Anticipating the assembled media’s questions, this week James Franklin showed us his playful side. As War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” song played over the press room speakers, Coach Franklin strolled onto the stage wearing a red fedora and wig. He gave all assembled a graceful 360-degree spin, ‘dabbed’, ‘whipped’, grinned widely, and proceeded to the dais.
“Thank you all for coming. I have a few quick notes about last week’s game vs Appalachian State, and then we’ll address this week’s opponent. Hey, Kris (Petersen, SID), who is this week’s opponent?”
“Thank you, that’s right. Akron. We play Akron this week. Again. They’re coached by... someone...probably, but I wouldn’t know since we don’t really recruit any of the same players - at least as far as I can tell.”
And Then The Presser Started
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, appreciate everybody coming out to cover us. Had a good Sunday of corrections, good Monday day off, had a bunch of guys coming in on their own, watching the film, which was great. And not only obviously from App State, but also to get a head start on Pitt. So feel really good about that.
I think overall just kind of -- before getting into the specifics, you gotta give App State credit. I think they had a really good plan against us. They played really hard. I thought their quarterback played extremely well, extremely well; ran and threw the ball really well. And I think there’s going to be a lot of value that comes out of it.
The adversity that we had to overcome, I think everybody realizes we have a lot of confidence when the ball is in Trace McSorley’s hands at the end of the game. He’s just done it so many times. We were talking to the team the other day, think about how many games we’ve been able to win -- win or tie with two-minute drives, all the way back to, I think, our first game in Ireland. So that’s something we take a lot of pride in teaching situational football. I think you guys know that come out to practice, we don’t just do random two-minute situations. We use actual two-minute situations that our guys have been through, so it’s more realistic. They can remember and feel the emotion of what that experience was and what we learned from and where we can grow. So a lot of confidence there.
But we played like an inexperienced football team. We had a bunch of guys playing for the first time, guys that did not play as fast or as confident as I know they’re capable of. And then mistakes. You know, guys, you know, not playing the techniques or the fundamentals the way we want them played, or not even the right assignments. So obviously we gotta make big improvements between week one and week two. A lot of people feel that’s when you make the biggest improvements, so we’re going to need it, and I think our guys have the right mentality, and I think our coaching staff took the right approach on Sunday and Monday.
Overall I think probably the thing that allowed us to be successful on Saturday was that we won the turnover battle. If you look, the percentages at Penn State at home and in general, you’re in the 90 percents. You win the turnover battle, you got a chance to be successful. We won the penalty battle. I thought App State did a really good job of handling the noise. I don’t think there was a whole lot of jumping offsides and things like that, but we won that battle.
I think the adjustments that we made with the new blocking rules, I think, helped us. But I think that was a major factor in the game. And then the sack battle, which there wasn’t a lot of sacks for either side, but we won that as well. So positives there.
Players of the week, on offense was Miles Sanders. On defense was Shareef Miller, and on special teams was Jake Pinegar.
So the positives, big-time gritty win against a really good opponent, a two-minute drive to win the game. Doesn’t feel like this, but the defense had given up three points and 175 yards going into the fourth quarter. Didn’t feel like that, but that’s the reality of it. Bunch of first-time starters gained a lot of experience that will grow from, tremendous opportunity for growth game one to game two, and then I thought the PAT field goals we were 7 of 7 with a guy doing it for the first time.
The major areas for growth, examples of making sure that our guys are playing full speed from the snap to the whistle, discipline up front and defense in keying the ball, not jumping offsides. They were our two penalties, jumping offsides, one in a critical situation.
Offensively, we gotta be better in our perimeter blocking, and defensively, we gotta be better in our block destruction, especially on the perimeter with D backs and wide receivers. And then we gotta do a great job, we coach it all the time in practice, but it showed up a few times, whenever the ball is on the ground, we don’t know how they’re going to rule it; are they going to rule it an incomplete pass, are they going to rule it a fumble, are they going to rule it a backwards pass? Whenever the ball is on the ground in practice, we’re all over our guys about covering, and we didn’t do that consistently on Saturday.
