Captain Energy returned. For the first time since week 2 of the season, Head Bald Coach James Franklin’s trademark enthusiasm was on full display at the press conference. James and his two coordinators, Brenty Pry and Kirk Ciarrocca, stomped menacingly in a circle around a beach ball painted to resemble the dreaded corona in one of the cow pastures east of the stadium. Then, in a jolt, James from State College sprang forward and delivered a crushing boot stomp. Brent Pry, armed with a Louisville Slugger, as well as new OC Kirk Ciarrocca also took turns kicking, punching, and murdering the corona icon, smashing it to bits.
Scapegoating carries a negative connotation in our culture du jour. It’s difficult to know why that is, exactly, given the preponderance of scapegoating in our country, and the enthusiasm with which average dolts hop on board. Perhaps a certain segment is merely trying to stand up for goats, and they’d be perfectly happy if only the name changed to, say, scape-chickening, or scape-squirrelling.
Nevertheless, James’ message came through clearly. It’s been a messed up season. For one week, at least, James and his team purged their season of frustrations and failings, hanging them on a sacrificial, condensed icon wearing khaki pants and picking his nose. Cathartic. Good for them. And if Cory Geiger really wanted to know what a team looks like when it quits, then Cory Geiger ought to watch Michigan rather than Penn State.
And Then The Press Conference Started
Opening Statement: Like always, appreciate everybody being on here to cover Penn State football. I hope everybody’s families are doing good through these challenging times, from a health perspective. Obviously, again, a win on the road, in The Big House. The first time for Penn State in 11 years, that was significant. We were able to overcome adversity and battle through and find a way to get a win. Going into that locker room after the game and seeing the players and the staff have that success, was awesome. The big storyline in the game was turnovers. We protected the football. We were fortunate on the one, but we protected the football. Really, that was the difference in this game. Compared to other games that we have had this season, we’ve gotta find a way to be a little bit more explosive on offense. That’s obviously something that’s going to be important. And we’ve got to find ways to limit people being explosive with their offenses as well. When it comes to players of the game, on offense, Keyvone Lee, on defense, PJ Mustipher, and, on special teams, Drew Hartlaub. I think Drew is a lot like my conversations about [Isaac] Lutz, after the game. Just super proud of Drew Hartlaub and how he’s handled his whole Penn State experience. In a lot of ways we look at him similar to Dan Chisena and the impact he had for us. I think [Drew]’s role can continue to grow for us. Talking about moving forward in this game against Rutgers. Obviously got tremendous respect for Greg Schiano and what he’s been able to do throughout his entire career. I know Greg. I know people that I respect that are close with Greg. I’ve followed his career very closely. What he’s been able to do at Rutgers this year has been impressive. It’s been impressive. So, excited about this opportunity, going on the road. From what we understand, some of the challenges we had in Michigan last week, not being able to have meetings or meals or anything in the hotel, we don’t think we have those challenges in New Jersey like we did last week, which was obviously challenging, but we were able to overcome it. Their offensive coordinator, Sean Gleeson, has done a really good job. They are multiple. They’re used to two quarterbacks, somewhat similar to how we are as well. We’re going to have to be ready to defend them. Watching the TV copy, which is always something I try to do on Sundays to get a feel for the flow of the game, the tempo will be a factor as well. Robb Smith, who we know well. He’s been in the league before both at Rutgers as well as Minnesota, as well as his time in the SEC. We’re familiar with them as well, obviously. Him and Greg have a long history together. Adam Scheier, their special teams coordinator, they’ve done a good job. They’ve been able to make some big plays on special teams, run trick plays, did some different things to get some momentum to make big plays. It’s going to be a challenge, going on the road in the Big Ten, finding a way to get another win and be 1-0 this week. Obviously after Saturday, our Sunday practice was good, our Monday meetings were good and we’re going to need to have a great practice today as well. Q: Michigan had to pause activities this week. Where are you guys? How frustrating is it when you can control what your team is doing, but you can’t control what happens with other teams?A: I think to your point, we’ve just got to focus on us and do the very best that we can. I look at the same thing in the NFL. Obviously being in the state of Pennsylvania and seeing what’s going on with the Pittsburgh Steelers and some of the challenges that they’ve had this year as well. Following that closely, following our own league closely, following college football and high school football. It’s just been an unusual year and I say this each week. Each week, I knock on wood, because we don’t want to drop our guard and we don’t want to do anything, because this virus can jump on you fast. So, you know, we’ll continue to try to educate, we’ll continue to talk about the importance of this and the sacrifices that our staff is making and the sacrifices