Penn State’s James Franklin PC Wrap

FightOnState.com’s Mark Brennan is joined by Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror to break down the presser as only a couple of Nitwits can.


Penn State coach James Franklin always feels awesome at his weekly press conference. Tuesday, he was even more awesome than usual. We'd say “awesomer,” but we're not sure that's an actual word.

He opened up the PC at Beaver Stadium by thanking the media for being there (which he does before every presser) and then went directly into what a great mood he was in, what a great day it was weather-wise (he was right) in Happy Valley, and how terrific his players and assistant coaches are.

He was obviously trying to set a positive tone, which is much-needed considering the program has lost four straight games, including two in a row in gut-wrenching fashion.

Heading into a road game with an Indiana team that is also struggling, Franklin talked about staying positive, a frank discussion he had with PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a few injury situations (sort of), the Lions' woeful punting and much more.

With FOS staffer Greg Pickel hustling to Rec Hall for PSU wrestling Media Day, Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror joined Mark Brennan to break down the PC. The duo usually serves together as panelists on “The Nitwits,” so you can consider this a impromptu version of the weekly TV show.

PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT

COACH FRANKLIN: Again, I’d like to start by thanking everybody for being here. I’m in a great mood. The weather is beautiful coming over here. I’m in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, I’m the head football coach at Penn State University, and I work with a group of young men that are unbelievable and have a staff that’s awesome.

So, in a great mood. Excited about getting out to practice today and getting better and continuing to work with these guys. Got a tremendous opportunity. Myself, the staff, the players are more determined and more optimistic than we’ve ever been.

To kind of summarize the last game a little bit, we lost a turnover battle and the penalty battle. I think the turnover battle was really the biggest factor in the game. You guys all know how we feel about that, and how important that stat is. Explosive plays, we’ve got to find a way to get more of them. That was an eraser for us early in the year, and we haven’t been getting them recently. Defensively we did a pretty good job in that area for the most part.

Offensively, it really just comes down to execution. There are too many little things. Whether it’s footwork, whether it’s assignment that we’re not doing consistently, and it’s not one person; it’s one person this play, it’s a different person that play. So we have to do a better job there.

Defensively, we’re doing a nice job stopping the run and eliminating the big plays. We need to get more turnovers. That would be helpful for us. Third down, we were excellent. Really impressed with Austin Johnson. Just a great young man. He’s working extremely hard. I really see him improving. One of the more athletic, 6-3, 315-pound guys I’ve been around. He made a play on Saturday that I showed the whole team, because not only was his technique excellent, but his effort. He came through the line of scrimmage, the ball broke to the sideline. He ran down the sideline and made a great play. It’s impressive to watch a guy that big play like that.

Deion Barnes, called him out in front of the whole team just talking about his maturity and his work ethic, and with that, how he prepares every single day and the success he’s having.

Then Marcus Allen, 11 tackles, one sack, one pass break-up, and played really well on “wefense” as well. Young kid who is doing great things.

And it’s interesting, on my way over here, I stopped in the weight room and was looking up on our records board, I don’t know if you’ve seen this before, but our three fastest guys now are all playing for us as true freshmen. The three fastest guys on the team and that’s Apke and that is Grant Haley, and that is Christian Campbell, and those guys have been playing and playing pretty well all year long. So it’s great to have Apke playing right now.

On “wefence,” we’ve got to protect the football. We’ve worked our defensive players that are returners into our ball security circuit every single week, and we’ve got to do a great job there. I thought Troy Apke really showed up on special teams. I thought Jordan Dudas showed up on special teams. I’m really proud of him. I want to get to know Jordan better because he’s only said about eight words since I’ve taken the job. But he’s a guy that works extremely hard and is a really great example of the type of young men that we want here. And our gunners, we talked about the two young kids.

So excited about that. The opportunity this week against Indiana and coach Wilson, his fourth year there at Indiana. 16 of 22 starters returning. They’re 3-5, currently right now. If you compare statistics, the turnover margin, we have the advantage. Penalties per game, we have the advantage. Total offense, they have the advantage. Total defense, we have the advantage. Scoring offense, they have the advantage. Scoring defense, we have the advantage.

