Coach Franklin took the stage as Django. (That’s at the end of the Tarrantino version, not at the beginning.) He didn’t speak a syllable, but communicated a ton.
Michigan State’s season may already be partially ruined. The Spartans might be experiencing difficult times. Their circumstances matter not a whit. Debts had accrued the past two years, and - by the look on his face - Django Franklin was returning to East Lansing with a firm resolve to collect.
And Then The Press Conference Started
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Appreciate for everybody coming out an a beautiful, Happy Valley day.
Quickly go over our Players of the Week from last week. On offense, Steven Gonzalez and K.J. Hamler. On defense, Castro Fields and Parsons, and on special teams, a guy who is really doing a bunk of good things for us right now is Dan Chisena. We’re very pleased with him and what he’s doing for our program right now.
Getting into Michigan State. a lot of respect for their program. A lot of respect for Coach Dantonio, the winningest coach in their program’s history. Been there for 13 years and a level of consistency that’s impressive.
Probably one of the teams that returning the most starters up there in our conference, in terms of the number of starters coming back, nine on offense, eight on defense and two on special teams. going on the road, tough place to play and looking forward to the opportunity.
You know, you talk about them offensively, Brad Salem, you know, they are a combination of 11 personnel and 12 personnel. They will sprinkle some 21 personnel, but it plays very similar to 12.
They are a zone read team. They are a stretch team. They are a power team. Guys that we’re impressed with is Brian Lewerke, who has had some of his best games against us. Cody White and Darrell Stewart, both wide receivers that are doing some really good things for them.
Defensively, between Coach Tressel and Coach Dantonio, one of the better defenses in the country. I can speak for the six years that we’ve been here, very consistent in terms of how they play defense at Michigan State and do it at a very, very high level.
They are a four-down front. Primary coverages, they will play a combination of different two-high coverages, quarter, quarter, quarter half and Cover 2 and then a mix of one high which is some of their pressure looks, whether it’s man or fryer zone 33 type stuff.
Impressed with their defensive end, No. 38, Willekes, has been a pretty good player for them. No. 35, Bachie, if I’m saying his name -- I hope I’m saying his name correctly. And then Raequan Williams, No. 99. Seems like those guys have been playing there for ever.
On special teams, Mark Staten. They do a really good job, especially when it comes to fakes and trying to steal a possession. We are going to be working all week like crazy. Fake punts, on sides, kicks, things like that. They just always seem to have something in their package. Fake field goal, and they have run some pretty famous fake field goals against people. So we need to spend time on all those looks this week. They do a really good job with those types of things.
No. 25, again, their wide receiver, Stewart, does a real good job in the return game for them.
And then their linebacker, again, No. Joe Bachie, shows up a bunch. Bachie. Bachie. Am I saying it right, Kris?
Appreciate you guys being here. want to thank the fans for last week. As a 24-year veteran of this profession and been on the planet for 48 years, those White Outs and really home games in general have turned out to be really special.
When you can get 110,000 people to show up for anything, it’s impressive, and have everybody in that stadium supporting Penn State, the community, the university, specifically our football program, singing songs together, having fun, is very, very special.
So appreciate everybody coming out and supporting us and helping us get a win. We’re going to need that support on the road this week at Michigan State, so I ask Penn Staters, far and wide, to come and support us. Wear White in the stadium. Tailgate over there. See a great venue, road venue, but come out in numbers, all the alumni chapters, really, within hopefully a four-hour radius of that place can come and support us because we need you there.
So open up to questions.
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Rich?
Q. Hello? Hello.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Rich? Hey, we gotcha.
Q. Okay. I couldn’t hear you.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: How you doing?
Q. Is there a common thread to your --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: How you doing?
Q. -- offensive lull in the last three games --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: How you doing, Rich?
Q. -- and how much --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Hey, Rich.
Q. -- is there room to the offense to grow --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Hey, Rich. How you doing?
Q. I’m good. I said good afternoon to you.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. (Laughter) and I just responded. I said, “How you doing.”
Q. I couldn’t be better.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Good. I didn’t hear your question because I was trying to say “hi.”