So just some things like that we gotta get cleared up, but I feel good about it.
And then obviously, getting into Pitt, tremendous challenge. Got so much respect for the University of Pittsburgh and their program and Coach Narduzzi and what he’s been able to do throughout his career. It’s going to be a tough place to play. I think we’ll get really good support. I think our fans will show up strong as well. But it’s a tough place to play, there’s no doubt about it. So we gotta be ready for that.
We’ll have their fight song. We’ll have all their stadium music blaring all week long to get prepared for that and make it as loud and hostile as we possibly can. And then we gotta go out and we gotta make a huge improvement from game one to game two. So should be a tremendous challenge.
Obviously Coach Narduzzi does a great job. He’s got obviously a defensive background. Offensively, Shawn Watson has done a really good job, he’s had a great career, been a head coach, been a coordinator, has been doing this for a long time, 32 years.
You know, the offensive guys, Qadree Ollison returning, George Aston, who gave us fits two years earlier. Jimmy Morrissey and Alex Bookser are all guys that we have a lot of respect for, and it’s going to be a challenge to stop their pro-style, multiple-shift motion offense, speed sweeps, fake speed sweeps, inside zone. I think although Coach Watson is in his second year, he was part of the program the year before in a consultant role. So he knows what they do and what they do well.
And then defensively, Randy Bates is now there, so combining his experience with Coach Narduzzi’s, they got a bunch of starters back on defense, nine returning starters on defense. I won’t list all those guys out. As you guys know, there are 4-3 quarters, press, very similar to what Michigan State does. It’s evolved over time a little bit obviously, once he’s left Michigan State, and they’ve been disruptive.
Dewayne Hendrix is a guy that we’ve got a lot of respect for as a defensive end. Quintin Wirginis, if I’m saying that correctly, their linebacker, wasn’t able to play last year, who I’ve heard great things about, has played in 38 career games up to that point and got a knack for getting to the quarterback. And then we expect Dane Jackson to be back this game, their starting corner, No. 11.
So should be interesting. And then I think Andre Powell and their special teams is always really good. They’ve given us some fits in the past, so we’re going to have to be prepared, we’re going to have to be better, because that’s an area we didn’t play up to our standards on Saturday. I know I talked too long. Chris wants me to be quiet. So I’ll open it up to specific questions you guys have.
Q. James, what did you see on film from your defense including the experienced and inexperienced players in the fourth quarter Saturday?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, I think the biggest thing that probably stood out to everybody, it doesn’t take 23 years’ coaching experience to say we didn’t tackle well. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that stood out. Too many missed tackles. I mean that’s a constant conversation with defensive coaches and offensive coaches during camp and other head coaches I’ve talked about with all the rule changes, how much do you tackle in preseason to make sure your guys are ready to go in game one and don’t have a situation like that where we miss so many tackles.
I think that’s the biggest thing that stands out. Wrote a note down that we’re going to have to look at our camp model next year and do a little bit more tackling without putting ourselves in a situation that we increase the injury rate. So that’s the fine line there.
I thought we had some guys that just weren’t playing fast. We weren’t triggering off the ball up front the way I think we’re capable of. Our alignments, we weren’t in great alignments sometimes. We weren’t getting hands on receivers. They had a good play and they were getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly. They did some good things in the running game with their outside zone, and we were getting reached and not gap accountable, especially at the defense tackle position. So gotta get those things cleaned up.
And then offensively, we were just inconsistent. You know, we’d go on a long scoring drive one time and then go a three-and-out the other. And three-and-outs are bad words. They’re bad words on offense and they’re bad words for your program, puts your defense in a tough spot as well.
And then I think the other thing is rotation. I think it’s easy to sit here and say we should have just rode our starters out. But I would say the opposite. I think we probably should have played some more young guys because I think if you look at our rep count, I think our rep count factored in the first game in the fourth quarter. I’m a big believer if we can get our rep count down, that’ll help us in the fourth quarter of that game and that will help us throughout the season. So I actually think we could have played some more guys and got some more guys some reps. I think that would be helpful for us.