Their defense, Brian Knorr, who we know very well, and then William Inge, who I’ve known for a long time, are co-coordinators. It’s his first season there. They’ve improved dramatically over the last couple of years. They’ve got nine starters returning. They’re a three-four defense. Really big up front. I think they were starting to develop some depth as a four-three defensive line. Now they’re only playing with three defensive linemen on the field, but you look at them, they’ve got 300-pounders almost three-deep.

You look, they’re a cover four defense. They do a really good job in the secondary running around. They’re a multiple pressure defense. Guys that jump out to us as No. 2, T.J. Simmons, the linebacker; free safety number 4, Antonio Allen who we’re familiar with, we had recruited him; and then D tackle, number 95, Bobby Richardson. Those guys are making plays for them.

On offense, Kevin Johns is their offensive coordinator, and Greg Frey is the co-offensive coordinator. This is his first season, Coach Johns as the offensive coordinator with that title. They’re averaging 274 rushing yards per game, number three in the Big Ten, and number 10 nationally. I think that’s what this game is really about. Our rush defense versus their running back, who is leading the country in rushing right now.

They return seven starters. They’re a spread, no-huddle, tempo offense. The last three games they’ve had 11 big plays. 10 runs, one pass for a total of 615 yards. Explosive offense. That’s what you watch them, they may go zero yards, one yard, zero yards, two yards, and then an 80-yarder. That’s kind of who they’ve been.

Tevin Coleman is the guy, running back, No. 6, 6-1, 210 pounds, and they have a really fast slot receiver as well as specialist, Shane Wynn, No. 1. That’s kind of who they are on special teams as well. Shane Wynn is their punt returner and kick returner. Their kicker has a really strong leg. He’s made a 58-yard field goal this year, and that is 21 touchbacks.

So it should be interesting. It should be fun. It should be exciting. We’re looking forward to going and playing at Indiana.

Open it up for questions.

Q. Last month you mentioned your concern over Christian Hackenberg developing bad habits because of the pressure he’s been under. Do you still have those concerns? How do you think he’s holding up physically and mentally?

COACH FRANKLIN: Really good. We had a meeting yesterday. Had a really good meeting, discussed a wide variety of topics. It’s been a transition. I mean, it’s been a transition for him, really, from the last couple of years through the recruiting process and everything. I think he’s handling it well. There are areas that I think he can handle better, and we discussed those honestly in both directions.

But I think we’re in a really good place. I think we’re in a really good place. I know he’s excited about getting out there today and working with the guys, getting better, and maybe taking a little more of an active role in some things when it comes to leadership.

We have to remember, all of us, that he’s a true sophomore. He’s a true sophomore and he’s out there on the field as our offensive captain with our other captain, Miles Dieffenbach being out all year long.

So I think he’s handling it well, considering he’s a 19-year-old true sophomore with a lot of external things going on.

I’m pleased with him. I know he’s going to play really well on Saturday, and we’ll do everything we possibly can to protect him and give him time in the pocket.

Q. You mentioned Tevin Coleman. I know you coached a lot of great backs and a lot of good running backs during your career. Can you assess or kind of describe the challenge of trying to defend a talent like that? Did he remind you of anyone when you watched him play?

COACH FRANKLIN: It’s funny, me and Bob Shoop were just talking about this. It kind of reminds us of McFadden, who used to be at Arkansas, a little bit. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s a one-cut runner. The thing that was interesting too, I was looking at their offensive line, they’ve got a massive offensive line, but not only that, they have depth and experience. Their second team-offensive line, I thought it was a typo that we were handing out on to the players. Their second team offensive line, I probably should have brought it with me, but they have 26 starts, 17 team starts, six starts, two starts in the back-ups, which I thought was really interesting. We discussed kind of why that is.

But I think the fact that he’s able to do this and they’ve been really one-dimensional since they’ve lost their quarterbacks and they’re still able to do it, I think really speaks volumes of the type of back he is and how well they’re playing up front.

I’ve been very impressed with them. I think it’s a little bit different after you’ve seen them live. Probably a better opinion after that. But I’ve been very impressed with him.