Q. Okay. Is there a common thread to your offensive lulls from the last three games? And how much room is there for the offense to grow?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we can get better. We’re looking at everything we possibly can do to get better. We’re 1-0 this past week. We’ve got to be more consistent.
Q. It looked like on K.J.’s winning touchdown, you’re able to catch Michigan with some tempo after getting a first down. Coach Harbaugh said they were not able to get their signal in before the snap. What goes into picking your spots with a pace like that and have you been able to use it as much as you’d like so far?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we want to mix tempo in. I think that’s one of the things I think we can do better. There is times where we try to go tempo, and because we don’t do it all the time, our line is trying to look at their front and get comfortable with that before they get set.
So it’s one of those deals where if you’re tempo all the time, going fast, fast, fast, your players get used to that. But being able to turn it on and off I think is the most valuable way to do it but it’s hard to train it because it’s different.
So I think we can be better there. You know, I think that was a really good example of how your tempo can be a weapon for you.
But again, when you look at the tape, they did get the signal in, but we were able to go execute. being on the road caused us some challenges as well and things like that but we were able to execute at a high level and put one of our players in position to make a play.
Q. Where would you like to be more consistent offensively?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think consistency is about everything. It’s about our run game. It’s about our protection. It’s about hitting the throws that we should hit consistently. You know, it’s all of it. It’s third down.
We’ve missed some opportunities. It’s explosive plays. But we played a defense this past week; that’s who they are. If you look over the last, I don’t know how many years, that’s who they are. It’s big plays against them. And if you’re able to hit your big plays, you’re going to have success.
I think in the years that I look at them, I think Wisconsin’s really the only team that’s been able to line up and consistently run the ball and have success. Hasn’t really been too many people that have been able to do that over the last number of years.
Even the Ohio State game was a bunch of big plays. Was a bunch of big plays.
Q. Your receivers, beyond K.J. and Dotson, you haven’t had a whole lot of production and catches, at least from any of the other guys so far. Why is that? Is that a problem at all or not?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I think part of it is we’re rotating two guys at that one position. You know, part of it is, like I mentioned before, when one of those guys has missed two games -- but again, it’s the opportunities that present themselves. You know, when a team is a press team at the line of scrimmage, they are going to take some of the free access throws away. That’s going to create some different type of opportunities in our slots and with our tight ends and things like that.
So there’s going to be weeks where those guys have a bunch of production, and there’s going to be weeks where they don’t, just depending on what the defense does.
in a perfect world, we would love to have everybody involved, but again, the most thing for us is we want to be 1-0 at the end of the week, which we were this past week.
Q. Penalties. You guys average three penalties in each of the first three games but you’ve averaged six in each of the next four, and you’re averaging more than ten yards a penalty. Why is that? Do you feel it’s a case of too much aggressiveness, or what is your message to the guys in penalties?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think there’s penalties that are avoidable and those should never happen, ever. They are unacceptable. But then there’s aggressive penalties that are going to happen through a game. You don’t want them to happen but they are going to happen.
The thing I’m not going to do is I’m not going to come in here and after a game talk about penalties and the impact that they had on a game. We’ve done that the last couple weeks, a bunch of questions about officiating. The officials have a very tough job to do.
Each week there’s going to be calls our opponent doesn’t like, and there’s going to be calls we don’t like. I’m going to handle it through the process that the Big Ten has, to be able to communicate one-on-one and be able to send plays in and try to learn and try to grow and try to coach my team and control the things that I can control.
But I’m not going to come into a press conference -- I haven’t really done that in six years and I’m going to try to avoid doing that and be respectful of the process and be respectful of the officials, but also, I think it sends the wrong message to my team. I’m not going to come in after a game and talk about calls or officials.
Q. Sean Clifford was talking with us earlier, and he talked about trying to figure out what kind of quarterback he wants to be, and how much emotion to show. He’s excitable, but how much emotion to show and when to pull it back. On the other side of the ball, Micah seems to be motioning and moving guys around. How much of that do you coach, and how much of that has to sort of naturally evolve where you match a guy’s personality with his role on the team?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I didn’t understand what you said about Micah. What is he doing?