And then on special teams, we had a bunch of new starters on special teams, especially on our kickoff coverage, and it hurt us. Guys ran out of their lanes. We weren’t lane disciplined, created a ^ natural lane in there for the kickoff return. And that guy can run. So I think they outkicked us on Saturday. Their kickoffs consistently were deep in the end zone. Their punts were deep. And they were able to win the field position battle because of that, which is something I probably would not have thought coming into the game. So we gotta get those things cleaned up as well.
But overall, you know, overall, we were able to find a way to get a win and learn from it and grow.
Q. James, I wanted to ask you about your new starter at center Michal Menet. How did you think he did in the first start? And also the guy he kind of flipped spots with, Connor McGovern, how do you think he did in his move back to guard?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think there was some growing pains there. I think it’s probably not an ideal situation that your center, who’s starting his first game of his career, is playing an odd defense where you got a nose right over your head. The positive was we didn’t have any bad snaps, which typically is an issue with first-time starters at center. But being in a situation where you got a true zero nose right over your head, probably not ideal. We gotta play lower. We gotta be more aggressive. We gotta displace people a little bit more often. But I think both of them, you know, with an odd front defense and playing a different position, I don’t think played up to the standards that I know they want to play at or we need them to play at.
But once again, we were able to make those corrections on film. We were able to make those corrections in a walk-through setting, and now we’ve moved on to our next opponent. And that odd front will show up on third down because Pitt does a good job with their third package, especially on third and six or more, when they get into that odd front, mug up the linebackers, give you a bunch of different pressure looks and twists that are going to be challenging as well. They do a good job of getting free runners at the quarterback.
Q. James, how would you rate your defense as far as communication with some newer faces in there, especially presnaps where a few times guys had to be realigned? You had to call the timeout in overtime.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, the timeout in overtime was basically this was a critical play in the game, and I’m going to use the timeout. There’s no reason to save the timeout. Burn the timeout, make sure we got the best call, that everything’s communicated, that we know exactly what we’re doing and why, and that was the reason we called the timeout there. I just felt like, hey, no reason to go through the first overtime period and not use it.
But communication, yeah, again, with all the first-time starters and the first-time guys playing, gaining experience, it wasn’t as good as it needs to be. And that’s some of the things that we cleaned up on Sunday in the film session. That’s some of the things that we talked about on the field on Sunday when we walked through some of the mistakes and things like that. But yeah, we look at communication as a fundamental; no different than tackling and blocking, you know, communication is a fundamental in football, and we weren’t as good as we needed to be on Saturday.
The interesting thing is you spend so much time focused on communication on offense when you go to away stadiums that I think sometimes you don’t emphasize how you need to communicate on defense at home. There’s a similar challenge there. So usually there’s less communication that happens on the defensive side of the ball. But it’s still critical.
Q. After the game you said all wins aren’t created equally. What was different about Saturday’s win that you can then apply to this coming Saturday?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. Actually, Michael Hazel came up to me afterward at the press conference and said, “is that what you meant to say?”
Probably not. I probably didn’t do a great job articulating what I was trying to say there. All wins, you know, obviously are all equal. How you get to those wins are different I guess is what I was trying to say after the game. And some are going to be by a lot of points and some are going to be by a few points, and some are going to be in overtime. But at the end of the season we’re going to look back, and that was going to be a significant win for us.
So that’s really what I was trying to say is, you know, at the end of the day we’d love for them to all be pretty wins, but that’s not going to be the case. Any given Sunday, any given Saturday, any given Friday, I think we all see it. We saw it in our game, and we saw it watching games on Saturday and on Sunday, and even yesterday.
But the most important thing is you find a way to win and you grow and you learn, and that’s one of the things that I’m pretty proud over our career is we have typically gotten better as the season has gone on. So as long as we keep that approach and we get better each day and get better each week, I think we’ll like where we’re at come the end of the season.