Q. Going back to your first year at Vanderbilt, when you guys hit early November, you were about .500, and some really close conference losses before you were able to finish pretty strong. I know it’s not the same situation now. But what helped get things going for you guys in that spot? Is there anything from that stretch that you can apply here?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think there are a lot of things that apply. Bob said yesterday in the staff meeting that the last two years with this staff we’ve had the same exact record the last two years. We haven’t gotten to it in the same way, but we’ve had a similar record. So I do think all these past experiences help. I really do. I think it creates some mental toughness and thick skin.

This is a very humbling profession, and you just kind of stick together. I think one of the things that is really helpful is the fact that our staff has been together for a long time. I think that’s really, really helpful. So those experiences are important. I think experience counts at the coaching position and at the quarterback position, things like that. So we’re going to lean on those things.

Q. Let me get your take on the no-huddle offense, and the pros and cons of what you think running that offense are.

COACH FRANKLIN: I don’t know if there is an easy answer like that. I think I’m not a big believer that there is one thing that is the right answer. There are a lot of different ways to be successful. There are people doing it with tempo. There are people doing it with no-huddle. There are people running traditional-style offenses. There are multiple-formation people. You even look at Indiana for the last three years, the two previous years they were trying to run as many plays as they possibly could and were running above 100 plays a game. This year they tried to slow it down and gone more to a look-look to the sideline philosophy trying to help their defense out.

So I think there are a lot of ways to do it. I’m not a big believer in any one specific system. I think it really is based on your situation and what you’re trying to build. Our belief is that we want to have a system that the offense, defense and special teams all complement one another, and for the most part, that’s what we’ve been able to do for the last four years.

Q. Your offensive line, more than halfway through the season now, despite all the injuries, the shifting around, the inexperience, what kind of progress do you see specifically from those guys? Who do you think is performing the best for you right now?

COACH FRANKLIN: I do think they’re making progress. One of the things that’s made it a little bit more challenging is not only are they making progress at playing their position, but then you lose a guy like Donovan, and you’re having to move guys around to different positions as well. That becomes a challenge.

I think Nelson, for a true freshman playing offensive tackle, right tackle and now left tackle, is really doing some good things. I think Mangiro, the flexibility that he’s been able to create with not only playing center, but playing guard and tackle has been valuable.

I think the other guys are still growing and developing and doing some nice things. But it’s like anything else. You’ve got to be more consistent. We’ve got to be more consistent.

Q. You said in reference to the answer to Rich’s question, that you talked areas where Christian does well and areas where he could be better. I’m wondering if one of the other things he could be better at is demeanor. Do you get bothered by the frustration? Especially Saturday it seems he was in a couple of animated discussions with John Donovan and animated discussion on the phone, I assume with Coach Rahne. Do you like seeing that? Do you think it shows up well for his teammates and for the head coach?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, that’s been a discussion point, no doubt about it. I do think right now because of what’s been going on as a result of the games, that’s being blown a little bit out of proportion. He’s animated in general. Talking to the coaching staff about those conversations, they never really felt that way. But I do think there are some things we’ve seen that need to be better, and we’ve discussed that, and Christian has admitted that as well.

There is some frustration that is showing at times. But, in general, he’s an animated guy and he’s passionate about what we’re doing here at Penn State. He’s passionate about this team and finding ways to win, however they have to do it. But that has been something that we’ve discussed. There is no doubt about it.

Q. Can you update us on the status of Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach?

COACH FRANKLIN: Again, you guys know I don’t like to talk about injuries a whole lot, but not a whole lot has really changed, I can tell you right now. We’re hopeful that Donovan will have the opportunity to play on Saturday. But I don’t know that. That’s not our call. That’s our medical staff. It’s not just being able to play on Saturday, it’s also being able to prepare all week long and have the ability to do that.

I think Miles every week and every day gets closer. We were hoping maybe a month ago that we would have had him last week. That didn’t happen. So we’re hopeful that maybe we’ll get him this week. But, again, that’s not necessarily my call. That is the doctors, that is the trainers, and that’s Donovan, and that’s Miles, really.