Q. It looks like Micah is being more -- leading people -- directing people around and stuff like that and just being more verbal on the field.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Okay. I didn’t know if those were tied together, the emotion or the directing. I guess that’s what I’m trying to understand.
Q. Well, that might be a flaw in my question, James, frankly.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I’m sorry. I didn’t -- I’m not trying to be -- (Laughter) I thought they were tied together, but then they didn’t seem to be. I’m not trying to be argumentative. I didn’t understand, honestly.
Q. I know. I know.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Okay. I guess the first thing is that’s part of being a young player. it’s magnified at the quarterback position; Sean, over time, finding out what works for him: Is it being emotional? Some guys have done it that way. Is it not showing a whole lot of emotion? Probably more have done it that way. And then I think there’s kind of like a happy medium, you know, with those two things.
I think that’s what playing and having these experiences do for you, and I think myself and Coach Rahne, that’s our roles, as well, to help them with that.
I think there has been some games where he’s been jacked up and juiced up, and I don’t know if that’s completely served him well at times. But you know, overall, I’m really pleased with Sean. I really am. He’s been really good. I see him growing every game. I see him growing every practice. I know how important it is to him.
Most importantly, you’ve got to be authentic. You’ve got to be authentic as a coach. You’ve got to be authentic as a player and most importantly you’ve got to be authentic as a leader, and I think he’s doing that.
But I think him finding his sweet spot as a starting quarterback in the Big Ten and one of the leaders on our team, you know, I think that’s going to be evolving.
He’s going to learn something every game and that’s learn something in terms of reading defenses. That’s learning something in how he interacts with Rahne, his teammates and that’s what’s the most effective leadership style, as well. He’s a very aware young man, so I think he’s studying all these things. I’m pleased with him.
When it comes to Micah, in the separate question that you asked -- just kidding, again. Yeah, I think he’s getting more comfortable and more confident every day and taking more control. I think the exciting thing for us and Micah is I think he’s got a lot of room for growth. I’m saying that after he had, what, 14 tackles, and I think fundamentally, he can get a lot better I think in terms of commanding the defense and leadership. He can get a lot better.
He is nowhere near his ceiling, he really isn’t, and he’s improved dramatically. But the exciting thing is there’s a lot more left in the tank in between Coach Pry and myself and the rest of the defensive coaches and the strength coaches and some of the older guys like Jan Johnson and things like that. Everybody’s helping Micah.
To be honest with you, we’re learning from Micah, too. There’s nobody that has more fun at meetings and there’s nobody that has more fun on the practice field and maybe in life, than Micah Parsons. He has a good time, I’m telling you.
And he’s gotten really a lot better over the last year of knowing there’s a time and place for everything, which I think is a critical aspect for young players and a critical aspect for a team that we can know when it’s time to have fun and know when it’s time to enjoy ourselves -- excuse me, know when it’s time to work and know when it’s time to have some fun.
Q. You mentioned a few times the last couple weeks, the offensive line has been getting tougher, grinding out games against some of the tougher defensive fronts in the country. How have you seen that attitude develop this season and how much does the depth you’re able to use there now contribute to that?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I didn’t hear that last part. I’m sorry.
Q. How much does the depth that you’re able to use there now contribute to that?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that we’re playing more guys helps us keep guys fresh. Dez gaining experience, the rotation with Miranda and C.J. and kind of different styles, I think that helps.
I think the expanded diversity in our running game over the last two years and a little bit more this year, I think that’s helped us. I think the different running backs that we have, I think helps us. I think having a quarterback that can still do some things with his legs, as well. I think it’s all those things.
you know, the biggest credit goes to our offensive line and Coach Limegrover and Coach Reihner, and even Tyler Bowen, a factor in there, as well. It’s all of it.
Most importantly, it’s the guys. You know, when you’ve got guys like Gonzo and you’ve got guys like Menet, and you’ve got guys like Fries that have played a lot of football for you, and them taking those other guys under their wing, I think that’s been a big part of it, as well.
So very, very pleased with that group overall, but we’ve still got work to do. Michigan has got a real good front. I know our defensive line felt like Michigan’s interior three were the best we’ve seen all year long, the guard and centers, and that’s going to be how it’s going to be all season.