Q. Your offense line, in overtime I think you ran the ball every play, looked good, scored the touchdown. How do you think those guys maybe did at the end of the game there? Do you think they performed better? Do you think that’s a boost for them, especially when you have a new center working? What do you think about the way they played at the end of the game and maybe can that carry over?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think in the first drive we played well. I think at the end of the game we played well. I think we played well in the red zone. We were great in the red zone. Why? Because we were able to run the ball. I thought our offensive line had a mentality down there. But I don’t think there’s any doubt -- and it’s going to be one of my messages to the team today -- is we gotta play better up front on both sides of the ball. D line has gotta be dominant and disruptive, and the O line has gotta be dominant and disruptive. That’s something we’re going to talk about this week. We gotta grow there.
You look at the best teams in the country, they’re able to dominate the line of scrimmage. I’m pretty confident when you look at what we’ve been able to do on the defensive line since we’ve been here, and I keep seeing our offensive line gradually chipping away at it and getting better, so once again, we gotta get better in that unit this week and do that all season.
Q. I wanted to ask you about John Reid. It didn’t seem like he was on the field a lot in the fourth quarter in overtime. I may be wrong. I just wanted to know how you evaluated his performance after watching the film. And I also wanted to ask you about Shareef Miller’s performance and the leadership he seems to be showing on the D line?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, Shareef is a guy that we’re very proud of. His evolution across the board has been really impressive. I couldn’t be more proud of him the type of teammate he is, the type of student he’s become, you know, the type of player he is; the leader. He’s done a great job with the defensive line.
I actually just saw him walking across campus. I’m really proud of Shareef in so many ways. And, you know, he’s worked for everything that he’s got, hasn’t been given anything. And I’m proud of him. I mean I think Shareef’s a great example of why we’re in college athletics. You know, to think about Shareef back in high school when I met him and we started recruiting him, and to see where he is now, I’m really proud. He was a great kid coming out of high school, but like all of us, he was immature and needed to grow up and evolve, and he has. So I’m really, really proud of him.
And then the first part of your question was, oh, John Reid. Yeah, John played like a guy that, you know, hadn’t played for a year, you know, did some things really good, but did some things, you know, where he was a little bit inconsistent. And I think part of that is John’s a perfectionist. He’s like that in school. He’s like that in football. It’s really important to him. And he works really hard at it. But, you know, I think there was a little bit of rust on him and we were able to chip some of that rust off, and I think John’s going to have a huge year for us.
Q. After the game the App State coach said, about the new blocking rule, he said, “I didn’t know that we were calling it that way. We gotta go back and take a look at that.” Could you explain a little bit about what that change is and how you were able to sort of teach it so that it wasn’t an issue for you guys on Saturday?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. You know, I’m not going to get into that. I’ll get into, you know, Penn State. And they basically have eliminated cutting, specifically cutting at the second level. Unless you are blocking someone that’s in front of you and within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and when I say in front of you, square, we’re looking at each other. No blocks from the side. They’ve been eliminated from the game.
And I can just speak for Penn State, that was very clearly expressed to us through a video that went out, and then the officials that we have work our practice. So we were very clear on that. But, again, I can just address Penn State and specifically talk about how we handled things.
I think our guys handled it well, and I think our coaches handled it well. You know, I’m glad we did.
Q. You said last week that you hadn’t seen a whole lot of separation between the top couple of guys at the defensive tackle, and I’m wondering what the younger guys, Jordan, Hansard and ^ Mustipher. Did any of them stand out to you? Has there been any separation?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. I think Fred did some good things, but played like a guy that started his first game. I think that showed up. Ellison showed some flashes. As you guys know, he missed some time at the end of last season, so coming off an injury, and a little bit like John Reid where missed a lot of time and is just getting back into the groove of things, but we think both of those guys got really bright futures. Antonio Shelton got probably -- I don’t think there’s any doubt probably the most reps of his career, and he’ll learn from that and he’ll grow there.
