Breaking down Penn State coach James Franklin’s pre-Ohio State press conference.
TRANSCRIPT FROM ASAP SPORTS
MODERATOR: We will start with opening comments from Coach Franklin.
COACH FRANKLIN: Obviously really excited for this week's game and this opponent coming off a bye week, which we got a lot of stuff done. We were able to rest our players, we were able to work on technique and fundamentals and some scheme things that need to improve. We were able to get on the road recruiting. We were able to scrimmage the young guys. We were able to get a lot of work done, so really productive bye week.
Cut some things back to make sure that we're fresh and healthy. We're looking at numbers and studying some things. I think we're somewhere around 46 players that were actually playing in games, scholarship players so making sure that we're making really good decisions there.
On Ohio State and Coach Urban Meyer, you look at their program and their team doing a tremendous job, probably the fastest, most athletic team and also tremendous size, probably the best combination that we've seen so far this year. They have returned 10 of 22 starters, 4 on offense, 6 on defense. You look this year, their one loss was early in the season against Virginia Tech but since then, they have had a lot of success, four games, playing with a lot of confidence, scoring a lot of points, creating a lot of turnovers on defense that are factoring into those points as well.
If you compare our two programs in terms of the statistics that we go over each week that we think are important, turnover margin, they have the advantage there. Penalties per game, we have the advantage there, total offense, they have the advantage, total defense, we have the advantage. Scoring offense, they have the advantage and scoring defense we have the advantage.
So interesting to kinda look at the statistics. Defensively, Luke Fickell was obviously the previous head coach there, on an interim basis. They're playing really good on defense, as well as the co-coordinator, Chris Ash. They're a 4-3 defense, they're going to press you on the outside and challenge your receivers. They're typically a quarters team, what we call "full press," creative in their third down package. They're excellent up front. I would say across the board they run extremely well, offense, defense, and special teams. They're second in the Big Ten in interceptions, you look at tackle, No. 63, Michael Bennett, a senior, very disruptive he's on the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Outland Trophy, the Bronko Nargurski Award, the Lombardi/Rotary Award, he's a co-cap, he's got three tackles for a loss and a sack, Joey Bosa is the guy that jumps out to us the most, 97, defensive tackle, 6-5, 280 pounds, team-high nine tackles for a loss and five and a half sacks, he's number one in the Big Ten in for tackles for a loss, forced fumbles, and number two in sacks. Linebacker, No. 43, been very impressed with him, Darron Lee, 6-2 228 pounds, he can really run, has been disruptive and then their corner back, No. 12, Doran Grant is playing very, very well, as well, he's another senior, he's fourth in the Big Ten in interceptions.
On offense, Tom Herman is the offensive coordinator, the co-offensive coordinator is Ed Warinner, doing great things, playing extremely fast, they're playing at a consistent level. I think the coaching staff does a great job of tailoring their scheme to the players. They're No. 1 in the Big Ten right now in yards per game.
They're averaging 46 points per game. Third down percentage, they're doing a great job at 49%, which is ninth in the nation.
They run a spread offense, run a spread offense, have a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism, like us they're young on the offensive line coming into the season, one of those players most of their guys have been in the program for a long time with that scheme and with that system and have stepped in nicely for them. Impressed with their quarterback, J.T. Barrett, completed 65% of his passes, got 20 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, percentage ... 270 yards ... excuse me, he has a 269 pass efficiency rating, and he's also running the ball, rushed for 383 yards and 4 touchdowns, so he's playing productive. Their running back No. 15 is playing extremely well, wide receiver No. 9, Devin Smith and their other H back No. 2, Dontre Wilson. The thing that jumps out to you about these guys is they break a lot of tackles and make a lot of people miss so a lot of YAK yards, that really jumps out and is helpful to their quarterback. Then on special teams, Kerry Coombs, who I think does a really good job coaching their corners as well, they've done some really, really nice things, I know Urban is really involved on special teams as well, they're leading the Big Ten in kickoff coverage, you look at their special teams, they run extremely well, they're long and rangy, they do a good job of being physical in their return units and Dontre Wilson is a guy we're going to have to be aware of as a kick returner.