We’re going to have another challenge this week. I mean, their defensive line and linebackers at Michigan State are really good, and they have been that way for awhile.
Q. We’ve asked you a lot of questions over the weeks about Noah Cain and his usage. Your answer has pretty much always been consistent; that you have four backs that you like. I’m just curious, is there something that we’re missing? Are we not asking the questions right way? We keep wondering, will you use Noah in the end game situations where he’s been effective, but he’s only had five carries. What is it that we’re not seeing? Why is there a disconnect that we keep asking, why he’s not getting more usage, but we’re not getting more information?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, I want to say thank you and I appreciate how you asked it.
Yeah, there’s always things that you guys are missing and that’s no disrespect to you guys. But we’re out at practice and in meetings for 16-plus hours a day, and out at practice and watching everything, and you guys get 20 minutes a week to watch practice and just the games. There’s a thousand points that go into decision-making.
But we have four backs that we really like and we’ll continue to play those guys. We’re very pleased with know a. Actually had dinner with Noah last night. My wife was busting his chops. He’s been great. He’s been really good. We’re as pleased with him as you guys are, and we’re as pleased with him as the fans are, as well, but we also have a lot of confidence in those three other guys, as well.
So I get it. I get the question. I think there’s a lot of ways that you guys see us with young players, a lot like Micah Parsons, who never started a game last year. the difference is Micah played starter reps, but we didn’t have four guys at that position.
We’re 1-0. We found a way to get a win last week against one of the more talented rosters in the country, against a really good football program, and Noah had a big part in that and will continue to have a big part in that. I think you’ll see his role grow as the season goes on, or you’re going to see another back take some steps, as well. We’ll see.
Q. We have a chance to talk to Terry Smith later this week. What goes into the assistant head coach title he has and can you speak to the value of having somebody with deep ties to Penn State? He’s a generational guy on the staff.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, Terry has been invaluable to me. So kind of talking about Terry first besides, you know, the role.
Terry has just been invaluable because he knows Penn State inside and out. He’s a three-generation Penn Stater. His dad went to Penn State. Terry went to Penn State. Played at Penn State. Graduated from Penn State, and his son.
So he knows this place from so many different perspectives. He knows it growing up with parents that went to school here. Seems like we have a lot of our students that parents went to school here. He knows it as a student athlete himself, and then he knows it as a parent of a recruit. He knows it as a parent of a player and now as a coach for us, as well.
He’s been phenomenal. He’s been a head coach and been successful at that, highly successful. He’s coached at a number of different colleges, and then we were able to bring him back home. You know, in the assistant head coach title, Kevin -- excuse me -- Terry just does a great job for me, able to bounce things off of him. So you know, Sean plays a role in that. Terry plays a role in that and Dwight Galt plays a role in that.
Terry’s just got great perspectives. Whenever we have our leadership council meetings, Terry is in there, as well, to maybe bring a perspective that I didn’t hit, or to give me some feedback either before the meeting or after the meeting.
He’s developed great relationships with his players. He’s tremendous in recruiting. Highly, highly respected across the country and specifically in the W pil. He’s been a fantastic hire. One of the best decisions we made was hiring Terry Smith, and bringing his family on board here.
Although I hope Terry gets some head coaching opportunities, if that’s what he wants, because I think he’s more than qualified to do that. But if he doesn’t, sure would love him to retire here as a Penn Stater here with us, where he started, and hopefully where he finishes.
Q. I just warranted to ask about Dan Chisena. How has he grown in his role on special teams and what kind of teammate has he been in your opinion?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: He’s been fantastic. I think you’re going to see as the year goes on with him, you’re going to see him continue to gain confidence and make plays as a receiver for us right now. Those two tackles he had last week on special teams were big.
Talking about, he can run, but there’s a difference between running down and being able to break down and being able to tackle in open space against what most people would consider their best space player, which is the punt returner each week and not an easy thing to do, but he’s been great.
He’s a high production, low-maintenance guy and that’s really what you want your whole roster full of. That’s not always the case. But you want as many of those guys as possible. He’s also a guy that we talk about a lot. He’s also a guy that really appreciates his role on the team and embraces his role on the team and wants to be the best at his role on the team to help the team be successful.