And then P. J. Mustipher is your unusual true freshman playing defensive tackle, and again, did some good things, but also did some things that, you know, that you would probably expect from a first-time freshman starting in a game in front of 105,000. As we all know, that was a big question mark going into the season, and they’re going to need to take a big step, and we’re going to need to take a big step from week one to week two because you guys have heard me say this a thousand times, it starts up front on both offense and defense. I feel good about our defensive ends. I think we can be even more disruptive there, but I think our defensive tackles are going to take a big step for us this week and continue to grow and evolve.
Q. You mentioned about Michael Hazel asking if what you said after the win is what you really meant. And I know you’re always conscientious about how you answer these questions. So when you made the statement last year that beating Pitt was like beating Akron, that drew some heavy criticism. Looking back on it, did you word that the way you wanted, given your 1 and 0 philosophy each week or do you still stand by what you said?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it’s still being misinterpreted. I hear people saying this is a big game, and anybody that says this isn’t a big game is kidding themselves. This is the biggest game in the world. This is the Super Bowl for us. It is the most important game on our schedule. Why? Because it’s the game we’re playing this week. Last week was the Super Bowl for us. It was the most important game in the universe. This week is a huge game for us. I’ve never denied that, from the very beginning. This is the most important game on our schedule, and it’s the Super Bowl. It’s the most important game in the universe. I don’t know how much clearer I can be on that.
Last week, that was the most important game in the universe. That was the Super Bowl for us. That’s how we approach it. So I’m not -- I’m not saying that this game isn’t really important. I’m actually saying the opposite. I’m actually saying the opposite. And I still think it’s being misinterpreted, is it’s one game at a time, and we focus on the task at hand. And I’m never going to say that one game is more important than the other, except for the game that we are playing right now.
That’s the message. That’s the message. That’s the message that I was trying to say last year. That’s the message I think for the people that cover us consistently. I come in here every single week and say that. So the people that cover us consistently, I think that message has been pretty consistent, no different -- you know, on Sunday, you know, I tweet out “Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt, Pitt.” I do that every week. And it’s amazing that the reactions I get.
There’s not a whole lot. You know, I know you guys, you know, this is your job. I pretty much come in and say the same thing every week, and I apologize, you guys show up for it. But it hasn’t changed.
So I know people like to take sound bytes that only deal with us once a week. I get it. Whether that’s people, you know, that don’t cover us week in and week out or certain fan bases that don’t follow us week in and week out or national. I get that, but I pretty much say the same thing every single week.
Q. I might get the same answer, but Kevin Givens, do you expect that he’ll be back this week?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. Yeah. I hope so.
Q. Different note. You look at kind of the evolution of recruiting staffs, and as the number has grown and how it’s just become such a monster thing. What do you like about that approach, and specifically guys like Justin and Kenny for you guys? What do they mean when you get into a season and you’ve got so much going on?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. You know, I think -- I guess I don’t really necessarily look at it like that. You know, we’ll have the spring game, and we’ll have 150 prospects here, and we’re trying to -- I think the ultimate responsibility that we have is to our players on campus, and supporting them, and coaching them and developing them. And you can’t serve two masters at once. So these recruiting staffs are critical because we want to make sure that our future is protected and supported. And the only way you’re doing that is when people come to your campus that you treat them in a first-class manner and you show them respect and you show them all the wonderful things that Penn State has to offer. And there are certain times where you can’t do that. So you need some people to support that, and Justin and Kenny have been a huge part of that. They’re the two guys that you mentioned. But really, it’s our entire staff. And I think there’s a time of year where the coaches are balancing both. They are 50 percent coaches with our current players and 50 percent recruiting. But then obviously there’s other times of the year, during spring ball or during the season where that shifts, 75/25 or 80/20, however you want to break it down. And there’s gotta be people that jump in at that time, you know, to be able to show our future what’s so wonderful about this place. So I think it’s gotten probably a little bit of a bad rap, and I don’t think that’s necessarily justified. It’s just the nature of it.