Really excited about the opportunity and more optimistic and positive than we've ever been about the program and where we're going. We have had great interaction with our players this week, finally moved into my house to the point where we can start having players over for dinner, fired up about Thursday night, having the tight ends to our house for dinner, no one is more excited than our two daughters. Nothing they like better than the football boys coming to the house. So excited about doing that as well. I think being on the road, recruiting as well and driving around this region and just people that are so passionate about Penn State and where this program is going has been great, great for us.
I've gotten some great text messages, I've had some great meetings with our players and I really see them start to go take ownership of the program and running with it right now. Look forward to Saturday. Open up the questions.
Q. James, what do you see from the team leadership after the back-to-back losses and what have you tried to instill in the team in the last ten days or so?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's a little bit of what I was just speaking on. You look at our team, on defense we have Mike Hull and C.J. Olaniyan, that are both seniors and playing at a high level and starting and on offense we have Miles Dieffenbach who hasn't played all year long and a sophomore quarterback who is doing different things but there is just a different dynamic there.
Talking about the guys taking ownership in the team. I think I have really seen a shift in the last week. I've really seen a shift in the last few days of guys really understanding what it's going to take to be successful in our system.
Guys taking ownership, guys coming into my office and having really good meetings and asking really good questions and giving really good feedback.
I think that's been really, really important. If there is a concern, if there is a question, talking about it, working through it together. So I've seen some really good things. I've seen some progress. You get text messages from players late at night that you can tell they're thinking about ways that they can help the team and maybe make a bigger impact, so I think we're making some really good progress with that when it comes to a leadership perspective.
Q. Two quick ones. You guys are used to playing night games already but you've been in hostile stadiums. What do you expect from the atmosphere Saturday night and could you just kind of speak to the need to kind of balance the offense a bit more moving forward not only against Ohio State but the rest of the way?
COACH FRANKLIN: Obviously we would love to have a huge, home field advantage, which I anticipate us having. 107,000 Penn State fans wearing white, screaming and going crazy, making it really difficult for them to communicate. If you look at them, they really haven't played a on whole lot of games on the road this year. They did play at Maryland, but that's the only true away game they had. The Navy game was not an away game, was not a home game, what's the term I'm looking for, neutral site, thank you very much. So I think coming on the road in this type of environment is going to be difficult and challenging for them.
I would love to see how many times our fans can get them to get a delay of game or jump off-sides or whatever it may be. I know our defense is looking forward to that advantage as well.
Obviously balance on offense, we've been talking about that all year long. The games that we have had some balance and have been able to establish somewhat of a running game we've been able to do some nice things. That's something we're not going to shy away from. We're still committed to doing that.
We worked on it really hard all last week, and we're going to do that again this week, and that's not going to change. We're going to stay positive. I do think there has been a game or two that we aborted the run a little bit too early and that's as much my fault as anybody's. We're going to stick to that, stick to the running game and keep committing to that, finding creative ways to help our guys and put them in position to be successful.
One of the other things we talked about, a lot of times as coaches you keep trying to help your guys by doing more and coming up with different schemes and I would make the argument and we have made the argument as a staff that less is more. Let's get good at things that we can hang our hat on and go from there.
Q. James, you mentioned that Bosa jumps out the most to you guys. What does stand out specifically about him on film and what are some keys to slowing down an end like that when he's in a groove like this?
COACH FRANKLIN: He's got a rare combination. You talk about a guy who is 6-5, 280 pounds and really has some quickness and is sudden. He's able to play with quickness and he's able to play with power, and a lot of times you can find guys that are extremely strong and powerful and explosive at the point of attack but maybe don't have the quickness as a pass rusher. He's got a rare combination that he can beat you with speed and quickness but he can also beat you with power.
