lot of value in that. And I think that’s helped us tremendously. I think obviously having an experienced quarterback factors into that as well.
I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, but I think I do think the way we train, the way we talk, the way we plan, I think helps too. So I think whenever you’re able to put those types of game-winning drives together, obviously that is critical to your success. But also being able to get some momentum before halftime changes the perplexion going in at halftime, or changes the feel when you’re coming out after the half. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.
Like I said, we spend a lot of time talking through four-minute, talking through two-minute, talking through coming out. And I think where we’ve probably done a better job is the game of football has changed. So some of these rules of how football is played and how situations should be handled has changed.
When you’re running a different style of offense, you know, if you’re running a spread-style offense, your four-minute philosophy or your two-minute philosophy is different than if you’re a pro-style huddle team and you need to kind of grow and morph and understand those things and evolve.
I think we’ve spent a lot more time as coaches talking through situational football. I think one of the things that we’ve done in terms of adding a tenth coach is that person having some more responsibility on game day, giving me someone to talk to other than the offense and defensive staff, someone that I can bounce ideas off of kind of throughout the game that’s not focused on the offense or defense. I think that’s been helpful as well.
Now, as a staff coming in from practice and talking situational football, or something that came up in practice, or even during practice, talking to the players, or we’re doing a two-minute drive and there’s a situation that’s come up. Stop the clock, don’t worry about the clock, bring the quarterbacks together, bring the coordinators together and talk through that situation and why we’re going to handle it a certain way.
So I think we’ve just been very intentional about it. And I’ve been pleased with what we’ve been able to do. I think we all learn, we all learn based on how we practice and we all learn, I’m constantly -- I annoy the video staff and the administrative staff because whenever I’m watching college football or NFL football, if I see something I’m sending it so we can show our players during the week examples of guys that didn’t handle things well and it comes back to bite the team in the rear end. So we spend a lot of time talking about all these things, and I think it’s helped us.
Q. How has Sean Clifford responded to being the backup quarterback the last couple of weeks? And how close is Tommy Stevens to returning?COACH FRANKLIN: Once again, we won’t get to talking about injuries and things like that. Again, I understand you’ve got to ask the question. But Sean’s done a really nice job in his role. It’s hard to argue. I think he’s completed every single pass and 50 percent of them for touchdowns and one for the longest touchdown in the history of Beaver Stadium.
So pretty good start. Pretty good start for him. He’s gotten a lot of reps over the last year and a half in practice. He’s extremely competitive. He’s extremely prideful. It’s very, very important to him. He is focused. He’s locked in.
So I think in a lot of ways this has been a blessing in disguise. If Tommy had been taken the reps that he had been normally taking in practice and games, then maybe Sean wouldn’t have been able to get this opportunity.
So now we’ve got three guys that have all played in games and played at a pretty high level. So I think in the long run this is a real positive for us.
But we expect to have all three of those guys available for Saturday -- or Friday, thank you Chris for Friday, excuse me. We expect to have all those guys available for the game this week that happens to be on Friday.
And I will share this with you: If we needed Tommy last week we could have played Tommy last week. So we’re just probably being a little more cautious than probably we need to be.
Q. Penn State is traditionally one of the least penalized teams in the country. Numbers going up this year. Do you consider it a big issue at this point, and how do you get back to kind of the normal numbers here?COACH FRANKLIN: When you say Penn State, are you talking about like historically?
Q. Both historically and with you.COACH FRANKLIN: I think it’s something that -- we spend a lot of time having officials at practice and talking about the importance of it. I felt like this last game we had some things that I wasn’t happy with because I felt like we extended drives and created opportunities.
So for us, I think what we just try to do is we try to emphasize it every single day and talk about the importance of it. But we’re never probably going to go further than that, because I actually think it can have the opposite effect. So for us we’re going to stick to our plan and we’re going to stick to our process. And you know we’re still in a good place, but I agree with you. We need to be more disciplined.
And I think it’s magnified right now because of the type of penalties and the impact on the game they’ve had.
Q. Special teams have been a real plus for you guys, the first three games. What are some of the keys to the success of your units? And are Hamler and Thompkins two of the most talented return men you’ve seen in your coaching career?COACH FRANKLIN: Two of the most what? I would say our special teams has been inconsistent. I think our return game is more explosive right now than it’s been based on, I think the point you’ve made, is we have some guys that scare defensive coordinators, scare special teams coordinators and get everybody in the stadium sitting on the edge of their seat. That’s what you want. I’ve been talking about that for a while.