Q. Your first-time starters and the true freshmen who played now have one game under their belts at home. What’s the challenge now for those guys going into what’s going to be most likely a hostile environment Saturday night?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. There’s one thing to have your first game at home and there’s a different experience to go on the road. So we’ll make practice as hostile as we possibly can. But it’s going to be different. I do think, you know, that first game probably is still probably the biggest challenge. But going on the road has factors to it as well. So, you know, we’ll make practices as loud and as challenging as we possibly can. We’ll show them video. We’ll show them clips. We’ll show them -- give them the best examples we possibly can of what to expect, what it’s going to be like there.
I also think, you know, with it being in the state of Pennsylvania, though, that I think we’ll get a good percentage of Penn State fans there. We travel usually pretty well, and obviously it makes it easier to travel in the state. So I think we’ll have -- I think we’ll have good support there.
Q. James, do you feel you guys are coaching as aggressively with the leads that you’ve built? You’ve built a lot of big leads over the last say year and a half, and then teams have been able to come back on it. As you self-scout, what are you seeing there?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that’s a fair point that I think, you know, we could be more aggressive in those settings. It’s interesting because you can make both arguments. You know, people say, well, you should be more aggressive offensively. Well, for us in our offense, that’s throwing the ball. Well, then you got other people that are going to be critical because they’re saying in four-minute offense you should be running the ball more, but that’s not really our style of offense. That’s not how we do things. So I think you have to be careful in how you’re interpreting aggressive.
I think defensively, yeah, I think we could have used some more aggressive blitz packages and things like that, and we’ve discussed that the last couple of days. So yeah, I think that’s a fair criticism. But I also think make sure that the criticism is coming from a perspective of 2018 football and the style of offense we play. So I think that’s where we gotta on offense when we get to four-minute situations, we can’t lose our identity and try to now become something we’re not in that situation. So that was a big all-season study and conversation and still talked about, you know, on Saturday -- excuse me. On Sunday.
Q. James, clarification, was that all 280 characters in your Pitt tweet? Did you use all of them?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I always want to use 280 characters, but literally, the hashtag “we are,” which I usually put, I think is five, if I’m correct, and it wouldn’t add up. So it was either the “Pitt” or the “we are,” and then when I did it, I think I came up three or four characters short, which usually really bothers me, because I want to maximize every experience. I probably should have just put exclamation points in.
But I get in trouble from my wife and my staff all the time because I never use periods. Every time I text someone it’s an exclamation point, so they think I’m yelling at them. And all I’m saying is this is really important to me. That’s what the exclamation point means. But people have told me that’s not grammatically correct.
Q. Serious question, though.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: That was a serious answer, just so you know.
Q. No, it was. That was more than I was expecting. Thank you. And two years ago you went into Pitt with a younger or at least starts-wise inexperienced defense. How do you translate those lessons learned from two years ago where your team struggled with the shifts and the motions and the jet sweeps to this new defense that has a couple of fresh faces and some players that haven’t experienced that yet?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, obviously we learned from that experience. The challenge is in our old offensive system one of the things that I really liked about that is we ran a system that had an H back or a fullback, however you want to make the argument. I probably shouldn’t have said fullback because then the message boards and everything will be going crazy. But an H back that could fill that type of role. So we could line up in 21-type sets. We could line up in 12-personnel type of sets. We could line up in 11-personnel sets. We could line up in 10-personnel sets; we could line up in empty. So although I don’t know if we were in position to do that the way I would have liked to do it with where our offensive line was at that point, I really felt like that’s the things that we had done pretty well in our previous institution at Vanderbilt is our offense maybe was never record setting, but it was really good for our team to play great team football, which is really ultimately all we want to do. It’s not about offensive records or defensive records. It’s about -- or special teams. It’s about playing great team football. So running that style of offense allowed our defense to pretty much see everything that they were going to see throughout the year. Does that make sense?