that our team is making. Again, going into the season, my number one goal, that I talked to the parents and the players about, was to keep everybody healthy. So far, we’ve done a good job of that. I think we still have challenges with false positives that create a lot of players and staff members missing practices or meetings. I think we’re over 45 on the season. In terms of actual positive COVID-19 cases, we’ve done a pretty good job of that. It’s something that we talk about daily. We do reminders, verbally. We do reminders in the PowerPoint meetings. We do reminders through group texts. I had a meeting with the parents last week about it, reminding everybody, when we do have issues, we address it as a team. Obviously this year, again, across the NFL and across college football’s been challenging, whether it’s from a competitive standpoint or whether it has been from a health perspective and we’re trying to balance it all the best we possibly can. The priority from the beginning has always been about trying to keep everybody as healthy as we possibly can. We continue to do that. But, I’m somewhat cautious about saying that, because it can change quickly. We’ve got to continue to be really, really on top of every contributing factor that we know makes a difference, whether it’s masks, social distancing and so on. Q: After the game at Michigan, you said you guys only had three corners available. Do you expect to have more depth this week? How would you assess the three you had after watching the film?A: That was something we made a big deal out of in the locker room. I made a big deal out of it on Sunday. Really proud of those guys. Again, I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever been in that situation. I know this year is different, but to only have three available and those guys take all those reps and still factor in on special teams. That was big. We anticipate having at least one more for this week and, possibly, be able to get to five. So that would be helpful. We’ve also done some cross training, last week, with some of our safeties, as well, if we need to, to be able to do that. I was very proud of what they were able to do. I thought Michigan had some playmakers in the wide receiver position that we were concerned about. So that was something that was going to be a big factor in the game. I was very proud of those guys. I made a big deal out of it in the locker room. I made a big deal out of those guys individually, as well. That was a big part of our opportunity to be successful on Saturday. We should have better depth come this weekend. Q: In the first five games, you had trouble getting off the field, but on Saturday you held Michigan to 4-of-12 on third downs. What went into that on Saturday?A: Not only that, I think you can factor in the fourth down stops as well. You know what we did this week? We made critical plays at critical times, which is really something we’ve done a pretty good job of over our time here, but had not done early in the season. We made critical plays at critical times. It’s hard to stop people on short and inches, like that, especially with a six-foot-five, 245-pound quarterback, whatever he was. I think we just played with tremendous grit, which again, I think is a word that has described us, for really six years here, and we did that on Saturday. I think that is a great example of leadership. Guys really stepped up in those moments and made the plays that we needed to make. It also happened during the week in the locker room and in meetings with things that guys have said. I had a bunch of former players reach out to me and send videos as well. Mike Gesicki talked about those challenges that he had early in his career and by fighting through that adversity, he feels like it made him a better player later on. He had a tough early part of his career. Trace McSorley said some things about overcoming adversity, talking about in those years that we won and won in the Big Ten Championship, it was a few plays. We found a few to make a few more plays than our opponents and that’s what we need to do on Saturday. We were able to do that on Saturday. It’s going to be the same way this Saturday. Saturday is going to be the same way from here until whenever in terms of, you’ve got to make plays at critical times. You’ve got to be consistent in the things that you do. We were able to do that on a more consistent level on Saturday and we’ve got to build on that. Q: You said after the game, you’ve gotten a lot of suggestions from fans and you appreciate all of them. When there’s anger towards you from the fan base, how do you deal with a lot of that, personally?A: First of all, I think one of the important things is, besides sending out my Sunday tweet, which always gets a good reaction, I stay off of it. The other thing that, you know, although everybody for those seven years felt like I handle my social media, I really don’t all the time. There’s been times where I’ll post something, but other people handle the social media. The reality is, that’s been the way it has been for six years. When we lost a game, there’s anger. We’ve won 11 games three out of the last four years and nine games the other season. And when we have lost a game, there has been anger. That’s the nature of college football and sports. I wish it wasn’t. I remember talking to some of the players on Saturday in the locker room before coming into speak with the media. That’s something that I wish wasn’t the case. I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about in general. I remember getting