Last year we used Saquon for that very reason in some of those roles. But I think we’re in a good place right now. We’ve got multiple guys that can make plays with the ball in their hands. That’s a good thing. We’ll continue to do that.
I think our freshmen kickers have been -- I think, doing a really good job. Our kickoffs have been -- when he hits it right -- have been deep and put us in a really positive position to cover the kicks and limit opportunities.
But I still think we can be a little bit more consistent there. But I think considering we’ve got two true freshmen kicking for us, I think both of them have done a really good job. And I think the staff, Phil Galiano and the staff have done a really good job managing that.
The one probably regret that I have is there was an opportunity on Saturday where we went for it on fourth down and obviously after the fact we should have kicked a field goal there. That would have been an opportunity, that would have been an opportunity to get another kick in the game that I didn’t manage that as well as I should have.
But overall, I’ve been pleased. But obviously we’ve had a kickoff return for touchdown. We’ve got to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. We’ve got to reduce the explosive plays.
And then we’ve two onsides kicks, one that I think we’ll take responsibility for because I didn’t think we were aligned correctly, way too much space in the middle of the field. And then the second one, they really didn’t have, but they made a play on the ball. But we’ve done some really good things. But we’ve also given up some big plays. So we’ve got to get those things cleaned up.
Q. The two quarterbacks for Illinois, I guess the fifth-year senior who might play, might not, and the other is a true freshman, is there any difference stylistically or how you prepare? Do you assume Bush is going to play? What’s your thinking on that situation?COACH FRANKLIN: We just have to prepare and assume that these guys will be back. And from everything we’ve seen and we’ve read we feel like -- excuse me, they feel like these are some of their better players from all the stuff that I’ve read.
So, obviously, they’ll make an impact. I think that’s in the secondary area as well as the tight end. They’ve got some guys that they’re expecting back. So we’ll plan accordingly, but again we can only do so much based on what we see on tape. We’ll adjust to what we find out on Friday. I almost said it again -- Friday.
Q. After the game Saturday, you talked about studying sudden-change defense during the offseason. What was that process like? And were there changes that came about that and were they more philosophical or were you trying to do some things schematically in those situations?COACH FRANKLIN: Did you say sudden-change defense, is that what you said?
Q. Sudden-change defense, yeah.COACH FRANKLIN: And then you were asking whether we changed some things schematically, is that what you said?
Q. Yes.COACH FRANKLIN: It’s not like we change -- it’s more of a mentality and talk to our guys on defense about what a great opportunity they have to go out and swing the momentum back. I think we played really good defense throughout that entire game and that showed up, that showed up obviously in the sudden change situation as well.
Except for the penalties where we jumped offsides and gave them some opportunities and gave them some first downs, I thought we played some pretty salty defense throughout the game.
Q. There are still only 13 black head coaches among 130 FBS teams, and this is one of the few games all season that will have one on both teams in the country. How do you feel about where the diversity issue is in coaching right now, and are you seeing strides being made or not?COACH FRANKLIN: I’d love for us to get to a point where this really isn’t even a conversation anymore. Obviously I don’t think we’re there yet. But I remember thinking back as an assistant, when Tony Dungy and Lovie were playing against each other in a Super Bowl, and I said this is going to have an impact. And I think it did. I think it did especially in the NFL.
I do think there’s a lot of progress that still needs to be made in college and probably the NFL as well. But at the end of the day I think all that anybody wants is that people have opportunities, and whether that is people of color, whether that is women, whether that is whatever it may be, that they have opportunities. And at the end of the day that the most qualified people get the job and that if you are going to take a chance or risk on someone that maybe is less qualified, that again the same opportunities are there.
So I have so much respect for Coach and what he has done in his career. I think for me, I kind of look at guys like Lovie kind of coming up in this profession as kind of role models and mentors for me from a distance. I don’t know Lovie as well as maybe some other guys.
But again I’m working like crazy, number one, for Penn State. I’m working like crazy for our players. I’m working like crazy for our lettermen and for this community. I’m working like crazy for my family. But I also feel like I carry a little bit of that weight that I’m also working for thousands of young African-American football coaches all over the country that when someone gets into my position the success that we have here hopefully opens some opportunities for other guys in the future.
Q. Mark Allen, Johnathan Thomas, Nick Scott all coming in focused on running back. Could you describe their journey to this point, all playing roles in different ways and what they’ve meant to the program development?COACH FRANKLIN: They’ve been huge, all three of them. I went out of my way on Saturday in the locker room with the guys, with Johnathan Thomas. I don’t know if there’s a better example of what we call the ultimate teammate. Complete team-first guy. Always has a smile on his face. Always is reaching out a helping hand to try to help a teammate, a young player, a rookie coming in, a veteran that may be going through something.