So when we made the change and went to the spread-style offense, you’ve gotta be really disciplined now that your defense gets enough work during spring ball, during training camp and throughout the entire year that you’re getting enough 12-personnel and 21-personnel work, because if you think you’re going to be able to go from only seeing spread and prepare for a pro-style offense that’s going to line up and pound you in a week’s period of time. That’s challenging.
No different if you’re going to play an option team. You can’t wait to that week to prepare. I think that’s one of the things, if you look at Georgia and Georgia Tech, with that series Georgia has always been really smart. What do they do? They always scheduled Georgia Southern the week before Georgia Tech. Why, to get them really two weeks of option work before that game.
So you gotta be really disciplined. No different on offense. We don’t see a whole lot of odd front defense from our defense. So we gotta mix that in during camp on our own, because once again, you want your players comfortable and confident playing that style of defense, whether they’ve seen it a whole lot or not.
So I think that’s one of the things that I think is really important to us is it’s never going to be about setting records on defense or setting records on offense or setting records on special teams. It’s going to be about playing great team football to allow us to be successful. And that’s where our focus is.
If records come, beautiful, that’s a by-product of the other things that we’re doing. But that’s never our goal.
Q. I like your shirt.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Thank you. I appreciate that. I think that’s the first compliment you’ve given me in five years about my clothes.
Q. I can point you in some directions if you’d like.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I like your glasses.
Q. TouchГ©. They’re transition lenses. I get so much shit for that.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I do too. I wore them I think the first year, and I got a lot of heat about the transition lenses. But it makes it easier. Then I don’t need that guy on the sideline handing sunglasses. They’re more efficient.
Q. That’s my thought. You’ve got three new assistants this year, which is the most you’ve had in a single season as a head coach, be it here or at Vanderbilt. How does that change in-game oversight from your perspective and in-season evaluation as you go along?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it changes a lot. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I think it’s a little bit of the nature of the beast in college football now, so you have to just embrace it and make the best of it. But I also think that’s where it is very important for us to try to limit that as much as we possibly can. And the administration has been very supportive of that and we gotta continue to do that. I think that’s going to be critical, because obviously the more years that we’re all together, the better. You know, the players aren’t having to build new relationships with their position coaches; the recruits aren’t having to build new relationships with their recruiting coaches. The staff knows how I’m going to be on the fourth quarter against App State in front of 105,000, we lose the lead late in the game. I know how they’re going to react when times get tough and adversity hits, because it’s easy when things are going well. It’s how do you all work together, what’s the communication like.
You know, and I think you guys have heard me talk about this before, it’s like a family. And every time your family goes through adversity and you get through that adversity, you become stronger. And it’s no different than with a football team. It’s no different in the locker room with the players. It’s no different with the staff. So we were able to get through some adversity on Saturday. We’ll grow from that. Players will grow. Coaches will grow. The organization will grow as a whole.
But I think that’s a fair point. There’s probably some things that happened that I addressed during the game that I addressed after the game and that I addressed on Sunday in the meetings and then slept on it and addressed some more things on Monday to make sure that there’s no gray area and everybody completely understands kind of how we do things and why. And as much as we cover those things in the off season, there’s always going to be things that come up on game day that you haven’t necessarily covered in the detail that you need to.
Q. Did any of those eight true freshmen you used the other day make a particular impression on you, and would you be reluctant to use any of them again this coming weekend?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: No. Actually the opposite. I think I said that earlier. I think we probably should have played those guys more, not just the freshmen, but all those guys starting for the first time. And I’d like to see that again on Saturday. But as you know, we grade the tape, and some guy’s play is going to warrant less reps and some guy’s play is going to warrant more reps. I don’t think there was a guy that really kind of stood out in either direction, except for the guys that are already probably starting for us, like Pinegar and Checa and guys like that.