Does he want more? Yeah, they all do. But he handles it really the right way. So we love him. We do. We recruited him out of high school and then lost him to our track team for a period of time and then are able to get him back and he’s made a significant impact for us and we’re glad to have him.
Q. Going back to your offensive line, earlier today, your official Twitter account put out about being on the Joe Moore midseason Honor Roll. Rasheed Walker quote-Tweeted that and said, “The culture has changed in the offensive line room.” Is that something that’s identifiable to you? Are there characteristics or traits about this 2019 version of your offensive line that have maybe distinguished it a bit in your six years here?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think we’ve made great progress there. I think Matt has done a great job, especially in the off-season, going and visiting people and having people come visit us.
I think it’s the maturity that we have at the position. I think it’s the talent that we have at the position. I think it’s the depth that we have at the position. I think it’s a combination of all those things.
I think Kevin Reihner as the son of a letterman and as a former player as a graduate transfer here has brought value.
I think Tyler Bowen who has been an offensive lineman at this level as well as an offensive line coach at this level and in this conference, I think that’s helped, as well.
Like you guys hear me answer a lot, it’s not really one thing. I think it’s a combination of all of it, and I think it’s also, like I said before, it’s Gonzo and Menet and Fries leading the group and taking a lot of pride in what and what they are going to be.
We’ve still got work to do, but whenever you’re recognized as part of a group that is in consideration for the No. 1 offensive line in all of college football, you know, that’s a good group to be a part of.
But for us, we want to put our team in the best position to win games and be 1-0 each week, but we also -- it would also be really cool to be a heck of a statement to be able to win that award. I know that’s a goal that me and Coach Limegrover have been talking about for six years.
Q. Does the coaching change, not from the technique side, but maybe from the mental side with your secondary so they don’t get frustrated, even though you have this great defensive line that may be having to cover for five, six, seven seconds on some plays just because Lewerke’s ability to extend the play.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: No, I think you have to talk about -- you know, the challenge -- the challenge that comes with that happens is when a guy breaks contain and breaks the pocket and gets on the edge, and now you have a defender in conflict, you see it all the time, where the defenders and zone coverages drop back, he’s underneath a route but then the quarterback is running and he’s got to make a decision: Do I come up and make the tackle and if I do, then the ball is thrown over my head for a completion? Or, do I stay in coverage and allow the defensive line to catch up, or once he catches the line of scrimmage go make the tackle.
It’s hard, though. You see that guy, he’s not nothing affect his ability to pick up positive yardage but you have to stay in coverage. I think that’s the big thing.
I think the thing that helps eliminate that in the first place is doing a great job with our rush lanes and our pocket integrity and not allowing the guy to get out in the first place; and that when we get our hands on him, we finish it. We finish the sack and we finish the play.
I think that’s going to be really, really important, but we just can’t be screaming up the field and creating rush lanes if they are able to, you know, cover us up and wash us out. We have to be great and we have to be great when we re-Trace and stick our foot in the ground and chase the quarterback from behind. It’s all those things but there’s no doubt this guy has the ability to do that.
Q. When you go into a game and know there are going to be four, five, six drives you’re not going to score, are there benchmarks for that drive becoming successful, maybe time of possession? How can you mark success in those small failures?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you’re talking about on offense?
Q. Yes.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yes, sir. I think that’s a really good question. we want to score every drive, and trust me, I know the fans want us to score every drive, and I know you guys also communicate that, as well.
But I do think your point is a good one. With the style of defense that we’re playing right now, it’s a win if the play ends with a kick is something that I’ve always talked about in my 24 years of doing this as an offensive coordinator.
You want be kicking an extra point after a touchdown. You want to be kicking a field goal for points, or you want to be punting. Because if you don’t turn the ball over, which is one of the better things we’re doing right now and one of the better things we’ve done all year long, with the style of defense we’re playing, we still have a chance to win the game, which is the ultimate prize.
I think the next step that I think we are also doing a really good job of is being able to punt people back deep into their own end zone, into their own end of the field.