Really important, his role on special teams. Never been a guy coming into my office asking for anything. He just wants an opportunity to earn, kind of very similar to what we got done talking about.
He’s just been a fantastic teammate and a fantastic member of the team. I think that’s why you saw the sideline and the team respond the way they did when he scored that touchdown. So we kind of all have different stories and different paths. And he’s got a long one. But couldn’t be more proud of him and his role and how he’s embraced it and what he’s done.
Nick Scott, you know, same deal. We asked Nick to change positions. I think I either saw a quote or read a quote where someone said, why did you move to defense back. And he said, I had 26 reasons to do it.
I thought that was a really good quote by Nick. But he’s done a great job. Talking about a guy that moved positions, was still learning how to play on the defensive side of the ball, but then ended up being a two-year captain, and there’s only been a handful of two-year captains in Penn State history. He’s one of them. One as a special teams guy and now defensive guy.
And we have a short history of guys starting in the secondary at the safety positions that come in play one year and have really good years for us and for them. I think Nick is an example of that, one of the more respected players on the team.
And Mark again is stuck behind maybe one of the better running backs in college football history. When he got opportunities, he made the most of them. For all of us, that’s hard. That’s hard to sit behind a guy like that when the game’s really important to you, and I think the game is extremely important to Mark.
And it’s great to see him getting his opportunities right now and making the most of them. One of the things that’s interesting along this journey that we all go on through life, whether that’s as a player, whether that’s as a student, whether that’s as a son or a brother or as a father or as a coach, everybody’s journey is different.
One of the things that we’ve talked to Mark about is, you know, Mark thought that his blessing in life was football. And it is. But it’s one of his blessings. And Mark has a much larger gift, and his gift is his ability to impact others in a positive way.
You talk about a guy like Marcus Allen, what he did for our team, like K.J. Hamler is doing for our team right now. And Mark is one of those guys. Mark’s one of those guys that lights up a room when he comes into it. He lights up a locker room. He knows how to have fun. There’s a time and place for everything.
And I think that’s been probably an important part of Mark’s journey is realizing that, yeah, football is one of his gifts, and the type of intellect that he has in graduating from Penn State with still eligibility left is one of his gifts. But one of his greatest gifts is his ability to impact others in a positive way.
So all three of those guys have had tremendous journeys and have been invaluable to the things that we’ve been able to do over the last four years.
Q. In keeping with the running backs, through the nonconference slate now, are you pleased with how the running back rotation has gone between Miles and Mark and Ricky? And do you see now going into Big Ten play Ricky and Mark continuing to get some run early in the game?COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, yeah, we continue to want to rotate those guys. I think whenever you play big-time college football you better have three backs ready that you feel like you can play with.
Again, the other thing that’s going to factor in there is keeping our guys fresh for the fourth quarter, and then also keeping our guys fresh throughout the season. And that’s across the board at every position as well as our running backs. So, yeah, I like where we’re at.
Ricky obviously has shown some really good things, but he also has been through some experiences that will create opportunity for growth with him, and those experiences are similar to what Miles has been through in his past and Mark has been through in his past.
So we’ve got two veteran guys that have played a lot of football and can make plays for us, and we have a young up-and-coming guy as well as some other guys.
We’ll continue to try to rotate those guys. Obviously as the season goes on, some games there will be more rotation than others. We’ll just see -- typically we go into the game with a very specific plan by position. So it’s going to be a one-to-one rotation. It’s going to be a two-to-1 rotation or a three-to-one rotation. Or this guy is the starter but we’re going to try to get this guys a series in the first half and a series in the second half, those types of things.
And obviously as the game goes on, we stick to that plan but then the game can dictate some adjustments. But we want to have very specific plans about everything we do heading into it and then the game factors into that.
So like, for example, the other day we had a rotation, well, then when we got to the point late in the game where we were up by enough points that we made some significant substitutions, that plan’s over. So we’ve adjusted.
So I’m trying to kind of have as many of these conversations ahead of time so that then I’m not having to manage these things during the game, although I still do at times.
Q. I’m wondering, John Reid you said after week one he kind of had some rust to work off. And the way it came on the broadcast after Pitt was that it sounded like he was a healthy scratch the way they portrayed it. Is everything okay there, do you expect him back this week?COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, we expect John back.