Q. I want to ask you about punters: Is it easy to develop young punters? Is there a mental process that you have to get kids over sometimes at that position?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think Ficken’s a great example. Right now, Ficken can run for mayor of State College. I mean, everybody loves him. He’s an awesome kid. Did an internship last summer on Wall Street. He’s the whole package. But there was a few weeks ago that people weren’t really feeling that way.

He’s a tremendous resource for our young punters. We’ve got two freshmen punters. They figure it out. They were really consistent and confident at the end of camp. Didn’t have some success early on, and haven’t really been able to bounce back from it yet. I think early on that was protection. You get some guys in your face and you’re concerned about that and it throws you off a little bit. But I don’t think that’s really the issue.

I think it’s confidence. No different than it is on a lot of positions and both sides of the ball and in life. You have some success at something. You start to build up that muscle memory, and you’re able to go out and perform that task consistently. There is no doubt there is a physical aspect of it, no doubt there is a mental aspect of it and from a preparation standpoint.

They’re tough jobs. You look at the NFL, those are the toughest jobs to get, the punters and the kickers and the snappers because they stay forever. Once they get those jobs, they stay in those positions for a long time.

So those guys, we’re going to work them hard again this week. It will be another open competition between the two of them, and hopefully one of them can take the next step and really be able to swing some field position when we need them to do. I think our gunners have been really helpful because we haven’t got a whole lot of hang time, but we’ve still been able to get down there and cover punts.

So, like I was saying early in the year, it’s hidden some of our issues that we’ve had because it could be worse right now from that standpoint.

Q. Real quick, the first question is how often do you do that with certain individuals? Is that common every week or months into the season? And secondly, you touched on it a little bit, but what made you want to-- what is it, last year he had a bad statistical season, and you measure it by sacks, for better or for worse. Is it kind of perseverance or what makes him stick out in your mind a little bit?

COACH FRANKLIN: We do it every day. I do a Power Point every single day, and we put all types of things in there. Things about practice, and organization of practice. We put a lot of articles across the country. I think you’ve heard me talk about this before. Guys making poor choices across the country. We put them in the Power Point and try to get our guys to learn from those things, whether it’s professional athletes, college athletes, high school athletes.

Also, we do birthdays, I do it on Twitter. We Tweet out every morning, I do it in team meetings as well. And guys that are playing well, guys that are practicing well, guys that are doing special things in the community, guys that are being great teammates, anything that we can make a big deal out of guys doing good things and making good choices, we try to promote that as much as we possibly can.

What really kind of just happened with that was Coach Spencer just saying to me how pleased he’s been with Deion in terms of his maturity and his leadership and his work ethic. Deion would love to run 4.5 in the 40, and he doesn’t. So he realizes that he needs to be perfect with everything else to be the type of player that he wants to be for his team and for himself. With that mentality and that work ethic, he’s having a really nice year.

I think it’s also a byproduct of the other guys that he’s playing with. The fact that we have two defensive tackles that are causing people problems and other defensive ends on the other side that are causing problems for people. It allows for some individual success as well.

So it’s just more one of our coaches telling me about a guy doing some great things. We want to reinforce all those positive things whenever we can. Same thing with academics. When grades come back in and guys are doing extremely well, we reinforce those things.

Q. Kids want to win every week, but at this point after four losses and some of the frustration that players talked about Saturday, how important is it to get something good going, something positive to get a win so they can feel better about themselves?

COACH FRANKLIN: It’s just as important as it has been at every other week of the year.

Q. You mentioned a lack of big explosive plays. Are teams doing something to take that away?

COACH FRANKLIN: I think it’s a combination of all of those things. It’s difficult for any team to go three yards, four yards down the field for 80 yards when you’re not doing that consistently. I know I give you guys this answer a lot, but it’s not just one issue, it’s a combination of factors. But we go into each week, and we’ve spent a lot of time this week on how can we do that? How can we create some explosive plays whether it’s on offense or special teams?

