The web meeting began not with video of Head Bald Coach James Franklin in his usual spot at the Beaver Stadium press room, but with a view of the Penn State staff around a rough hewn kitchen table, inside a rustic log cabin. Behind them, through a window, we could see a solid foot of snow on the ground. The scene was lit only by candle, and a fire inside an old field stone hearth.
They wore grim expressions, and at least that fit our expectations given last week’s result in Bloomington. But that was all that fit. Notably, the powdered wigs and 18th century wool jackets each coach wore belonged to the 1700s, not 2020. (Though - not much, apart from jaw dropping chaos, fits 2020).
New OC Kirk Ciarocca spoke first, addressing Coach Franklin. “General, many of our troops have deserted in wake of the recent smallpox epidemic.”
“We’ll create a vaccine”, James curtly answered.
“But sir - it’s not just the vaccine, if one is even possible. It’s also Benjamin Rush, John and Sam Adams, even General Gates - sir, the Conway Cabal is actively working against us to - “
Coach Franklin cut him off abruptly, slammed his fist on the chestnut table, and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, we’re going to cross the Delaware and attack.”
Initially, the assembled coaches were too stunned to speak. After a few seconds, muffled objections began as murmurs - “Justin Fields”, “Ryan Day”, “Chris Olave”, “impossible match ups”, “no whiteout” - etc.
James silenced them all, once more. “We’re going to attack, gentlemen, and we’re going to win.”
And Then The Press Conference Started
(Summary courtesy of GoPSUSports.com)
Opening Statement: Like always, appreciate everybody getting on here and covering Penn State football. Before I get into a brief Indiana game review, I would like to let everybody know, as you know, I don’t typically get into injuries unless they are season ending injuries. Noah Cain will be will be out for the remainder of the 2020 season. Love Noah, so much respect for Noah, he really had an unbelievable offseason and worked really hard for this opportunity. So, we met with Noah ahead of time and felt like this was the appropriate thing to do to give you guys all a heads up, but Noah will be will be out for the remainder of the 2020 season. Getting into Indiana. I think first and foremost, you got to give Indiana credit. They played well and you’ve got to give them credit. They did some good things on Saturday. I think for us, you know, defensively, I thought that was as good as we had defended Indiana over the last couple years when you take the totality of the game, in terms of rushing yards and in terms of pass defense, in terms of pressure on the quarterback and things like that. You know, obviously the end result is, defensively we got to hold them to one less point than our offense scores but the totality of our defense, you know, we did we did some good things. Caused a couple turnovers and was able to pressure the quarterback. But we were more successful than we had been defending them over the last couple years. Thought our defensive ends did a really good job of getting pressure on the quarterback and getting sacks. I thought our secondary, our pass defense was improved and we were able to defend the run against, you know, what we think is a good Big Ten back. We weren’t as consistent on offense. I think if you look back over our six years here at Penn State, I think we have averaged, you know, 4.4-4.5 penalties per game. As a team, I think we had 10 with some of them being on offense. And then turnovers, I think was the other story of the game. I think we’ve averaged 1.4 turnovers over the previous six seasons and we had three in that game and doing that on the road in the Big Ten, it’s going to make things really challenging. So we started out with the opening drive, did some good things, went for it on fourth down, was able to get a score on our opening drive and then we went into a lull with some turnovers and penalties and then were able to play better late in the game in the fourth quarter. And then on special teams, you know, we’ve been pretty consistent in that area as well; kickoffs, punts and field goals and we weren’t able to do that. So you know, we really made mistakes that we had not made. We’ve got to get those things cleaned up, but you’ve got to give Indiana credit. A combination of they played well and we didn’t play the way we normally play, our normal style, our winning formula here at Penn State when it comes to penalties and turnovers. Getting into Ohio State, obviously, a tremendous opportunity. A well-respected program nationally and within the Big Ten coming into Beaver Stadium, a place that we have played extremely well over the last couple years. Our home record is as good as anybody in the country. Looking forward to the opportunity. Obviously you look at, you know, what they’ve been able to do offensively with Justin Fields. What they were able to do against Nebraska, you know, they are dynamic at the wide receiver position, they are big and physical on the offensive line, they always seem to have at least one or two running backs that that can hurt you, not only on the perimeter, but between the tackles as well. I think Justin started out 17-17, or something like that, and threw for like 95 percent in the game and was able to create some explosive plays, not only with his arm, but with his feet as well. Defensively, you know, still a very similar plan, even though they have a new defensive coordinator in coach Kerry Combs, still a very similar plan. They don’t do a lot, but what they do, they do really well. They have enough variations in there to keep you honest and they’re extremely, extremely skilled. And then on special teams, you know, I think they take a similar approach. They’re very talented, they get their players in position to make plays, they keep things simple. They take somewhat of a conservative approach in some areas, like punt return, but they’ve been really effective. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. We look at it as also a tremendous opportunity. We’ve had some great battles with Ohio State and we’re one of the few teams to beat them over the last couple years. I know our staff and our players are motivated for this game this weekend, like we always are. Q: There have been a couple instances in 2017 and 2018, where your first loss of the season, you followed with another loss. What did you learn from those experiences on how to bounce back from a tough loss? And what have you seen just in the last couple 36 hours?A: Yeah, so you know, obviously, looking at our facility and our team and the people in the Lasch building, on Saturday night and Sunday, there’s hurt, everybody’s hurt. That’s understandable and that’s natural. But I do think that the staff led and our captains led, you know, with the right mentality and approach on Sunday and we were able to move on from it. So I think I think we are doing a better job of that, you know, you invest so much that, you know, you got to find a way to move on and move on quickly, no matter the results, you got to learn from it, you got to grow from it and then and then you got to move on, you got to flush it and move on. That’s and that’s whether you were successful or not. I think we’re doing a better job of that. I think our