Those guys are hard to find. They don't come around very often. I think that's what makes him a challenge. Obviously we need to be aware of him. You try to look at it from an offensive perspective in pass protection, and in the run game, you know, where your single blocks are going to be. They do a nice job where they play them at defensive end but they will also move them inside the defensive tackle, a little bit like we've done with Zettel, so you can't say you know he's always going to be the left defensive end or always going to be the 3-technique, they do a nice job with that and it creates challenges and obviously we're going to go back to technique and fundamental and where we can help double-team him as much as we can.
Q. Last week you mentioned the balance of getting the fans excited, between the balance of getting fans excited without setting up false expectations. With as you say, 47 available players on the roster, what do you consider "reasonable expectations" for this team this season?
COACH FRANKLIN: You know, I think the biggest thing is I want our players and I want our fans and I want the community to feel really good about the direction and how we play. That's the thing that's important to me, that we come out and we play up to our abilities each week and we maximize that. I want people to be very, very comfortable with the direction of the program, where it's going and how our guys are playing and the type of experience they're having. That's on the football field, in the community with all the community service we're doing, that's in the classroom. I want them to have a great experience and I want our fans to be proud of the product that we're putting on the field each week. What that means in wins and losses, I'm not sure. What I do know is we're going to work like crazy this week to get our guys prepared to go out and play Ohio State and play well. At the end of the year we'll look back and we'll look at that and see where we're at, but right now we're focused on Ohio State.
Q. Your defense has played well overall the whole season. How do you a better job of making more game-changing plays on that side of the ball, creating turnovers, making it easier maybe for your offense?
COACH FRANKLIN: If you look at drive start average, I think that's been a big factor in the games. Turnovers usually play into that. I think our defense has played extremely well, but getting some of those game-changing plays, the interception returns for touchdowns, the punt returns for touchdowns, setting up our offense with great field position, special teams can help in those areas as well.
Over all, let's be honest, everybody has been really pleased with how our defense has played but you always want more, you always want better and for us to go to a good defense or a great defense or elite defense, that's where the turnovers come in. That's one of the things I noticed this week studying Ohio State, the offense is playing at a high level but they're also getting turnovers, which are helping, turnovers for touchdowns and turnovers for field position.
Q. I just wanted to know, your quote off the Michigan game was we have to get things fix and had fast. How confident are you that during the bye week you got things fixed and what did you do in the second bye week that you didn't do in the first to ensure that things will be better this time around?
COACH FRANKLIN: We actually did less. We actually did less this bye week. Again, that goes back to kind of learning from our experiences, to learning about what's going on and the effects of what we're dealing with, to make sure that we can get to the game and we're as fresh and fast and healthy as we possibly can be.
Looking back at the Michigan game I thought the second half we ran out of gas a little bit, at some key position and key spots.
So we actually did less. Looking back at it and making some decisions, that's what we did in the second week. It's not like you're going to come in and wave a magic wand or flip a switch, we're going to stick to our plan, stay positive, keep lovin' these guys and workin' hard. Like I said, I've been really, really pleased with their attitude and where we're going.
Q. Wondering if you could contrast Ohio State's offense with Braxton Miller to the kid they have playing quarterback now and is there any difference in terms of how you prepare.
COACH FRANKLIN: Hey, Mike. Hi!
Q. I said hi.
COACH FRANKLIN: I wanted a chance to say hi to you.
Q. My bad. How you doin'?
COACH FRANKLIN: Awesome, what do you got for me, buddy?
Q. Okay, Braxton Miller is out and the new kid is in. Does that make your preparation any different in any way?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, it's not like this happened last week. I mean, he's been playing for a while now.
COACH FRANKLIN: So, no, I mean, at this point the games that we've studied, he's been playing pretty much all season. So it's really a nonfactor.
Q. I just wanted to ask about the two freshmen receivers, Blacknall and Godwin, they're rotating and do you expect they will continue to this week and in what areas are you seeing the most growth from those guys from the start of camp to this point in the season?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think they've handled it extremely well. One of those guys will play in the 11 package and both of those guys will back up those two guys when they need a blow. One of the things they're doing a nice job of is mentally, doing what they need to consistently do with very few mental mistakes. They're making the plays that they're supposed to make, catching the ball. The next step is to get them to play with more confidence and play faster so they can break some tackles, make some people miss and create some big plays.
