It’s officially a big game week for James Franklin’s squad with Penn State set to travel to Ann Arbor this weekend for a top-ten clash against Michigan.
Franklin met with the media on Tuesday to address the upcoming showdown and other things (offensive line, quarterback play, wide receivers, and more) surrounding the Nittany Lion program.
As always, you can check out the full version of the press conference by clicking HERE. Otherwise, here are some of the edited highlights.
Classy James took the podium and offered his thoughts for Michigan running backs coach and former Wolverine Mike Hart, who suffered a seizure during last Saturday’s game at Indiana. Franklin spent time talking about how great an atmosphere and opportunity this Saturday’s game would be and that this is the environment that players choose places like Penn State to play college football. He spent some more time addressing the strengths of Michigan’s offense and their ability to stay on schedule while also having talented players. Franklin then talked about Michigan’s defense being a challenge with their talent and coaching, specifically noting that the Wolverines are good at getting to the quarterback despite losing highly touted defensive ends to the NFL.
Looking for Balance
Franklin was asked about that pass rush and how Penn State would be able to handle it compared to last year. James spent a lot of time addressing how well Michigan has done at making teams more one dimensional already this season. He did say that Penn State’s personnel and scheme should be a little better this year, but that will be a challenge in this game.
Striving for Consistency
Asked about wide receivers and if there was a standout bona fide No. 1 threat, Franklin mentioned the three starters as all being good players. However, he did note that the passing game needed to show more consistency with tough catches and big plays in games. But, he said the ability was in the room.
An Altered Routine
Franklin was asked about how the team has improved in the past two weeks with the bye. He walked through some of the approaches for the past week, noting that players were able to get some rest. He liked the timing of the bye week and that the team has altered the schedule a little bit. He said the team got more of a head start on preparing for Michigan compared to how they would have in the past. Also, going back to a familiar refrain, Franklin said that the depth is much improved and he feels there are fewer question marks with this team.
Michigan has settled on a starting quarterback and Franklin was asked to assess the play of J.J. McCarthy. He said that Michigan has been able to be efficient on first down, mostly with the running game, and take a lot of pressure off of the young, yet talented, signal caller. Franklin said he’s been impressed with McCarthy’s poise and accuracy as much as his arm talent and athleticism.
Asked to evaluate the offensive line thus far and what they still need to do, Franklin said he’s still seeking consistency. He said there have undoubtedly been flashes of successful play from the group. Overall, however, Franklin said he has been pleased and that the group is playing with confidence.
An Eye on Big Games
A long-winded question about the significance of these “big games” that can wind up being season-defining, Franklin addressed how these are critical opportunities for his program. He said that the progress of the other 364 days of the year will often play out to put his team in a position to be successful. Franklin also used this as a chance to say how much he loved Patrick Kraft and how he helped the program be ready for these games. He then closed by saying that the team was approaching this week the right way and the challenges that Michigan will bring on Saturday.
Linebackers to be Challenged
Franklin addressed his linebackers, noting that he’s been able to build depth, mentioning Abdul Carter by name. He said the biggest question was going to be at middle linebacker, but he mentioned how Kobe King and Tyler Elsdon have grown as players. Franklin alluded to Michigan’s offensive diversity and its talent and how that would challenge his linebacker group. But, like the offensive line, Franklin said the group had grown in confidence and was playing well.
What about Cliff?
It’s another Sean Clifford road test - Franklin said that Cliff has played well though there were some plays that he would like to have back again. He mentioned the four to six plays that he’ll need Clifford to make in critical moments. Speaking of moments, Franklin said that his whole career and his season has built toward days like Saturday and that his quarterback will need to play well.
A Welcome Return
Sal Wormley missed last season, something that Franklin said was a huge issue because his staff viewed Wormley as a starter in 2021. He said getting him back a year older and wiser, along with more confidence, has been valuable to Penn State’s success thus far. He said Wormley is smart, powerful, and has been playing at a high level.
A question about how Penn State needs to be ready to face a physical team coming off a bye week…Franklin said that having an experienced football team that has been through some battles is important. He also stressed the importance of having good Tuesday and Wednesday practices.
Keandre Lambert-Smith was knocked out on the opening offensive play against Northwestern. Veering slightly from his normal script, Franklin said he was hopeful that the receiver would be back on Saturday. He then addressed the increased depth with his squad and how the team is, knocking on wood, pretty healthy entering this stretch of the season.
Penn State has already played two Power-5 games away from home, knocking off Purdue in the season opener and routing Auburn in Week 3. Franklin said those experiences would help his team, but more importantly would be executing against a good team in a challenging environment.
Another Welcome Return
Hakeem Beamon’s absence in 2021 is well documented. Franklin took time to offer that he feels extremely close with his defensive tackle and that he wants what’s best for Beamon. He then mentioned that Beamon would be a player who would need to play well on Saturday for Penn State to be successful.
Franklin acknowledged that Penn State lacked explosive plays in the run game last year. Now, the same is starting to be said about the downfield passing attack. Franklin said the team wishes it was in a better place in terms of hitting big passing plays. That will be something the Lions look to do on Saturday and beyond.
Bye Week Blues
The last question of the day brought up Penn State’s 2-5 record after bye weeks under Franklin. James said that his staff has studied the issue and that they’ve tried different things to be better coming off the bye. That has included speaking to different programs, different strength coaches, etc. to try to be better in that aspect.
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