captains have been a big part of that. I think staff has been a big part. Sunday was good. Monday’s an off day. And then, obviously, today is going to be important going out there and practicing. But I think you know, obviously, Ohio State’s going to be a tremendous challenge. I look at this situation a little bit different than maybe some of those other situations. But I think your point is fair. Q: Are you planning to use maybe three running backs? What’s your thinking there?A: Yeah, I think it might be similar to what we did on Saturday, we played all three of those backs on Saturday. Devyn [Ford] got the majority of the carries, but you know, Keyvone [Lee] and Caziah [Holmes] played well as true freshmen. Obviously, you know, our circumstances have changed and everybody’s dealing with this to a degree. We came into the season with our running back room, you know, considered maybe one of the strongest running backs in the country, and now, at least at this time, we’ve lost Journey Brown, you know, so those guys are going to need to step up and be ready to play. We have to create a little bit more explosive plays. You know, that was something that we felt like Journey and Noah were going to bring to the table for us. But, you know,this is just the nature of where we’re at right now, a combination of injuries and COVID have got us to this point. When I talk about COVID, I’m talking about all of it, Micah Parsons, you know, all the ramifications of that. Q: You got your first look at Keyvone and Caziah in game action. Were they ready for this role?A: Well, I think, although you tell everybody to approach things as if you’re going to be the starter, that doesn’t always happen. When we got started with this, those guys, if I’m doing my math correctly, I think were fourth and fifth on the depth chart. You know, so now we’re in a situation where they’re going to play prominent roles and we’ve seen flashes of really good things from them during practice and training camp and meetings and things like that, but we thought we’d have a little bit of time to let them gain some experience, maybe in not-so-big moments and meaningful moments; maybe early on, let them let them grow into that. But here’s where we are. They’re both extremely talented. We have a lot of belief and confidence in them. But experience matters and we’ve got to speed up that maturation process a little bit for them. Q: Can you discuss the adjustment factor with Kirk [Ciarrocca] in his first game? Did the communication flow the way you wanted? Were there any issues at the end of the game?A: You know, I don’t think there was an issue in either of those circumstances. But yeah, I think whenever you have a new staff, and you have some changes, that you’re still working through those things and getting comfortable, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I don’t think those two circumstances played out that way. I think we talked about this a little bit already after the game. Will we be better in game two, just getting more comfortable with everybody and how Kirk calls a game and how we operate and all those types of things? Yeah, I think that’s natural. But I don’t think that those two situations played a part in that. Q: Over the years, you’ve had offenses that have operated pretty quickly. It seems like you have an offense that can do that four to seven minute better, but maybe it’s not as quick strike. What is the trade-off there between getting better at one thing, but maybe not having that other asset?A: Yeah, I think you have to be able to do both. I think that’s the point you’re getting to, is you’re going to have to be explosive. You know, we lost two of the more explosive athletes in the country, before the season started, you know, depending on how this whole thing plays out. And then I think the other thing I would say is, we have some opportunities for some explosive plays in the running game. Breaking a few more tackles and sustaining a few more blocks. We’ve got to find a way to create more explosive plays in the passing game. That’s something that we have to do a good job of. We’ve done that at times. And then you know, then we got to be able to get into some formations and obvious running situations and be able to run the clock out. I do think we’re in a position now, with what we’re doing offensively to be able to do both and do both well and be an explosive offense in 2020. A lot of it deals with being able to make plays on the perimeter. If you’re going to be put in one on one situations, you’ve got to be able to make people pay for that. If you get a light box, then you need to be able to create explosive plays there. And then there’s going to be times in the game, whether it’s four-minute or whether it’s short yardage, that you need to be able to run when everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to run. Those were the conversations that I think me and Kirk had beforehand and since then, and is our objective. Q: As far as Devyn Ford, it was the first time we got a chance to see him as a feature back. How do you think he did overall for that first big shot? What’s the biggest thing you think he will grow from going forward from that first game?A: Yeah, you know, I thought he did some really nice things. I thought his mentality was really good. You know, there’s a difference between being a guy who’s rotating in, with two other backs, and being the guy and in the Big Ten, a very physical conference, very good defenses in our conference, and the style of offense we’re running. So yeah, I think he did some really good things, his leadership is going to be key with those younger guys as well. But I just think, you know, you’re gonna have to change your mentality. It’s one thing when Noah was the starting back and Devyn was going to rotate in and be a complimentary piece to now being the guy. I think he’ll grow into that. There’s no doubt that he has the talent to do that. There’s no doubt that we believe in him, you know, but there is a difference. There is a difference between being the lead dog and a rotational piece. Q: How special has been the competitive nature of your games against Ohio State? What have the range of emotions been like for you going from a 2016 victory to a pair of one point losses the last two years?A: I look at the whole spectrum of it. I look at scores that Ohio State, you know, puts up against people and I look at some of the scores before we got here and I look at how our games have gone. And, you know, we’ve found a way to beat them, when very few people have, and we have played them to the wire and sometimes, you know, those games to the wire, they’re probably the most painful on everybody; the coaching staff, the players, the fans, but I wouldn’t trade that, obviously. We’ve had opportunity to win some of those games right down to the wire and, and, in one year, we were able to step up and get it done and other years they were able to so, you know, we’re going to continue to build on that. We look forward to having a tightly-contested game on Saturday. But it’s a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. Got a lot of respect for their program, got a lot of respect, you know, for their history and what they’ve been able to do and, obviously, they’re as talented of a roster as maybe any roster in the country.