Right now I've been very pleased with them and what they've been able to do. You think about the inexperience we had at the wide receiver position with really Geno being the only guy, with any considerable amount of playing time in the past. The fact that Hamm's played extremely well and those two guys playing at a high level as well, really the next step for all those guys is to become more feared playmakers, be able to take the short pass and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown, being able to catch a crossing route, break a tackle, make a guy miss and take it to the house.
We need more explosive plays. If you look at our offense earlier in the year that's one of the things we were doing, we were creating big plays and we haven't had as many of them right now and there is a lot of factors that go into that but seeing those guys take the next step, really all four or five wideouts, but especially those two young guys.
Q. I wanted to ask you, you mentioned Geno there. How is he the last couple of weeks in terms of his practice? Even though he is a sophomore, he is a leader in that wide receiver group in terms of experience and everything and obviously didn't play as much that last game. Has he shown that he's a team player and that type of stuff and shown some things the last couple of weeks to you guys at all?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I'm expecting Geno to have a big week and a real big second half of the season. There were some things that we needed to get cleaned up with a consistency standpoint with him and had a meeting with him and it went extremely well. He also had some bumps and bruises and things like that that were affecting his practice reps and time. So I think he's back to feeling 100%, and understanding the importance of the consistency of doing the things that we're asking him to do.
I've been really pleased with him. He's one of the guys that I met with and he understands as well as the coaching staff understands that he like a lot of guys, we need him to have a big role on our offense like it was early in the season for us to be the type of team and offense we want to be.
Q. Can you talk about what you've been able to do to address the punting issues during the bye week and whether that's personnel, scheme? Also, speak to the importance of the punting game when you're in a lot of field position games the way you guys have been.
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's a huge factor. Like, again, we talk about drive-start average. That's been a big factor. We went into this knowing that we had two inexperienced, young punters that we felt good about. Typically what you see in young punters is they have the ability to crank out a 57 or 60-yard punt, but what we talk about all the time, what's more valuable is can you consistently punt the 40-yard punt rather than one time knocking a 60-yarder and the next time a 30-yarder and that's what comes with, just like any position, being able to do your job consistently.
Like every position we want it to be an open competition. Daniel has done some nice things, you guys have seen we tried to get him reps earlier in the year. He had an opportunity to take advantage of that, and at the time he didn't. You could see that again this week, through practice. Today we'll get a chance to evaluate those guys again. They both are great, great young men. They both are working extremely hard, they both have the ability, I think, not only to be good but to be special. They just need to keep working at it. I think we had some things, a few games where our protection wasn't the way it needed to be, but besides that, overall this season, that's been good. We just need to make sure we're punting the ball more consistently. Our coverage has been pretty good, it's really just the consistency and the punts with the location, with the distance, and we have had a few that we have shanked out of bounds and put our defense in a tough spot and a will the of times our defense has actually held up and done a nice job but then our offense is now starting backed up.
One problem compounds another.
Q. Zach went next, led this team in rushing each of the last two years in the last four games last year he averaged 140 yards per game, he only had seven carries in your last two games, I'm just curious how somebody who has seen his opportunities kinda dry up so much, especially since your running game has struggled.
COACH FRANKLIN: It goes back to what I've been talking to you guys about all year long. We knew we had some challenges coming into the season. I think we have three NFL players from last season that are starting on NFL teams, two on the offensive line and one at wide receiver, so, you know, it's no different than all the other areas we're talking about, consistently being able to get the running game going.