So it’s not just kick a PAT, kick a field goal or punt. It’s being able to swing field position. So say we did start the ball on our own 10 and we’re able to drive that thing out, most people say: If you’re in a backed-up situation, if you can get two first downs and punt and swing field position, you’ve won that area, that situation of football.
No different than when you’re defense has people backed up. You want to keep that field position. So we’ve had a number of punts where I think Blake has done a really good job of pinning people inside the ten-yard line, which the field position has been a big part of our success this year, as well.
And it’s also skewed some of our punting numbers and punting ranking because we’re moving the ball. And when we do punt it, a lot of the times, it’s a sky-punt situation rather than a traditional punt.
Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, you want to score 50 points a game, but there is definitely wins when you can -- when you can at the very worst punt people deep into their own territory.
Q. I think you talk a lot good explosive plays and creating explosive plays. How do you generate those versus a team that doesn’t allow you to, or that plays in a way that won’t allow for those big shots like we saw versus Michigan? How do you take whatever they are giving you and then turn something into an explosive play?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: We’ve had both and that’s really changed over the years when it’s pretty obvious how people are trying to defend us.
You know, after that Big 10 Championship year, we saw a drastic change and people said we’re not giving up the big play. We’re going to keep everything in front of us and not allow you to be one of the more explosive teams in the country.
With that, that creates other opportunities, but then you have to have the maturity offensively to be able to take advantage of what the defense gives and really, in a lot of ways, morph your philosophy during the game once you see how they are playing; and the players embrace that style of play that you have to play, as well.
The thing that’s interesting is some of the discussions that we’ve had is it’s like people talk about, I think the first question I got today was the lulls. People say, well, you stopped being aggressive. How do people know that we stopped being aggressive? Like do they know the calls?
You know, when we drop back and we get pressure, and we had a shot called and we either get sacked or pressured and the quarterback has to scramble or throw a check down or throw the ball away, those calls were very similar to what they were in the first quarter. I think all those things factor in.
They are on scholarship, too. Michigan is one of the more talented teams in the country. Definitely one of the more talented teams in our conference.
So all of those things factor in, but when you realize how a team is playing you, either that opponent or as the season goes on, when people see the things that have been successful, we have to be comfortable as play callers and as players to be able to hit those underneath throws and we’ve got to hit them more consistently, third down.
And the funny thing is that’s where the explosive plays will come, because the better we can throw accurately underneath, and throw the ball in a way that he can advance the ball; we have guys that are athletic enough, they are going to break a tackle and make people miss, very similar to what we saw on Dotson within the one crossing route. So I think that’s still there.
And also, if you’re going to play that style of secondary and play soft, that creates more opportunities for explosive runs, as well. So it’s really a combination of all those things.
But for us, I don’t think it really has to do with that. It’s just the consistency. We have to eliminate the plays where we’ve had a few, not many, where we miss-ID the protection and we get pressured when we shouldn’t; or they make a play and get pressure on us just because the guy made a play; or we’ve got to eliminate the plays when we have a guy open and we don’t hit him consistently.
The long balls, we would all like to hit 100 percent of them. You’re not going to. But we’ve got to try to hit as many of them as we possibly can, because we all understand how impactful they are in the game.
But it’s the third down and eight, and the tight ends is wide open and those you’ve got -- you’ve got to hit 100 percent of the gimmies. The ones that are in tight coverage, again, they are on scholarship, too, and would he have got to fight and find a way to win those battles, but the ones that are gimmies where we have worked like heck to protect and get a guy open, we’ve got to hit them, and I don’t want that to come off the wrong way. I couldn’t be more pleased with Sean, but we’ve got to hit a higher rate of those.
It’s just like in the run game, we’ve got to consistently make the one free hitter, the safety or whoever it may be, we have to make that guy miss. Or it’s the guy who is being blocked but at the last minute falls off the block to make the tackle. We have to sustain that block a half second longer to allow us to spurt through there.
It’s those types of things. But it’s us being critical of ourselves and driving towards perfection and that’s us doing it, and it’s also, you know, listening to you guys, as well, and your suggestions, which there’s a bunch of them and the fans.
