Franklin, Lions Mean Business

Penn State is focusing on football as it opens the season against UCF in Dublin this week.

Penn State coach James Franklin said during his first weekly teleconference Tuesday that he has been doing a countdown to the Croke Park Classic since he was hired in January. In a power point presentation at the end of every team meeting, he has listed the months and weeks and days until Saturday's season opener against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland.

Now the days are few, and the team eager. Eager to stop hitting each other. Eager to get on a plane and fly overseas, as they planned to do Tuesday night. Eager to face an opponent who, in Franklin's words, represents “a tremendous challenge.”

“I'm a nervous wreck before games in terms of preparation, Sunday through basically the game,” he said. “But once the game comes I'm pretty confident, because I know we've done everything we can possibly do to be prepared for the game. Now it's just an opportunity to go out and watch the kids play, and have fun.”

He said he typically sleeps well the night before a game, and is not one to deliver rah-rah pregame speeches -- a small surprise, given the whirlwind approach he has exhibited since his arrival in Happy Valley.

“I feel like if you've got to get them fired up 15 minutes before you run on the field,” he said, “you've got problems.”

There are times when defensive line coach Sean Spencer -- a.k.a. “Coach Chaos” -- might go fire-and-brimstone, Franklin said. But not him.

“Before the game, for me, it's basically telling them how much I care about them and how confident I am in their preparation and how excited I am to go see them play,” he said. “That's really it.”

He will get emotional at halftime if he needs to, he said. And he will definitely get emotional afterward, if the Nittany Lions win.

“I'm going to go in there and celebrate,” he said. “That's one of the problems, I think, that happens with coaches: The losses become a lot more painful than the wins become joyous and fun, and I don't ever want to get like that. I want to really, really enjoy the wins, and celebrate it with the guys.”

On Tuesday he repeated what he has said before -- that he doesn't want this to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for his players, because he and his staff are dedicated to guiding them toward a meaningful degree, so that they might go overseas at their leisure.

But this? “This is a business trip,” he said.

Quite so. Central Florida is coming off a 12-1 season that included a 34-31 victory over PSU in Beaver Stadium. The primary architect of that victory, quarterback Blake Bortles, is now in the NFL, but the Knights return 15 starters.

That includes their top three receivers and top two tacklers, as well as their entire secondary.

In all UCF has nine starters back on defense, which has always been the bread and butter of head coach George O'Leary. “I doubt that they'll do too many things different than they've done in the past,” Franklin said.

It is far more difficult to get a handle on redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo, Bortles' successor at quarterback.

“You know they're going to try to do some things to help him out -- quick throws, screens, things like that, to get the ball out of his hands,” Franklin said. “Obviously if they can establish the run, that's going to help a young quarterback as well.”

The sidelight to the game is that Franklin's late mother was of English decent, so he will be afforded an opportunity to see relatives he hasn't seen “in over 15 years.”

But again, it's a business trip.

“It's just the opportunity to go out and play with these guys, and watch them play -- watch them fly around and have fun, because I know how hard they work,” he said. “Also, football's different. Baseball, basketball, you get 60 to 120 games or whatever it may be a year. In football, you get 12 to 14 opportunities. You better make every single one of them special.”

“It's just the opportunity to go out and play with these guys, and watch them play — watch them fly around and have fun, because I know how hard they work.”

Here are some other topics covered by Franklin:

• On making sure his players are physically prepared for the game: “The legs thing, that's one of the big challenges. … We've probably done a little bit less running than we've done in the past (because of a limited roster), to make sure we are fresh for the game, but you also don't want to run out of gas in the fourth quarter. That's the fine line.”

• On the defensive line, widely viewed as a team strength: “I think you'll see us rotate defensive linemen in, more than what they have maybe traditionally done here in the past, and that's a philosophy we used at our last institution, because we want to make sure we're healthy in the fourth quarter and guys are fresh in the fourth quarter, and that also pays dividends late in the season.”

• On defensive end C.J. Olaniyan: “He's the same guy every single day, which is important to me. We talk about that as a coaching staff -- coming out and being the same guy, every single day from an energy and enthusiasm standpoint. That's what you want from your players as well. You don't want high days and low days.”

• On Brendan Mahon and Derek Dowrey, listed as the co-starters at left guard: “I don't think there's one guy that's clear-cut; it's obvious. I think it's a legitimate battle, and I think it's a legitimate competition. We've got a few more days to iron that out, and see, but you'll see both of those guys play.”

• On Trevor Williams and Da'Quan Davis, listed as the co-starters at the cornerback spot opposite Jordan Lucas: “We need somebody to truly take a hold of that position, and be a playmaker.”

• On kicker Sam Ficken: “His leadership is unbelievable. He may be as consistent as any player on our team at his specific position.”

• On freshman wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins: “Right now he's a guy we're holding on, that we'd like to redshirt if we could. … He's a guy that may end up having to play before the year is out, but we're not planning on playing him in Week One.”

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