the job and sitting down with Sam Ficken, talking to Sam Ficken about how he got death threats. I get college football is really important to people and I get that people are passionate about it. I get that, you know, you don’t fill up a 107,000-seat stadium without passion. I will also tell you, the good thing is, I have an administrative assistant named Dianna Weaver. She’s phenomenal. She only forwards me the cards and emails that I get that are positive. People looking at the big picture and the entire work. You’d be amazed how many positive cards, emails, packages that are sent. All the way from the day I first got the job. That’s kind of the nature of it. So, I’m aware of it, obviously for you, but I need to keep my focus on the team and the staff and finding a way to be 1-0 this week. Q: Going back to the red zone sequence on Saturday when you had one timeout and Sean spiked the ball. Was that call coming from the sideline for the spike? What was behind it in the play selection? Have you had more success with fades in practice than you’ve had in the games? What’s your thoughts on that sequence?A: Obviously, the fades, we’re throwing whether it’s on the perimeter or whether it’s an inside big box. We’ve had a lot of success with that during practice and early in camp. We need to have a little more diversity, there’s no doubt about it, in the red zone, with the play-action pass, with high-lows and horizontal stretches. We did try to run another concept there that we did not have success on. There’s no doubt about it. We need to have more diversity in that and then, obviously, the spike did from come from the sideline. Q: Can you describe the development of the offense since Kirk [Ciarrocca] arrived? What are some of the challenges? Where do you think it is now and where is it headed?A: Early on, you know, we weren’t running the ball consistently enough to give us a chance in how, you know, Kirk has operated with the run game with the play-action pass and the RPOs off of the run game, which obviously we were able to do better on Saturday. Once you get the run game going, you’re able to put people in conflict, very similar to what [Minnesota] was able to do against us last year. I think that’s gonna create more opportunities. We’ve got to build off of what we did on Saturday. We have to be more explosive. I think that’s the biggest thing. Running the ball is great. Being consistent and being technically sound and fundamentally-sound and being able to be efficient, is really important. We were able to do that Saturday. Now, have to be more explosive down the field or over the middle, whether they’re big runs, RPOs, play-action pass, shots down the field, we have to become more explosive. Q: Keyvone Lee has been a sparkplug for this team. What is it about Keyvone that allows him to take on that role and be an energizer for the team as a freshman?A: I think some of the scenarios that we have been thrust into, based on this season, is obviously part of it. But the other part is, he’s a 230-pound guy with good feet. He’s got really good vision and the other things, it’s a subtle thing but matters, is he’s always falling forward. I think that’s something that a lot of time goes unnoticed, is when you can always fall forward, you’re talking about another yard-and-a-half or two yards on every run. We needed the ability to be able to grind things out. We haven’t had that, at this point, the ability to make the free guy miss and go 80. We need to do that more. But we at least need to be able to break tackles and fall forward and stay on schedule as much as we possibly can. He’s been able to do that. I think for a guy who’s 230 pounds, he’s got really good feet. He’s got really good vision. To be honest with you, he’s handled the moments pretty well for a true freshman. It hasn’t been too big for him. Q: With what happened at Vanderbilt with [Derek] Mason having to leave there. How hard was that to see from afar with everything you guys got started there?A: You never like to see that, you know, in this profession. This is a tough business, but you never like to see that. I know a lot of people there. I got a lot of connections there. My phone’s been ringing off the hook, you know, about that situation. Obviously, you know, Vanderbilt means a lot to me. They were a school that took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to go there and have a lot of success. I wish Vanderbilt all the best. I wish Derek, he’s a really good coach. He’s had a great career, not only in college, but the NFL and was a great defensive coordinator at Stanford. I know him and his family ver well. We’ve been on the Nike trip for a long time together. He’ll land on his feet. He’s too good of a coach, he’s too good of a person not to. I know Vanderbilt is committed to winning and doing it the right way. So, I wish them the best. But yeah, it’s a tough profession. You’re only as good as your last game. You’re only as good as your last season. You hate to see that though, for people, especially when you them. I think it’s one thing when you see it from afar and it’s just some guy, but when you know people personally, you know their families and all those types of things, it’s tough. Q: What does winning do for you?A: For me, I know you guys sometimes wish I showed it more, but as a leader, that consistency is really important. That you don’t get too high, you never get to low. That doesn’t mean I don’t show emotion with the team and I don’t show emotion with the staff. But, really, the wins are what you work so hard for. You work so hard for the players to have success, for the staff to have success, for the fans, for the lettermen, for everybody to be able to take three hours away from their reality and turn on the game and be proud of what they see. For the most part, we’ve done a really good job of that. You know the older I get, the longer I’ve been in the profession, the wins, they’re awesome and I love them. But the losses just are really painful. I think they’re painful because of a lot of the things that have already been asked and then in the statements that have been said on here, you know, the responsibility and reaction and how quickly it changes. I mean, you know in this profession, in this game, it can change quick. You can win for four seasons at a level as high as anybody in the country and then during the season, that’s been challenging on our world and a year that’s been challenging our world, it can change quickly. For me to sit here and say that’s not hard, that’s hard. Again, after the game, talking to some of my players that didn’t want to come in and answer questions, we’re really struggling with those things even after a win. You know, that’s hard, with the face that I always try to present and represent Penn State in the right way, do it with class, do it the right way, that’s really important to me. For the majority of the people I talk to at Penn State, that’s really important to them. It’s obviously easy to do it after wins, but I think your character really shows during times of challenge. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned a lot about the staff. I’ve learned a lot about the players. I’ve learned a lot about the fan base. I’ve learned a lot about everything, through the good end and the bad. To me, I think one of the things that’s important, like I tried to talk to my chief of staff about last week and talk about with the parents, we have to own this season. We have to own it, but this is not the totality of who we are. The Cotton Bowl champions, we’re that, too. The Fiesta Bowl champions, we’re that too. The Big Ten champions. I don’t think there’s been any other team in the conference that’s won a Big Ten championship besides us and those other guys. For me, I just try to keep the big picture in mind as much as I possibly can. But for me to sit here and say that my staff and my players aren’t aware of it, that it doesn’t have an impact, yes, yes it does. Q: Pro Football Focus had you charted with 15 broken tackles last week and 34 for the rest of the season. If you’re not able to hit those shots to get those explosive plays, how do you go about generating explosive plays in the run?A: I think that’s all the things you just said. To create explosive plays, you’re gonna do that through scheme. You’re gonna do that through making people miss, 50/50 catches, big-time throws, calling the right play at the right time when you get an indication based on safety rotation or linebacker skew, that there’s an opportunity to take advantage of. It’s something that you’ve worked with the players during the week. Typically, if they’re bringing an edge pressure, they’re usually sliding the defensive front away from the pressure. If you can know that’s coming and wall it off and hit that crease, you’ve got a chance to make big plays, especially when you know the rotation is going away. So, equipping your players with the ability to do that and, again, over seven years, we’ve done a pretty good job of that. We need to do more of all of those things offensively. It’s all of it. It’s broken tackles, it’s big-time throws and catches, it’s making people miss, it’s scheme. It’s having an indication of seeing something coming and calling something at the right time. Sometimes, it’s a little luck. It’s all those things. Q: With Devyn Ford missing last week for a family-caused absence, with the restrictions put on due to COVID, does that make it more complicated for a player coming back? Do you expect him to be with you this weekend? Can you also speak on Ja’Juan Seider and how he has managed that running back room with all that’s been thrown his way?A: Ja’Juan is as good as there is, not only as a coach, but as a person and as a man. He’s done a really good job. He’s been great to me. He’s done a great job of recruiting. He’s done a great job of development and building those relationships. But, obviously, you lose your first two running backs before the second drive of the season, then obviously circumstances changed and presented some challenges. Then you lose your third running back to a family situation. So then with COVID, yeah it does, it magnifies it. Without COVID, a guy and go home and come back, those who are willing to based on family circumstances and when they come back, you can throw them right in there. With COVID, it makes it challenging. For Devyn, him and his family made that decision, which we were totally supportive of. Actually talked to his dad and stepmom, maybe Sunday night, and it was obviously important to Devyn to be able to come home and he was able to do that. Last week, he was back for practice on Sunday. So, Devyn is available, but whenever we’re dealing with any type of family emergency situation like that, we’re always going to just be as supportive as we possible can on the family, what their needs are and what our players needs are, even during a season like this where our depth is challenged. Q: When you put together a turnover-game and you’ve had some struggles protecting the ball, how much is that the work the quarterbacks do on their own and how much of it is the coaches getting