Q. Just real quick -- I wanted to go back to something from Saturday night, since you guys put it on film. The play where Journey called the fair catch, looked like K.J. was laying down in the end zone. Was the plan to get the ball back to him? Assuming that’s what you were going for?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: As you can imagine, I’m not going to get into the scheme and plans that we had because we do things to set things up for that game. We do things to set things up for the future. So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to get in --
Q. Because it was on film, that’s why I thought maybe I had an in.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: It’s on film, so you had an opportunity to see it, and so do the opponents have an opportunity to see it. But for me to get into the reason why we did it, I don’t think it’s in our best interests.
Q. My question about it, though, is because we’ve seen other teams use it and it’s been around for a while, but some teams have been penalized for it, because when a guy is down, they assume he’s hurt, that kind of thing. Have you guys seen that consistently called across college --HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think the rule is you can’t -- you can’t get down late, but if you drop down after -- excuse me -- early.
If you get down after the ball is kicked, you’re fine. You can’t do it. If you read the rule book there’s a very specific way that you can do it that makes it legal, and a way that it’s not, and we looked into that into great detail before we ran it this week.
Q. When people talk about special teams success, they talk about return yardage. How would you evaluate your team limiting punt return and kickoff return yardage?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think we’ve been good. We can be better. I think, again, the stats can be a little bit deceiving especially in punt, because we’re pinning people deep a lot of times with sky punts and things like that.
But kickoff return, punt return, what we have done this year, probably better than years past, is we haven’t had any of the catastrophic plays, the kickoff return for a touchdown, the punt return for a touchdown, the explosive return that swings momentum and field position. I think we’ve done a good job there, but I think we can be better.
I think the biggest thing we have to do is eliminate the penalties on special teams. We’ve had too many penalties on special teams. You know, that -- the penalty on Saturday, we had a kickoff return or for a touchdown on a double-team. You don’t need to hold on a double-team. We didn’t have the guy blocked, anyway. Wasn’t going to make the tackle. We’ve just got to be smart because those penalties are impactful.
Again, I think we have done a pretty good job overall. We have been one of the more disciplined teams in college football. There’s been games where those have spiked up, which is interesting.
Q. I see you’re the recipient of the Renaissance Award. Can you say what it means to you and is it an indication of a community embrace and vice versa?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Have you embraced me? I’ve embraced you. I’ve embraced you, too. All the way back to that banquet in Altoona. Seems like a generation ago.
Q. You explained the kale salad.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: That’s right. That’s right.
It’s cool, it really is. It’s something that was brought up actually a year ago, and it just was hard to do, as you can imagine, you know, with our schedule. So once we planned it out long enough, we could find a weekend that kind of worked for everybody or a week that worked for everybody.
But yeah, it’s a tremendous honor, and I think for us, when you’re able to get involved in being a part of scholarships that are going to make a difference in someone’s college experience and maybe open up some opportunities for college experience -- I’m a first generation college student.
My mom, dad or sister didn’t go to college. I know how impactful my little scholarship that I got to East Stroudsburg, as well as being a full PEL guy, you know, it’s significant. For us, it’s more about that, the servant leadership; it’s more about giving.
Is it cool to be recognized? Yeah, and we appreciate it as a family. But most importantly, it’s about hopefully being able to make an impact and raise a bunch of money for the Renaissance Fund to allow as many kids be able to come to Penn State on scholarship, or some form of scholarship, and maybe take the burden off their families. We would like to do more of those things.
My wife worked in higher ed. She’s got her master’s degree. I was first generation college student that ended up getting a master’s degree. Education is something that’s very, very important to me and my family, and I know how important it is to this community.
So we’re excited about it. It’s a little strange for me. But it’s something that’s very, very important, and this is a place, I think over our history, whether it’s THON or whether it’s all the different types of scholarships and giving that have happened in this community and on this campus, we are excited to be a part of it.
Q. You mentioned Micah Parsons a little bit earlier. Is there anything he can do on the field any more that would surprise you, and you mentioned his high ceiling. Just how high is that ceiling for Micah?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don’t know about that. But I just know, Micah has gotten a lot better fundamentally from last year. But he’s still making a lot of plays just on athleticism and instincts.