Consistently being able to protect the starts up front and as our "O" line continues to grow and play better then our quarterback will be protected we'll throw the ball better, our running game will be more effective, all of those things.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FRANKLIN: It's not a system thing, if you think about it, we have run two backs with a tight end/full back in the backfield running power which is a style that I think would lend itself well to him. We run one back inside zone, we run one back outside zone, we really run all of the schemes that have been run here in the past and I think most people do, I think we run schemes that complement Bill's style and Zach's style, again, it goes back to we need to be more physical up front and need to be consistent in how we're blocking things at the tight end position and at the offensive line and even on the perimeter at the wide receiver position it's not one factor, it's all of it together.
Q. You talked about how Christian has grown in terms of his dealing with, whether it's pressure or inconsistency, how he's grown in that way. Curious how it's easy to focus in on that stuff. I'm curious from a leadership perspective, a couple of things you have seen from him throughout the season like on the sideline, whether Christian is on, whether there are some positive things you have seen from him?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think where the leadership is important and where it's showing up this year is through adversity. I mean, you know, it's easy in some ways to lead when things are going well. When you're having some challenges and issues, how do you handle that? I think that really shows people's true colors. I think Christian is a guy that's been great about taking responsibility, about asking like we all do when times get tough, asking what can I do better? What can I do more of? How can I help this team be successful? I see that from a number of our guys right now.
I think when you come into the season with so much focus put on Christian, I think he's handled that extremely well and now with the adversity that we've been going through the last couple of weeks, I think he's handled that extremely well. We talk about perseverance, we talk about staying positive and being optimistic and he's done that. We had a captain's meeting last week, and he had some really good things to say and some input. I think that's important. Again, it goes back to what I was talking about before, our senior captain on offense has been out and I think sometimes when guys are out, they don't feel like they can have the same type of voice that they have had when they're actual playing and then your other captain is a sophomore who has done a nice job for us.
Q. It seems from talking to Mike Hull and Bob Shoop at least in this realm that both of those guys are X's and O's talker, they can't get enough football, would you say they share that personality trait and the from your experience coaching do you think it's possible or is there any evidence that when a player shares personality traits they tend to play better within the framework of that coordinator's scheme?
COACH FRANKLIN: I would say that to a degree. But I would probably say that that's not unusual. I mean, I wouldn't say that Bob and Mike are similar from a personality standpoint, but typically your "Mike linebacker" is going to be the quarterback of your defense and he better be on the same page with your defensive coordinator. It's like we talked about before the season started you look on the defensive side of the ball all 11 of those guys I mentioned to you early on we felt good about all those guys, although we were replacing starters, the backups had played a considerable amount and it jumped out to us early on that Mike Hull was a playmaker, was going to be successful. Those questions about was he going to be successful playing the middle, playing the "Mike linebacker" position and we felt he would and it's worked out that the way. But also the defensive line has had a huge factor in our linebackers' success and in our defensive back's success. It starts up front.
Q. James, how did you feel it worked with John getting a different vantage point on the field, John Donovan, and will he go back upstairs? Could you address the organization part, that way and is there a chance that Miles could see action?
COACH FRANKLIN: I'm glad we tried it, it's something that happened at Central Florida and something that's happened in the past. We will probably go back to John being in the booth. What happens is there is another step of information that has to happen. When John is in the booth he can see the hash, the down and distance, he can see the yard line. Sometimes when you're on the sideline, you can't see those things so now you have to ask up to the people in the booth get that information and it's just one more step. It costs you another 2 or 3 seconds.
I just feel like it's in our best interest long term to keep John in the booth. That's how we've done it for the last four years. I think we're much more comfortable and got a better system that way. When it comes to Miles, it's really a week-to-week thing. It's not just a mental ... it's not just a physical aspect of the injury it's also the mental aspect of the injury as well. I think he's doing some really nice things. I think the bye weeks were huge for him. If he's ready this week, we would love him ... we would love to have him in there, because I do think having him next to Donovan is really valuable. Those guys have experience together, communicate extremely well together. We would love to have him. To think he's going to go from not playing at all to starting, that's probably not going to happen, but if you can get him for a series or two, that will be great but we'll see how the series plays out.