Q. Question, what do you see from Kenny Pickett that you like and also, too, on the second part of that stopping their defensive ends, what do you guys have to do to contain those defensive ends? ^HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think a couple things. He is bigger than you think. He is much more athletic and mobile than you think. You’ve seen that time and time again. And then obviously he’s been able to step up and play big in big games. So I think he’s earned a lot of respect from us. I think he’s earned a lot of respect regionally and nationally. He can make the throws that he needs to make. He’s got enough mobility to keep you honest, knows things not only in the pocket, but also breaking the pocket. Seems to have a good feel for the game as well. So I’ve been impressed with him. I think he’s just going to continue to get better and better the more he plays. And then their defensive ends, you know, I think last time we were there, I think their defensive end was probably the biggest difference maker in the game. I think he changed the game single-handedly; was one of, I thought, the better defensive players that we saw that entire season. I think these defensive ends are long and athletic and are disruptive and make plays. I think we got some guys in practice that we go against that are probably similar, you know. But it’s going to be a challenge. I think they do some things with their three-down front on third and six or more that create some challenges as well. We typically do a pretty good job of studying those things.
You know, and then there’s going to be some things that come up in this game that we haven’t prepared for. You know, if you look at Coach Narduzzi, he typically, just like he did last year against Youngstown State, plays very vanilla in game one and has some things that he’s going to show in game two, and especially in a game like this, that he hasn’t shown. So that’s where you gotta trust your training and your fundamentals and your techniques and your rules, because there’s going to be a few things that come up that we haven’t seen or expected.
And then obviously that fullback got a lot of attention from us, you know, I guess however you want to say it, two or three years ago, and he’s back after missing last year. So I know he’s going to be a big part of what they do as well.
Q. How do you assess the performance and involvement of Juwan and DeAndre?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think Juwan has a few plays that he’d like to have back. But he also made some big plays that there’s not too many humans on the planet could make, you know, the corner out in between the safety and the corner and they’re both converging on the ball, and Trace throws it up to a 7-footer, and he goes up and ^ gets it, comes down with contact from both sides. So I think that was kind of the first step for him and he’ll continue to evolve.
I thought DeAndre did some good things, especially in the return unit as the punt returner. A few balls got to the ground that we’d love to see him catch in the air, because you never know once the ball gets to the ground where it’s going to go or who it’s going to hit and things like that. And I think we’ve seen DeAndre make huge plays for us over the last two to three years, and I think that will continue to evolve. As you guys know, there’s going to be some games where guys get a bunch of touches based on opportunities and what the defense is trying to take away. If I had to imagine, DeAndre and Juwan are going to get some opportunities this week because there’s going to be some packages where they’re going to try to take away K.J., obviously, based on what he did in week one.
So each week is going to be different based on what the defense is trying to do and what the defense is trying to limit. And no different than anything else in life when you try to take one thing away, it creates other opportunities. So you’ll see that. You’ll see some weeks where we run the ball for 200 yards and you’ll see other weeks where we run the ball for 100 yards. You’ll see some weeks where we throw for 450 yards. You’ll see other weeks where we throw for 250 yards. You’ll see some weeks where some guys catch 150 yards, receiving yards, and you’ll see other weeks where they may not get a catch. It just depends on what the defense is trying to do that week and how we’re attacking it.
Q. You mentioned in your opening statement, Pitt corner Dane Jackson. If he plays, is that the guy that kind of stands out to you in that secondary that really improved over the latter half of the season last year?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it’s a guy that they have a lot of confidence in, from everything that we’ve seen and read that they feel like is their top guy. So obviously, you know, it’s going to be a challenge. They’re going to be in your face. That’s who they are. They’re typically based a quarter is defense. But what we call four X and Z where the X and Z are pressed on the outside, again, very similar to what we’ve seen from Michigan State since we joined the league. And it’s challenging. They’ve been doing it and doing it at a high level for a long time in the scheme, and they got answers and they know what the weaknesses are and challenges. So yeah, it should be interesting.
You know, there’s some other guys that ended up getting some reps in there as well that we also think are talented. So it’ll be interesting.