Coming off what some might call a lackluster 33-14 win against Central Michigan and ahead of Saturday’s game against Northwestern, Penn State coach James Franklin met with the press on Tuesday for his weekly press conference.
Big topics included the outstanding play of the secondary so far and working to build depth. As a reminder, if you want to read the full version, click here. Otherwise, a summary view of Franklin’s final thoughts on CMU and looking ahead to a conference game.
James talked a bit about his college coach, Mike Terwilliger, from East Stroudsburg who will be coaching his 500th game on Saturday. He moved to CMU and talked about the good (turnover battle, explosive plays, etc.) and some of the bad (pre-snap penalties and special teams). Players of the week were Kaytron Allen (also Big Ten freshman of the week), Kalen King (making up for his snub from this site’s Big Ten Superlatives), and Barney Amor (who leads the country with punts downed inside the 10-yard line).
Franklin spoke glowingly about Pat Fitzgerald and his continued impact at Northwestern. He addressed some of the players to watch for with the Wildcats - namely running back Evan Hull. He said the team is looking forward to returning to Big Ten play.
Back End Emphasis
Asked about the importance of defensive backs in today’s version of football, Franklin came back to the big idea of limiting explosive plays. The sport has trended more to what’s seen in 7-on-7 camps and playing in space, putting a premium on solid defensive backs. Zakee Wheatley was mentioned by name as someone who has the versatility that Penn State is seeking, including the team’s style of training and practicing players at cornerback before moving them to safety.
The next question for Franklin also brought up defensive backs, noting the play of Joey Porter Jr. Franklin took the time to explain how, at times, it’s clear that Porter has simply taken away a player or side of the field, making things easier for his teammates. The coach did note that Purdue was more likely to challenge Porter because “that’s how they’re wired”.
With a question about getting Drew Allar a possession or two early in the game, something that didn’t happen last week, Franklin defferred to idea that there are a number of positions where staff goes in with a plan to get early playing time. He followed up with information about that meeting have not happened yet, as well as them having a ton of respect for Northwestern and the goal, above all, to be 1-0.
Back to the DBs
Franklin shifted a question centered around Kalen King to more of a focus about the overall defensive back group and how they have a lot of talent and how it stacks up compared to overall Penn State defensive backs of the past. Franklin reiterated that there’s a lot of depth and an “iron sharpens iron” mentality when going against Penn State’s offense that has helped a great deal in getting the team ready throughout the year.
Asked specifically about Smith Vilbert and his success in the bowl game, Franklin said that he would like to have a sit down with his talented defensive lineman and make sure that player/coach are on the same page. For now, Vilbert is not available, though Franklin said he’s glad that the player is at Penn State.
Franklin gave a detailed answer to a question about evaluating kickers and run-on specialists. Franklin said how great Barney Amor has been with the program and how well he’s done in filling in for the departed Jordan Stout. Franklin said the program’s ultimate goal, like at any position is to have a starter, a capable backup, and some developing guys. Without being prompted, Franklin did say that the kickoff and field goal teams needed to be better moving forward this season.
Want to know what James thinks about beer sales at Beaver Stadium? The question was asked, but Franklin declined to answer saying his focus was on his team.
Settled down senior
Asked about Sean Clifford’s senior season, Franklin pointed to the number of touchdowns produced (12), the limited number of turnovers (1), and an improved completion percentage. James went on to say that he believes Sean has most improved this year in limiting the number of plays where something goes wrong and staying more levelheaded in the heat of the game.
Hunter Nourzad was limited against Auburn and missed all of last Saturday’s game against Central Michigan. Franklin categorized it as normal bumps and bruises and praised JB Nelson for being ready to step in at the guard spot. Franklin more or less said that Nourzad was questionable to see play this coming Saturday.
A B1G Challenge
Penn State’s defensive ends have flashed at times this year and they’ll face a top NFL draft talent at tackle this weekend with Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski. Franklin noted that Northwestern’s offense also uses a lot of chipping from the tight end to help against defensive ends, meaning that his young crew will get a nice test on Saturday. James went on to say that this is the kind of challenge that players come to Penn State to have.
Four games of Manny
Franklin was asked to evaluate defensive coordinator Manny Diaz through the first third of the regular season. The answers were that Penn State looks a bit different stylistically, but that turnovers and up and that the defense has eliminated big plays for touchdowns thus far. That has given them a chance to be good in the red zone and kept the points down for Penn State’s opponents. Franklin said that players are getting more and more comfortable playing in the scheme.
Emphasis on Depth
A recurring theme from Franklin dating back to the preseason has been the depth in his program. He’s said time and time again that he felt that’s one of the ways that Penn State struggled in the past two years. He fielded a question about trying to get guys in early (and an allusion to what happened after Clifford’s injury at Iowa) and his overall outlook on building depth. This was a detailed answer with a lot of between the lines subtext about how it’s more important than ever in the transfer portal era to give players an opportunity to see the field. He said there’s no exact science and that he would love to have defensive starters in to help Penn State’s statistics hold up. However, he’s been happy with how the season has played out thus far in terms of Penn State getting a lot of players into action.
Franklin was asked a bit about his coaching tree and he acknolwedged he doesn’t do as much reaching out as he should. But he did speak to the family atmosphere that’s cultivated in State College and mentioned Marcus Allen returning and checking in now that James’s daughter has a boyfriend. He says that he’s worked hard at bridging the gap with relationships between generations at Penn State.
Pressuring the Quarterback
Asked about the wide variety of Penn State players who have recorded sacks and quarterback pressure, James again reiterated the depth that has been cultivated. He mentioned a lot of young players by name and told a story about calling Amin Vanover’s mother recently and sharing how proud he was of Vanover’s progress at Penn State.
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