Q. How critical of you of yourself and even your staff, is there a fine line where you say, that's enough, let's move forward?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think very critical. I'm a guy that ... I spend a lot of time on self-analysis with everything I'm that way with every aspect of my life. When it comes to football, my job, things I could do better I wake up in the middle of night. I have a reputation for texting coaches or texting administrators or texting my other phone, things that I wake up and think about in the middle of the night because I don't want to forget so I will text those things. I don't expect people to respond at 3 or 4:00 in the morning but I want to make sure it's out so we can discuss it in the morning, or I may text it to my other phone, so I have that note to look at in the morning. You hear people keep tape recorders or notebooks on the side of their bed. That's how I do it. That's with everything, it's with plays that we call, it's about how we meet, it's about interactions with people. I'm constantly critiquing myself. I'll go back to the office after that and I'll ask Mike Hazel, our director of football operations, he usually critiques things I could have said, should have said, could have done better. He's probably overly critical of me, but I'm used to that.
Same thing with my wife and my kids, how I parent, things I would like to do different and do better. I'm highly critical of myself.
It's all I look at it, and I want the staff to be the same way and our players to be the same way, it's never crossing the line of being unhealthy but it's that striving for perfection in every aspect of our lives. You're probably never going to achieve it but by striving for perfection you have a chance to reach excellence and that's what we're trying to do in every, every aspect. There does come a point, like you're saying that you have to be careful, but I think we do a pretty good job of balancing those things and I think as head coach you kind of set the tone for the whole organization, so if you come in miserable, everybody is going to be miserable, if you come in positive and optimistic about our future and where we are going and the progress we're making other people will be the same way.
I've worked in a lot of different settings, and that's typically how it is, probably no different than you guys in your industry. If the boss is upset and got everybody walking around on eggshells, it's not a great environment. If my wife is ... she is the boss of the house. If she is angry, then it's not a great place to be at the house. She has been very supportive, thank God.
Q. You've obviously been in college football for a while now, and you mentioned before, 46 scholarshiped players, we've talked a lot about the offensive line. Is this the toughest football challenge you've had in your career? And by that I mean not just winning for the future but winning this season with what you have and if not what was the biggest challenge?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's very similar and where I would say it's different is when you are at a place like Penn State it's the expectations. Everybody talked about all these things before the season started, but once the season starts, you know, let's find a way to get it done. There is an expectation, there is a culture of winning here, it's been here for a long time and we brace that. That's one of the reasons why we want to be here and why we were so excited about coming to Penn State. I think that's where it's a little bit different.
I think some of the challenges that we're having are similar to challenges that we've been through in the past, but it's a difference in expectations is where I think it's challenging. And I've also told you, I think there is nothing better than having 107,000 fans when things are going well. When you have challenges there are 107,000 critics and as a coach you try to insulate the players and the staff from that as much as you can but with social media it makes it difficult. One of these days, 35 years from now at my retirement party I'm going to show you guys all the stuff that's sent to me and the rest of the coaches on Twitter. It's amazing. Some of it is really constructive criticism, which I appreciate and others is I wouldn't necessarily describe as constructive. I told you guys I read everything. The last couple of weeks I've read a little bit less. But that's part of it and we embrace it all.
Q. There is a guy on the other side of the line, Larry Johnson, who played a major role, who mentored these players, father-figure to them. How do you prepare to see him physically on the other side, that mentality to have that realization when you get out there, there he is on the other sideline?
COACH FRANKLIN: Tremendous respect for Larry, tremendous respect for the previous regime, all the positive things that happened on the football field, all the positive things that happened in the classroom, tremendous respect. I've known Larry for a long time, not only his reputation as a coach but also as a recruiter. I remember when I was at a previous school I used to see him all the time because he recruited that area.
So a tremendous respect, but, you know, that's kinda where it is. We're trying to get our players prepared for the schemes and the environment and the things that they're going to have to face, and that's what our focus is on. Guys, thank you so much. Have a great day. Great weekend. Great week!
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Larry Johnson’s Press Conference at Ohio State.