Behind Enemy Lines: Penn State

In order to gain more insight into the Maryland-Penn State game Nov. 1, we spoke to publisher Mark Brennan.

In order to gain more insight into the Maryland -Penn State game Nov. 1, we spoke to publisher Mark Brennan. Here is our question-and-answer session with him:

Terrapin Times:How do PSU fans view James Franklin so far? Has he been as positively received as Bill O’Brien? Also, does Maryland ever come up with him (I’m sure it will this week, but previously what’s he said about the Terps)?

Mark Brennan: In trying to answer the first handful -- Franklin has been very well received. As important as O’Brien was in guiding the program through the first two seasons of NCAA sanctions, he left Penn State in something of a bind when he bolted for the NFL at the turn of the year. But Franklin hit the ground running and quickly won over the Nittany Nation.

He killed it in recruiting last January (all things considered), quickly connected with current players and then spent the spring on a promotional tour where he interacted directly with fans. There are still questions about his ability as a game-day coach, but given the fact that this figured to be the year the NCAA sanctions hit the hardest -- PSU is down to 47 healthy initial scholarship players who are active -- it will probably be a couple of years until he can be fairly judged in that area.

What else was there here on Question No. 1? Oh, right. No, he has not talked much about his time at Maryland. In fact, even when discussing Vanderbilt, he rarely uses the school’s name, but rather says it is his “previous institution.”

TT:Obviously Franklin has placed an emphasis on recruiting the DMV area. What do fans think about the prospects down here in the Maryland-D.C. corridor? Are they on board with Franklin’s recruiting savvy, and what did they think when he said he was going to turn the DMV into his “recruiting playground?”

MB: That area always has been and continues to be a big part of Penn State’s recruiting base. But I’m not sure fans favor players from that area over those from other areas. If the kids can play, the fans here want them.

Now on to the rest of the questions in this question. Yes, PSU fans know exactly how strong of a recruiter Franklin is. He proved it when he not only salvaged PSU’s 2014 class, but also built on what O’Brien had started. The staff has been even better with the 2015 class. Part of that has had to do with his history of recruiting in the DMV region, which really mitigated the loss of former PSU assistant Larry Johnson (who had a great history in DMV). But Franklin has also dominated Pennsylvania (he ought to come up with some sort of catchy slogan for that) and extended Penn State’s reach to places largely ignored at the end of the Paterno era -- Florida, Georgia, Alabama and even California.

TT:Penn State OC John Donovan was at Maryland for more than a decade. How is he viewed now in his first year in State College, Pa.?

MB: As poorly as the offense has played this year, a lot of fans are wondering about Donovan. And it doesn’t help that he is following in the footsteps of O’Brien, who has enjoyed success as an OC at the college and NFL levels. But while there can be fair criticism about certain areas -- rarely committing to the running game, sideline communication -- Penn State’s offensive line has struggled so much that it is difficult to develop an informed overall opinion on what Donovan can and can’t do.

TT:This game used to be a “rivalry” back in the day, although thoroughly dominated by the Nittany Lions. What do PSU fans think about the Terps, and is there hype surrounding this game ... or were the Penn State faithful more excited about hosting Ohio State and other traditional Big Ten powers?

MB: Hmmm. Seems to me I answered this same question before Penn State’s third game of the season. I think the fans are just SLIGHTLY (all caps here signify wise-acre, tongue-in-cheek usage of the word) more jacked when a power program like Ohio State comes calling.

That said, the appeal of having Maryland and Rutgers in the Big Ten, at least as far as Nittany Lion fans are concerned, has more to do with playing those teams on the road. Both games are easy drives for many PSU followers, whereas the next nearest B1G destination is Columbus. Get beyond Michigan and Michigan State, and none of the other B1G destinations are reasonably drivable.

TT:What’s something about Penn State that a casual fan wouldn’t be able to pick up on just by watching games and game film?

MB: Casual Maryland football fans watch game film? And here I thought it was a basketball school. As for something about PSU that may not come through simply by watching the Lions on TV, it is the resolve and perspective the veteran players here have developed after dealing with everything they’ve had to deal with the last few years. Penn State is still less than three years removed from the Sandusky scandal breaking and just over two years removed from the program being hit with “unprecedented” NCAA sanctions.

There have been three different head coaches and two interim head coaches. So the upperclassmen on this team have been through all of that. That explains why, even with the depleted depth, PSU can look really bad in some games (like losing to an awful Michigan outfit) and then pretty good in others (like forcing Ohio State to double overtime). Last season, Penn State lost by 49 at OSU. But then the Lions closed the year by going to Wisconsin as a three-touchdown underdog and winning. (Maryland fans now know how difficult that place can be.)

So for all of the deserved credit O’Brien and Franklin have received for keeping the program above water in the wake of the sanctions, the real stars of the show have been the players who stuck with Penn State when they had a free pass to get out and the players who joined the program when times were tough.

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