Off a disheartening loss at Michigan Stadium and ahead of Saturday night’s Whiteout game against Minnesota, Penn State head coach James Franklin met with reporters on Tuesday.
The tone was straightforward and some of the topics, as you’d expect, were Saturday’s failures on defense, the performance of Penn State’s offense, and, of course, Sean Clifford/Drew Allar.
As always, you can read the full transcript HERE or just follow along the rest of this article for the synopsis.
A brief opening statement from Franklin included how he felt that his team lost poise and composure during the Michigan loss. Moving into Minnesota, James shared the usual compliments given toward the Gophers, their coaches, and a few of their standout players. He called Saturday’s Whiteout both a tremendous challenge and opportunity.
Most notable in this statement was the mention of Kirk Ciarrocca, who is back as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator after spending the 2020 season in State College. Franklin said that Ciarrocca has done a great job. There were no questions from the assembled media about facing his old offensive coordinator, which I found to be interesting.
As predicated, the opening question was aimed at learning more about the status of Sean Clifford heading into Saturday’s games. In what will become, and has always been, a popular refrain, Franklin said that the injury was not season ending and that “nothing has changed with the plan or model” in terms of how he would handle quarterback. However, there was the caveat that his team hadn’t yet practiced.
Tight Ends a Key
Asked about the lack of involvement with the tight ends, Franklin reiterated that it’s a good group that has had big roles when Penn State has played well. He said the staff needed to get them involved and keep them involved.
Learning From Mistakes
Michigan dominated time of possession and the line of scrimmage. Asked what went wrong and how to prevent that before facing Minnesota, Franklin said there are definitely similarities between the two U of M’s approaches. Franklin himself said how well those corrections that were addressed in a Sunday film session carried over to the field would be a big story line on Saturday.
Who Are You
Franklin was asked specifically about what he viewed his team’s offensive identity to be. He said he wants his team to be unpredictable with the ability to throw or run on any down. Franklin said the team hasn’t been explosive enough in its passing game compared to previous years.
Here’s What I Say
A reporter noted that in college football the question of backup quarterback often arises and transitioned into asking about how Franklin would respond to the public’s question of wanting to see Drew Allar instead of Clifford. Franklin bristled and noted that he thought that everyone wanting a quarterback change was the wrong message and wrong signal. Clifford bluntly said that Sean has earned the right to be on the field, while Allar has continued to make strides in his development. Franklin closed the question by mentioning a recent text from Mike Geisicki noting how Penn State lost to Michigan in blowout fashion before going on to win the Big Ten title. Franklin said his focus was on beating Minnesota this week and that often approaches aimed at doing wholesale position changes aren’t aimed at winning that week.
Following that question, Franklin spoke about the value of Bryce Effner and his ability to play different roles. It was interesting that Franklin noted Effner doing enough in practice to deserve to find time on the field directly on the heels of a question about Clifford having done the same.
This seemed a somewhat recycled question, but Franklin was asked to assess his two freshmen running backs, Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Franklin said they both have learned a lot through their first season experiences, while also noting that Keyvone Lee has been a good mentor for the running back group that needs to be more consistent in making big plays.
A reporter asked about recruiting based on Franklin’s Saturday postgame remarks that addressed the size of Michigan’s defensive linemen. James clarified that he likes the players he has recruited and how his staff has studied how some stout defenses have larger players along the defensive line. Franklin added that he meant there were things in terms of nutrition and weight room work that could be done to find a sweet spot of size versus athleticism. However, he did say he’d like to have bigger players on both the offensive and defensive lines.
State of the Offense (Offensive Coordinator)
Second-year coordinator Mike Yurcich hasn’t produced the dynamic scoring outputs that some expected. Franklin was asked how he assessed Yurcich in terms of gameplanning and in-game adjustments. James said that Yurcich’s biggest adjustments have been using tight ends and formations in helping Penn State run the ball. But, he did note that his team needed to go out and execute the plan better in the future.
Fixin’ on It
A reporter noted some of Franklin’s frustrations or grievances over the years with his team’s play in some areas. The question asked what the disconnect is in getting those problems answered. Franklin said it’s a question that he believes he’s answered over time and not one that he wanted to delve into on a game week with Minnesota looming. A little annoyed, Franklin continued that his team is simply focused on getting a win on Saturday.
Tunnel of Trouble
A two-part question that asked about non-related things. First, Sean Clifford is able to make audible calls and the team often looks to the bench for clarification when it comes to audibiling. Second, video of Penn State and Michigan doing a lot of jawing in the shared Michigan Stadium tunnel has made its rounds on social media. Franklin said that one tunnel is a problem and the conference needs to come up with a policy that allows a 1-2 minute buffer for one team to get to its locker room first. Franklin added that his team isn’t the only team to have ever had a situation like that and that, under current policy, it won’t be the last.
Explosive chicken or Explosive Egg
Franklin was asked if the lack of explosive passing plays was a result of execution or play calling. He went with the, it is Tuesday after all - obvious, answer that it was a little of both. Franklin hopes his team can execute the opportunities that are there and that his coordinator could call more. However, he said that being truly unpredictable means not going for a deep shot on every second down and short yardage.
Earlier in the day, defensive end Nick Tarburton mentioned during his media availability that the entire defense had spent time watching the Michigan loss together. Franklin said it was a productive meeting and that one of the takeaways was that he had a lot of talented players who are heavily invested. He thought as the game progressed that some of his players tried to make highlight plays individually rather than following the game plan and doing their job. When players simply handle their responsibilities, according to Franklin, the big plays happen organically.
Yes, it’s a Whiteout
Asked what factored into Minnesota being the Whiteout, Franklin said that the whole football department knew what time certain games were going to be played…thanks Fox.
Starting left guard Landon Tengwall was injured prior to the game Saturday at Michigan. Asked for an update, Franklin circled back to the same answer he gave about Sean Clifford. It’s not season ending and it’s only Tuesday.
So Hunter Nourzad filled in for Tengwall, and Franklin answered a question about Nourzad by saying the staff views him as a starter.
Franklin was asked about how and when to make major changes with his team. Again, citing it as a perfectly fair question, he went on to remind the reporter about 2016 when Penn State was 2-2 prior to playing Minnesota. Franklin ended the press conference with a pretty enjoyable chain of events that he said he thinks about: he tries to control the vibes in the whole building so that the vibes at practice are what they need to be in order that the vibes on Saturday night are good with fans leaving happy after a win. Ok, I’m in - let’s have some good vibes.
Obviously Count - 17