I think as his fundamentals and technique continue to improve and his understanding of the game at that position, which is still fairly new to him, it’s hard to say where he can go as he continues to mature. It’s all of it.
You know, it’s hard to say because literally, I don’t think he’s anywhere close. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to his ceiling. I don’t think he’s -- I don’t think he’s anywhere close.
And I don’t want to come off the wrong way because I think he’s one of the better players in college football, but this is all still very new to him, and he’s embraced the techniques and the fundamentals and things like that of the position, but I think he can be even better there.
I’m excited to watch him get better this year. I’m excited to watch him get better over his career and I know Coach Pry does a great job working with him and I know they have a very close relationship which helps.
But Micah is a fun, very lovable, fun guy to coach. He’ll drive you crazy a little bit sometimes, too, but always in a fun-loving way.
Q. Antonio Shelton seems to be one of the more vocal guys on the defensive side. When did that trait develop and how have you seen him grow as a leader both on and off the field?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: He’s really been good. I think all the way back to when we first got involved with Antonio. I remember meeting with him and his mom as a Buffalo Wild Wings in Columbus, Ohio, I think is where it was. That was kind of our home visit with him, and kind of went through everything and got on him late and we were able to get him here. He’s a smart guy, strong guy, very powerful and he just continues to work.
His improvement from the time he got here to now is significant. It’s really impressive. It’s funny, I’m silting in my office yesterday and he just comes and plops down on the couch and just talks to me for 45 minutes. And I was like, “Antonio, I have got to go to a meeting, “and I just left him in there. He was just in there on the phone or whatever.
But the relationship that he’s built with coach Spencer and the defensive coaches and really the whole staff and myself; he’s not a guy who is afraid to speak his mind, which I think is really good.
He’s not a guy that’s afraid to come into my office and have an honest conversation with me, which I want more of that. I want more guys comfortable walking into my office. If you’re not careful as a head coach, every time you call someone and they come to your office, it’s like going to the principal’s office. He’s been great.
He’s active on social media. There’s sometimes I wish that we were less active on social media, not just Antonio, but all of us. I would love to see us kind of shut it down for the rest of the season. I’d love to hand mine over to the social media department and let them handle it all. We talk about sacrifices; that would be something that would be great.
But Antonio, he’s been awesome. We’re very, very proud of him. Done great in school. I think he is someone because of how his recruiting process went, I think he’s very appreciative of his Penn State experience. He doesn’t take it for granted.
It’s interesting, though, that you brought that up and I’m going to branch off because it made me think of something else when you asked that question and these things aren’t really connected.
Tamba Boimah Hali. It was the first time that we got to spend some time around him this weekend. He had been around but this was the first time we spent significant amount of time and he spoke to the team, and I got to spend a bunch of time with him. You know, being our honorary captain and his children -- which I offered them all, even the three-month-old.
But Tamba’s humility was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever been around. You introduce him to the team and you put all of his accolades, and his resum� is as impressive as anyone, and he got up and talked to the team. Some guys get up and talk to the team and they wow the room because they are dynamic. He wowed me and wowed the room because of his humility. I mean, it was unbelievable.
And really, his message was to talk less and listen more. And just the way he said it and the way he went about his business, was really, really impressive and left a huge impression on me.
He still owns a place here in Happy Valley, so I’m hoping he’ll come back more. I think you guys have heard me talk about before, that was something I think over the last year and a half, three years, we’ve made significant progress, and is forever those guys could come back and it was family. There was so much change in such a short period of time that we lost some of that, and I think we’ve made tremendous progress there.
The guys that have come back and have given us a chance to get to know us and for us a chance to get to know them, it’s been really good and Tampa was another great example of that. I want him back as much as possible because I think he would be just a tremendous mentor to our guys.
You can see why this place was so successful for so long when you can get those type of people to join your family and join your program, because he’s a culture driver in every sense of the word.
You can see why the Chiefs, I think he was part of the Chiefs organization for like 12 years. You could see why it was more -- guys don’t last for 12 years based on just sacking the quarterback. You could tell he was a guy that was just universally respected in the locker room from the players and everybody in the organization. Those guys, in any organization, are Justin valuable.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports