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James Franklin Press Conference: vs Maryland November 2020

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James Franklin hobbled to the dais in a black v-neck sweater over a white button down with large collar, bearing the wrinkled neck skin of a septuagenarian. His stark white hair, parted in the middle, screamed ‘I’m an academic’. He adjusted the microphone briefly, and spoke in a high pitched, creaky German accent.

“More printed paper cannot make a society richer.”

James paused, collecting nothing but mute, blank stares from the assembled media. “Vell then, Happy Election Day.”

And Then The Press Conference Began

Opening Statement: Appreciate everyone being on to cover Penn State football. Hope everybody is well. Reviewing the Ohio State game briefly. First of all, you have to give them credit; a very talented team. They played well. Offensively, the biggest factor in the game was we were not able to get the running game going, which made us predictable, and the last thing you want to do is be predictable against a talented opponent like that. We weren’t able to control the line of scrimmage. Similar on defense, we weren’t able to get them off schedule. They were comfortable all day long in terms of being able to mix the run and the pass, and have success in both and fall forward on tackles so they just stayed in manageable situations the entire game. That really hasn’t been how we’ve played them, although we were able to keep it for most of the game a two-score game. We had been able to have a little bit more success on defense. We were able to make some plays in the passing game but not in the running game. So that’s been obviously the emphasis in our corrections on Sunday. Getting into Maryland, obviously we have a confident team coming in. They had a big win last week, an overtime win against the University of [Minnesota] on a missed extra point to win the game. The quarterback played extremely well. It was kind of two different games you break the Northwestern game down and they started out and did some pretty good things, and then Northwestern really was able to get turnovers and really controlled the game. Then you look at the Minnesota game they started out strong. Maryland, offensively, I think went up 14-nothing, and then Minnesota was able to get going offensively and defensively and was able to take control the game. Then Maryland kind of caught on fire, specifically in the passing game, was able to mix the run in. The quarterback played extremely well, they’re talented at wide receiver and made some big plays and found a way I think to battle back from 14 or 21 points to tie the game up, send it to overtime and then win it in overtime with the missed extra point. So a talented team coming in, specifically on the perimeter. Obviously I know this university and this program well. Spent a number of years there - I think eight years there - and have a lot of memories there, a lot of respect for that area, for that community, for that university, and looking forward to the opportunity to get out play. We did have obviously a change in schedule this week. And I was very proud of how the staff and how the players handled that. We’re very routine oriented, and after playing a physical, tough game like that, and then had practice on Sunday, and then Monday is usually our off day. We practiced on Monday and practiced well. I was concerned about getting enough of the game plan done to allow us to have an effective practice on Monday, and also the guys fighting through the bumps and bruises and soreness from the game. That’s usually why Monday is a recovery day for us. I thought the coaches did a great job for us. It made for late Sunday and early Monday to get all those things done and prepared. But I thought we had an excellent practice on Monday. Now today’s our off day. We’ll clean some things up, finish the game plan up and then get back with the guys tomorrow on Wednesday for a good practice. Q: You mentioned the line of scrimmage. Did your problems come from physical or mental mistakes?

A: I think first of all, Ohio State is obviously very talented, you got to give them credit. I think it starts with that. There was a number of plays where we actually, if you watch the tape, we actually had things blocked well and had a running lane and guy would rush up the field, stick his foot around and retrace us and tackle us in the hole for a yard or two gain. But I do think there’s some aspects of a little bit different philosophy, a little bit different offense, not as much confidence early on that you’re usually able to work through early in the season. So I think it’s a little bit of both. I think it’s a little bit of mental. It’s a little bit of physical. But again, I know, you know, nobody wants to hear that. We got to get it done and I’m confident what we’re going to be able to do this week, but I think it’s a combination of those factors. Q: I noticed that (wide receiver) KeAndre Lambert-Smith is listed as a starter now. Can you tell us kind of how he got to that level, what he brings to the table and what you’ve thought of the development of your wide outs in that Ohio State game?A: We made some of those changes. I think you guys know, Cam Sullivan-Brown is a guy we were really excited about and he had some things going on that wasn’t going to allow him to play the way he wants to play, and that we know that he’s capable of playing. He’s available, but KeAndre is the guy that we saw do some really good things during camp. He was still a true freshman and we kind of wanted him to come along with Cam, and between Cam’s circumstances and KeAndre’s, it’s kind of how it played out. So we wanted to document that for you guys as much as we possibly could. Feel good about both those guys. We do think KeAndre has got a very bright future. He has tremendous quickness and ball skills. He’s an emotional guy; he’s a passionate guy. We got to get him to be able to move on to the next play and keep his composure and poise buddy, but he cares a lot. And he’s extremely passionate about playing and playing well. And, you know, we see that with Parker (Washington) as well, those two guys are very close. They’ve trained well, and came in with a very mature approach. And obviously, Jahan (Dotson) did some did some really good things on Saturday. So we want to build on that. We think Parker’s got a chance to take another step this week. KeAndre and a combination of KeAndre and Cam Sullivan-Brown, we’re excited about that. We do have TJ Jones available for us this week. And that’s exciting too, because he’s a guy, that that that we were pretty excited about during training camp. And then, Daniel George has played some football for us, as well. So we feel like we’re getting back to a group of guys that can play and contribute. And we had some circumstances that limited some of their opportunities. Q: Most teams don’t look their best in Week 1. How do you balance the alarm of mistakes in early games while trying to get better?

A: You have to take both things into consideration. I think you got to say, ‘okay, clearly, these are areas that that we need to get better.’ I think week one, it was pretty obvious what the things were to get better. You turn the ball over like that, and you have penalties like that, you’re going to make things challenging. The opponent also played a factor in that. So, I think you’re balancing the two things, I think you sit there and you say to yourself, okay, these are things that we clearly have to get better at, from the details, from the fundamentals, from situational football and understanding kind of where we’re at and why. And then, here’s the opponent that factored into this, as well. I think your point is a good one when you look across the country this is kind of an unusual year for a lot of different reasons. But at the end of the day, this this is the situation that we’re in. These are the circumstances and we got to embrace it and make the best of it. But I do think your point is a good one. You got to look at the complete picture. You got to be honest with yourself. You got to be critical of yourself. You got to identify the areas that you can get better, and should get better, and fix those things. And some things are short fixes that you can do immediately. And some are long-term things that you’re going to have to approach, as well. So for me, as much as I possibly can. I’m always trying to look at it from both lenses, from short-term issues that we need to get resolved and also the big picture and how the whole puzzle fits together. Q: How have your players handled the start to the season and how have the veteran leaders helped to keep the team morale up?

A: I don’t know if it’s necessarily accurate to compare apples to apples. Typically, we’re playing a combination of non-conference and conference games. This is a very unusual year. So it’s hard to make comparisons, because it’s just different. But I do understand your point. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this position as a head coach. But our guys have handled it well. For us, we try to correct the problems and not criticize the individual. It’s never an attack on an individual. And that’s myself, that’s the staff, that’s the players, that’s all of us. “Okay, here are the things that we have to get fixed. These are the things that we know that lead to winning. And these are the things that we know that lead to a lack of success.” Before you start doing the things and emphasizing the things about winning, you got to eliminate the things that lead to towards things that are that are not successful. You got to eliminate those things. That’s what I think week one was. Week two is obviously a different conversation. But I think our guys have taken a very mature approach, obviously disappointed and frustrated, and not where we want to be or where we think we should be. You know, but again, there’s a fine line to that, because you also got to move forward. I thought in the locker room Saturday night, I’ve learned over my, I guess it’s 10 years now, as a head coach, the last thing you want to do is after a loss is start making corrections in the locker room. It’s just too raw at that moment. You tell them, you love them, you tell them, you appreciate them that we’re all in this thing together and we got to stick together during challenging times. On Sunday we need to make these corrections. And for a lot of us as coaches, it even starts Saturday night. But I thought a couple guys stepped up in the locker room that night and said some really good things to the team. I thought on Sunday in meetings and then out on the practice field, that our body language and demeanor and our lack of defensiveness - all of us - I thought was really good. That led us to have a good practice on Sunday, and then I thought a good practice yesterday. I think that’s the challenge, is in college football every season, every game is so meaningful. And in some ways where I think the College Football Playoff has made college football even more exciting, but it’s also I think created some challenges. It’s very all or nothing with the College Football Playoff now. So I think for the most part, our guys have handled adversity well. Q: I see you are wearing your ‘I Voted’ sticker. Why has voting been such an important part of the football program? How do you go about the message it sends for college athletes to take today off?

A: Yeah, I think a couple things. I think, first of all, that we all have a duty and a responsibility to be active in what’s going on in our democracy and in our country. It’s a right that we have fought for. It’s a right that we have earned. It’s something that some people and some countries would love to have. And I think maybe for a period of time that we took some of those rights for granted. I also think there’s probably an aspect where there’s a lot of people that have had opinions on what should be going on in our country, but really had not used their voice. So I think there’s been a lot of emphasis over the last couple of years and specifically this past year to say, ‘Okay, if you want to have a voice, if you want to have opinions, it starts with going and getting involved in and taking advantage of your rights.’ That’s something that I think you see in professional sports, and a trickle down to the college sports, as well. Then when the NCAA and the Big Ten, a lot of these conferences made some decisions like making this an off day, from competition and practice, then I think it magnified it even more, and it led to great discussions and dialogue. Some of the challenges that are going on in our country and in our world, probably magnified it as well, so for us, we wanted to educate our guys, we wanted to create opportunities for them to be engaged. I’m pretty confident that most of our staff and most of our team went out and voted this morning. And I was fortunate to get there early and be able to get in and out before it got busy. When I left after voting, it was packed, so I was glad I got there early. I voted over at Good Shepherd Church over there by Grays Woods Elementary School where my daughters went to elementary school. We got there, I think I was fourth or fifth in line and then, but by the time I left, I was happy I got there early. Our guys I think have been very active, and I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the approach that the Big Ten has taken with this as well. Q: Do you feel 35 times in two weeks, (quarterback) Sean (Clifford) has carried the ball. Were some of those Ohio State’s rush, or are you trying to get away from running him quite that much?

A: We went into Ohio State specifically with the understanding that we were going to have to be aggressive in that game and run the quarterback. We knew that’s a thing that has given them issues and challenges in the past, so it was a big part of our game plan. There are going to be weeks that we do that, and there are going to be weeks that we try to limit that but that was that was definitely an approach and a plan going into that game for sure. Q: Did you consider giving some carries to Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee last week? I’m assuming the situation or score had something to do with that. How much do you think you’re gonna need them going forward? And how much do you weigh in a situation where the game was going like it is, do you put someone untested in?A: Yeah, I think Holmes and Lee are gonna have to be a big part of what we do moving forward. We were forced into a situation in week one to do it. I thought last week, they kind of showed to us that they were ready for the moment in terms of just kind of their demeanor and how they approach things and how they were with (running backs) Coach (Ja’Juan) Seider on the sideline. And the times that they were able to get in. But yeah, they’re gonna have to have a bigger role. And Devyn (Ford), we’re excited about Devyn and what Devyn is going to be able to do this week and moving forward, but we need those complimentary pieces. We can’t just ride Devyn all year long. Q: How would you evaluate the play of the safeties through the first two games?A: You know, we have Lamont [Wade] and [Jaquan] Brisker and, you got you know, [Jonathan] Sutherland, who’s played as well. We’ve gotten Ji’Ayir [Brown] probably more reps than we probably anticipated, you know, he’s coming along and coming along quickly. When you go back and watch that tape and you talk to Coach [Tim] Banks and you talk about the production that we’ve had at the safety position, not just that position, but really across the board. At every position, I think we’re capable of playing at a higher level. Lamont has played a lot of football for us at this point. Brisker has played a lot of football for us and so has Sutherland, so I know they have very, very high expectations and their coaches do as well. I think you’re gonna see those guys play extremely well for the remainder of the season. We feel like those guys have a lot of ability. So, we’re expecting big things this week against Maryland and for the remainder of the season. Q: When you have a team that you’re facing and they have a quarterback who’s determined to get the ball out quickly, how do you combat that as a defense and give your defensive line, which historically has been very good, a chance to do what they want?A: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I think if you’re playing Penn State, you know, typically the plan is to get the ball out of your hands quickly and spread the ball around. And we’ve seen people in the past, you know, have some success and be able to run a ball-control offense. So I think, you know, there are things that we can do from a coverage perspective, where you’re not providing as much access, which is going to force quarterbacks to move on to that second progression or not throw timing routes, you know, is going to force the quarterback to hold on the ball. Obviously, being able to be good against the run, which is something we’ve been pretty good about in the last six years, to force people into second-and-long or third-and-long, where they do have to push the ball down the field a little bit further and hold on to the ball a little bit longer, then that’s when you have a chance to be successful. But if you allow people to stay on schedule and throw the ball on time and get the ball out with free access, or to first progressions, then you’re going to have a hard time getting pressure on the quarterback the way we want to. I think the other thing you have to do, especially when you’re playing a quarterback that maybe is under six foot, is when you’re not able to get to the quarterback, are you able to get your hands up and knock some of those balls down? We have not done a whole lot of that over our six years here. I think that’s an area that that we can be better at is batted down balls in the passing game. Those are big-time plays too. Q: On Saturday, you’ll be facing an African-American head coach from another Big Ten school. What does that mean to you to have that opportunity?A: Obviously, you know, me and [Mike] Locksley have known each other for a long time. We were on staff together at the University of Maryland. We’ve competed against each other for a number of years. I do think it’s great to see in our conference, you know, more diversity and I think that’s in the head coaching positions, that’s in coordinator positions, that is in, you know, staffs. I think that’s important and I think the Big Ten, in some ways, is leading the way, you know, nationally. For me, when it comes down to it, it’s about the game and it’s about finding a way to be successful against the University of Maryland. But I do take a lot of pride in our conference and what our conference is doing, and some of the decisions that our presidents in our conference, as well as athletic directors in our conference, are making, which is hire the most qualified person available. It’s great to see that, obviously, with Coach [Mel] Tucker as well and Lovie [Smith]. It’s something that I think we take a lot of pride in, but again, during the season, you’re just trying to get wins and represent your university the right way. But I do think those individual universities, as well as our conference as a whole, I think it’s something that the conference should be getting credit for. Q: What are your impressions of the Maryland quarterback, Taulia Tagovailoa? Do you see any similarities between him and his brother [Tua]?A: I thought he played extremely well in week two and they have a talented group of wide receivers around him as well, which helps. But I thought he played extremely well. You watch that Minnesota game, it’s hard not to be impressed. You look at the completion percentage. You look at the decision making. You look at his ability to make plays with his feet, as well as extend plays in the pocket, it was impressive. For them to start out strong and then rally at the end to send it to overtime and then make the plays that they were able to make, you know, we’ve got a hot quarterback coming in here and whenever you’ve got a hot quarterback in college football or the NFL, you’ve got a chance. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. In terms of comparisons with Tua, you know, we didn’t play against him in college and I don’t really have the time to watch the NFL right now. But obviously, I’ve got tremendous respect for their family. The times I have been able to watch Tua, I have watched his interviews and how he’s gone about his business and how he’s been unbelievably respectful to his coaches and the community and his opportunities and his family. They’re a family of strong faith as well, I just have been impressed with the family, you know, and got a lot of respect for them and how they’ve gone about their whole process. I think it’s good for college football, but you know, we get an opportunity to play the little brother. He did a bunch of great things on Saturday. In some ways, you know, although I think he’s done a great job of embracing it, I also think it’s tough to be the little brother of a big brother that’s had such a prolific college and start of an NFL career. You know, we had a similar situation at Vanderbilt when I was the head coach there with Jordan Rodgers. It can be tough, it can be challenging, but I think he’s done a good job of embracing it. Q: How would you assess your special teams from week one to week two?A: Obviously, in week one, we did not play up to our standard and, you know, did not play our formula, really in all three phases. I think in week two, we did our jobs. We didn’t really make any plays to swing the game in our momentum, but we did our jobs. We kicked the ball much better on kickoffs, on field goals and on punts and we covered well. We protected the ball and didn’t have any penalties. So, I think it was a step in the right direction. But I also think we can make some plays, which is the next step. Q: Considering that some player families might not be able to travel as much this year, how important is communication with them throughout the season?A: In season, there had not been a whole lot of communication from me. My staff communicates, in terms of keeping them informed of what’s going on. In preseason, we met a lot. I probably had between 8-10 parent meetings, keeping them informed with what was going on. So I think very early on, everybody was aware of the players and the parents that, at one point, we weren’t going to have any parents at games. And then, you know, that got opened from a Big Ten perspective, and also, from a state perspective. The state of Pennsylvania allowed us to do those things. But yeah, it’s very different and we run a family program. Our parents are typically at Friday practice, or, obviously, at the games, where parent tailgates are a huge part of it and we try to keep them as involved as we possibly can. Not only for our players, but also for the coaches, I usually would go out there before the game and see the parents and get some hugs and support from them as well. That’s how we run our program. I know a lot of programs aren’t like that. But I do think the fact that we were aware of this before the season started, it helped, but it’s still challenging and it’s still problematic. But again, this is what the year 2020 offers. This is what 2020 brings and we need to embrace it. Q: How would you assess the play of your linebackers so far? What did you see from Jesse Luketa in the second half against Ohio State?A: I think it’s hard because, you know, we’ve had multiple linebackers out. When you have, Jesse, who we think had been playing at a really high level, and to have him out for the second half of game one and the first half of game two, it had an impact. There’s no doubt about it, but I think Ellis [Brooks] has done some good things we’re excited about. Brandon [Smith], I thought took a big step in game two. And then Lance Dixon was able to take on a more significant role last week and we couldn’t be more excited about him and his future. It was great to get Charlie Katshir back. Charlie had been limited at the end of training camp. It was it was great to have him back. And then obviously, we got young guys as well who we’re excited about and expecting big things from them and Curtis Jacobs is playing on special teams and playing a little bit on defense as well. Having Jesse back I think is important so we can have those three starters in there as much as we can and then be able to rotate those other guys when needed, either by those guys tapping based on drives, or just our rotation that we talk about and work on all week long and how we’re going to get those other guys in opportunities and how many series per half. Q: In slot coverage, Lamont Wade has been the guy. Have you looked any others in practice, like Keaton Ellis? What are your thoughts on the guys who have played there?A: Keaton wasn’t available last week. As you guys know, I don’t get into those things a whole lot. We’re hopeful to get him back sooner rather than later. And as you know, he’s played a lot of football for us already as a true freshman. We’d love to get him back. [Daequan] Hardy’s a guy who’s played some reps and done some good things. We need to keep bringing him along. But, Lamont is the guy in that role right now. And hopefully, Hardy as he gains experience, he’ll gain confidence and production in there too. Q: Having two losses on the season, what have you seen from your seniors since the loss to Ohio State? How have they pushed the message of finishing strong?A: For us, we don’t really talk like that. I think the people that have covered us for a number of years, you know, we just want an opportunity to win this week and play well this week and do that week-by-week and day-by-day. So you know, that’s always our message. That’s always our mantra. It’s served us well over the last six years. I know there’s frustration this year, I get it. Trust me, there’s nobody more frustrated than the players in our locker room and our staff. But, that’s been our approach that’s served us well, and we’ll continue to invest in it.