a game plan together that can be executed at a better level?A: I think it’s all of it. It’s the coaching and the fundamentals and the attention to detail that the coaches and the players take during practice. It’s some of how you call the game. It’s everybody kind of having an understanding of the importance of it. Like I mentioned, we’ve done a pretty good job of that over our time. But I think that was a huge factor in the game. We had that one play, we were fortunate that it got overturned. We haven’t had a whole lot of that this year, calls that could have gone either way, we haven’t gotten those yet. That was obviously a big one in that game. I think it’s a little bit of everything. The coaches are making sure that we’re holding everybody accountable to it’s the players understanding the details and fundamentals that they have to do consistently, because it’s one of those deals, it’ll catch up to you when it catches up to you. It typically happens in un-opportune times. Q: Did you get any clarification on the play were Shaka [Toney] directed the ball back in bounds? What have you heard about that?A: Yeah, I saw some people bring it to my attention from stuff they saw on social media. A lot of times, people will print stuff out that they see and send it to me and players will text me or whatever. So, I saw some highly qualified people all over the country say that, that was not ruled correct. I have gotten an interpretation from the Big Ten, but I usually have a conversation as well. I’m still waiting to get clarification and understanding of that call, because it’s been interpreted very inconsistently. The way the rule reads to me, if it’s questionable, you don’t call it. That’s how the rule, I literally read the rule myself, and most of the interpretations I’ve seen have said you don’t make that call. I also saw a clip from the Oregon game that was clearly a tip and was not called. I know it’s a different conference, all those types of things. But I just want to make sure that I understand it clearly, so I can address it with my team for the future, learn from it and grow from it, same with my staff. That’s why I turn stuff in each week and have conversations, so we can learn from it. To me, that’s what life’s about, as you go through experiences. In football, you go through experiences. In life, you try to learn from them and try to grow from them. So, I’m still waiting to get clarification on that. We’ve got a guy on our campus who’s an official that works our practices. I asked him and got his opinion and most of the opinions that I’ve gotten have aligned with the way I see it. But I want to make sure that I’m crystal-clear as well. Q: Where are you from a depth perspective at linebacker? We haven’t seen Charlie Katshir for the last couple weeks and saw Curtis Jacobs for just a couple of reps. How much stress does that put your top line under? Do you expect it to be that way going forward?A: With Curtis, he’s going to continue getting opportunities on special teams and continue to get opportunities defensively. That package will grow as the season continues on. One of the things that’s been a little bit challenging this year, usually we have out of conference games early on and get people reps to get a rotation, build confidence in his game and as the season goes on, you continue to build those things. But obviously, when every game is a dogfight, it makes it a challenge. We’ve got a lot of excitement and confidence about Curtis. He will continue to see him get more reps and more opportunities. With Charlie, we typically don’t talk about injuries unless they’re season-ending injuries. Charlie had a season-ending injury. That’s why you haven’t seen him. Typically, I would like to have a conversation with Charlie about that and make sure we’re on the same page, but asking me the question, I didn’t want to not answer it. Typically, you guys see these guys walking around campus and find out about It anyway, if they’re on crutches or in a sling or whatever it may be. So, it doesn’t stay quiet very long. I’ll probably when I leave here, I’ll probably call Charlie right away to make sure he knows that I said this. Q: Going back to your run game. Do you think it’s possible for a team in the Big Ten to be a winning program without that?A: Yeah, I think you could be a winning program by doing one or the other at a high level, but I think to be a championship program, you’ve got to be able to do both. I think there’s gonna be times, we’ve been through it ourselves, when we’ve been able to score a bunch of points. There’s been critical times where we’ve needed to be able to run the ball and hadn’t been able to do it in those times, even in season when we competed for championships. So, you have to be able to throw the ball at a time when everybody in the stadium knows you’re gonna throw it, when you’re in two-minute offense. You’ve got to be able to run the ball in four-minute when everybody knows you’re going to run the ball. Those things are really important, So to answer your question, I think you have to be able to do both. Q: James, curious what your feelings would be on a potential bowl situation with the uniqueness of this year and everybody is eligible? Is it still out there as a motivator as a goal for this team?A: We’re trying to be 1-0. This has been even during the last six years. We never really talk about it. We talked about it that one year where we were ineligible for a bowl going into the season and then found out we were. But from that point on, we’re just focused on trying to be 1-0 each week.