Q. What do you remember about Yetur Gross-Matos when you recruited him? Maybe it was Old Dominion when you first saw him in person.COACH FRANKLIN: Obviously we were recruiting him and aware of him and obviously got an opportunity to work with him at camps. But the same thing that probably you see now are the same things that jump out to you when we first saw him -- his length, his growth potential, his athleticism, the type of family that he’s come from. He’s got a really strong support system at home. His grades, his film, flash some really good athleticism and then obviously what I call home training.
He’s been raised well. Mom, dad, brother, sister. He’s done some really good things. So we’re pleased with him. He’s still got a lot of areas to grow in and improve. But he’s got a lot of ability. And he’s grown up in a lot of different areas. And hopefully will continue to do that.
Q. How would you evaluate your pass rush through the first three games of the season, and how do you evaluate a pass rush when you’re going up against more mobile quarterbacks than some traditional offensive players?COACH FRANKLIN: I think we’ve been pretty good at defensive end. Obviously we had seven sacks last week, but I think we’ve been pretty good at defensive end. I think we can be better at defensive tackle. And I think we can be better at linebacker. We’ve got to be more reckless when we blitz and when we rush at linebacker. Sometimes that running back goes to fit us up and we can be more aggressive in terms of rushing the quarterback.
And things that you’re always going to get better at. So typically you’ve got aiming points for where you’re supposed to rush the quarterback. So if you’re supposed to rush the quarterback on his outside shoulder, on the high hip or however you want to describe it, there’s a couple times where we’ve gotten two tights on our rush, and then the quarterback has been able to break contain.
I also think that people have a tendency, we’re so aggressive rushing up the field that people use that against us in terms of quarterback scrambles or draws or things like that. So there’s that fine line between how reckless we are in rushing up the field and trying to get to the quarterback but also making sure that we stay in our lanes and things like that and that we don’t lose contain especially on the mobile quarterbacks. I think there’s no doubt about it.
Defensive end, overall good. At defensive tackle I think we can get better. And at linebacker when we’re blitzing I think we can be better.
Q. How do you coach a guy through a funk? How do you get somebody maybe not performing at the level you were expecting get them back to that point without talking to them, because sometimes it makes it worse in some cases.COACH FRANKLIN: I think it depends on the kid. That’s where it’s an art, not a science of knowing that kid and what he needs. And I think you guys that come to practice see, I have a very different approach. You guys don’t get to see a whole lot of this. But I’m a very different approach on game day than I do on Saturdays.
I’m pretty aggressive in practice. And on Saturdays I’m pretty aggressive when it comes to positive things, not when it comes to negative things. And then when I see examples in practice or in games of a young man doing something at a really high level, whether it’s effort or execution, production, whatever it may be, try to make a big deal out of that, because when our team shows those examples, I want to show the whole team.
When individuals show those examples, I want to show the whole team, because there’s a flash of what we’re capable of, and the best players and the best teams are able to do those things consistently.
So for us I would probably say we spend more time focused on the positive of what we want them to do coaching from the affirmative rather than screaming what you don’t want them to do. Those types of things.
But there’s a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s talking to the guy one-on-one. Sometimes it’s getting in the guy’s face and challenging him. Sometimes it’s talking to the high school coach. Sometimes it’s talking to the parents. Sometimes it’s just loving them up as much as you possibly can and telling them you believe in them.
It’s really different for different kids. And part of it is, is it a confidence issue? Is it an effort issue? Is it a focus issue? What is it? And all those different things, experience, what the issue is is going to determine how you correct it. What that guy’s personality traits are. Those types of things.
I think obviously the position coaches are going to be the best at doing it because they spend the most time with these guys and what motivates them and how they respond the best.
But as a head coach, I think that’s a big part of my job as well to either reinforce what the coaches are doing with them or even sometimes the old good cop/bad cop. I think if you see a position coach blasting a guy, they don’t need me coming over blasting them as well -- that we try to complement each other. And I tell the assistant coaches the same thing; we have to complement one another. If I’m blasting a guy you shouldn’t be blasting him. We should be complementing each other.
Q. What are your thoughts on from when you get home Saturday to a practice Tuesday, you’ve got just a couple hours on Sunday. That’s not the norm. How do you -- what’s your thinking on that?COACH FRANKLIN: You know, we don’t gain as much from Saturday as you’d like, because we don’t get home until like 5:00 in the morning, so -- with the time change and things like that. So you don’t gain as much.
But obviously we’ll be able to get some work done. We’ll be able to get our games corrected, which we will do. We’ll come in the office on Saturday. We’ll grade the tape. We’ll be able to have our staff meeting, kind of go over that game, get all those things knocked out so come Sunday we’ll gain probably three hours is truly what we’ll gain.
And then obviously the GAs will be able to get that film, that Saturday game graded and put into the system as well. So we’ll gain a couple hours, but not as much as you’d think. And then where we have to be a really mature football team is how we handle Saturday.
I think that’s going to be really, really important as well, that we get a good night’s sleep and we recover so we can have a great week of preparation. But obviously I don’t want to get into a whole lot of that. But I wanted to answer your question about how we’ll handle coming back from Illinois.
Q. I actually meant the kids.COACH FRANKLIN: From what standpoint?
Q. They’ll have Saturday and Monday off and they don’t usually have two out of three days and then half of Tuesday, too.COACH FRANKLIN: I guess what I’m saying is they’re really only going to get probably Saturday night off. And if we were playing a 12:00 Saturday game, it really wouldn’t be any difference because if we get back at 5:00 in the morning they’re probably sleeping until when?
Q. Two.COACH FRANKLIN: Right, probably sleeping until 2:00, 3:00. So you’re not gaining as much as you think you would. They’re probably gaining a couple hours on Saturday. Say it was a noon game, they’re gaining a couple of hours there. And we’re gaining a couple hours for Sunday, really. But besides that not a whole lot, unless obviously it was a night game, back-to-back night games.
Q. How do you go about coaching a guy like Blake Gillikin, a specialized position, captain, doing really well? Do you kind of give him a long leash? Do you let him figure out stuff on his own? Or are you hands on with him just like the other players?COACH FRANKLIN: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. Obviously Blake is a captain for us, so that comes with a little bit of responsibility and a little bit of leeway. Obviously the type of student he’s been, obviously the type of success that he had on the field and has been playing a lot of football for us.
So, yeah, I think it’s no different than probably we are with our kids. Your kids’ got a curfew at 9:00, and if they respect that curfew do a good job with it, then in tenth grade then they have a later curfew, in 11th grade -- and it’s the same thing with our guys; they come in as freshmen and we’re kind of all over them about everything. And once they prove themselves then they get more freedom and they get more flexibility as their career goes on as they earn it.
And I think it’s kind of a -- Blake’s a really good example of that. He’s a guy that we’re probably talking to more than we’re talking at. I’m asking Blake questions. I’m getting his perspective.
But I also think there’s also a fine line with those captains that every once in a while that the team sees that I get on all over those guys as well because I think it’s really important that the team sees that nobody is above that.
But for the most part, as you can imagine, there’s not a whole lot that needs to happen with Trace and Nick and Blake. He’s really been kind of the model student-athlete in a lot of ways. I think probably the biggest thing I talk to him about is his influence of being able to set a standard with the rest of those specialists, especially with two true freshmen that are handling kickoffs and PATs.
Vasey is a part of that as well because he’s an older guy, been there and done that with the long snappers. But Blake and Vasey can coach all those guys up on how to be a successful student-athlete here at Penn State.
Q. With Jason away I think he played about a dozen high school games before he got here. He flashes in the first game -- two sacks. What are the short-term and long-term expectations for what he can make of his college career?COACH FRANKLIN: It’s probably easier right now to talk about long term. I think he’s got a bright future. He’s 6’5”. He’s like 247 pounds right now. He ran the fastest 40 of any freshman that we brought in at summer camp. He had, I think, the highest vertical jump, the longest broad jump. So obviously he’s got a lot of gifts, genetic gifts. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it when it comes to athleticism.
But the game is still very knew to him. But I see him getting better every week and understanding the things that we’re teaching. Came from really good high school program. His D line coach in high school, I played with in college. His head coach in high school I played with in college.
So he came in and had a pretty good foundation, although he hadn’t played a lot of football. And the other thing is he’s just a very hardworking respectful, coachable kid, so he’s getting better every day.
It’s hard to tell short term because right now him and Tarburton, we’re kind of complementing those two guys. So we played Tarburton first two games. Probably gonna play Jayson Oweh in two games and evaluate them from there.
Do we save those (indiscernible) for late in the season, or do we end up playing one these guys? Obviously depending on how Jayson plays this week we’ll determine do we just green-light him the rest of the year based on his production last week? Or does he go back into kind of a wait-and-see type mode?
But long-term, based on his body type and athleticism and mentality and then a very small sample size, but very productive in that small sample size, you’d like to say that he’s going to have a very bright future.