Q. I’m curious, do you feel you guys are struggling for the right formula in the red zone? You’ve moved Christian out to receiver in that instance a few times. Also, with John Donovan, I know he’s been upstairs and a couple weeks ago you said he was going to go back upstairs and now he’s downstairs. Is he comfortable with being on the field?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think he is. It’s obviously something different for us, but we felt like that was in our best interest. We felt like that was in Christian’s best interest. That’s what he’s used to. But, yeah, we’ve talked about the red zone before. I think a big part of that is being able to consistently run the ball. We were able to throw the fade for a touchdown to Jesse. But being able to run the ball in the red zone is very, very important. So we have a few new wrinkles that we’ll have this week that I know you guys will be excited to talk about postgame. We’re going to be a little bit more creative than we’ve been in the past, to try to manufacture first downs and try to manufacture some points.

Q. You mentioned no-huddle a little earlier. Just kind of going off of that, you’ve mentioned a few times, less is more, and trying to find the things that work. How do you feel the no-huddle is working? What are the things that are working for this offense that you’re trying to kind of build on? Is any of that similar to what you did at Vandy or is it more based on personnel?

COACH FRANKLIN: I think it’s a combination of things. We did some things at Vanderbilt that we’re not necessarily doing here because our depth will not allow us to do some of those things. We ran the quarterback to try to manufacture some things. We don’t feel like we’re in a position to do that. You look at some of the other things that we’ve been able to do. We’ve been able to throw the short game fairly well.

The difference from the first four games is the explosive plays. We have to get that going. We have narrowed down our running game, and I do think we’ve had more success at doing a few things and trying to do those things well versus multiple looks.

Where things are still challenging is we’re trying to run the ball and everybody knows you’re trying to run the ball and being able to sustain those blocks and being able to strain for a half second longer is really the difference.

One of the things we did on Sunday was I pulled up offensive plays, defensive plays and special teams plays to show the guys how close we are. You make one play here, you sustain one block a little bit longer, you get off a block, whatever it may be, that’s the difference. When you’re losing games that close, whether it’s by time or whether it’s by points or whatever it may be, those few plays could be the difference in the game.

So just showing those examples to our guys, straining for a half second longer on a block, not running out of bounds, but lowering your shoulder and fighting for two more yards might be the difference between a field goal hitting the uprights or crossing it. So we talked about those things and just the importance of the details and doing the little things really well and how close we are.

Q. What will constitute a good season for you? And you talked about it a little bit, do you believe you’re on the cusp of turning that corner?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, we’re excited about playing Indiana this week and finding a way to get a win and have some success, and get back on the plane and coming back and doing it all over again. That’s what we’re really excited about.

Q. Mike Sherman, I believe, you said you had him on your radio show. He came in during the bye week. Was it Mike Sherman? I think it was. What did you gain from having him come in after you’ve seen some of the things that he may have discussed or picked out as things you could do better, pay off or start to pay off, these last couple weeks since he was here?

COACH FRANKLIN: It’s funny because of some of these guys across the country are out of work and they go travel and hang out. Probably the biggest reasons is in our profession your wives don’t see you very often, and then you’re home every single day. So I think more than anything this was for Mike’s wife to get him out of the house a little bit. But it was a really good trip.

I think more than anything it’s perspective. Gives you a set of eyes from the outside to come in and say, “Hey, what you’re doing here is really good. Here are some other things that you may want to look at.” Guys to bounce ideas off of and hear some perspective. He’s got a lot of years in coaching and experience and success. He’s somebody that I trust and know. So it’s helpful.

It’s funny because it just doesn’t happen there. It happens where you call buddies that are defensive coordinators or offensive coordinators that played a team that you just got done playing and say, “Do you have anything? Is there anything you picked up that would be helpful?” Anything after the game you say you wish you would have done more. You’re reaching out to every resource you can to find maybe one little bit of information that could be the difference.

Q. You said that ideally you wouldn’t play offensive linemen until their third year in the program. Just curious if there is any worry about if you have to play a guy too early, could that negatively affect his development toward the long-term? Maybe he’s physically not ready, but you’re forced to play him?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yes, and don’t get me wrong, there are guys that play as true freshmen. There are guys that play as red-shirt freshmen. There are the exceptions. But in general rule on the offensive line, you’d love to be in a position where they’re red-shirt sophomores where they’re really starting to have an impact in starting. That’s not always the case. You’re not always able to do that.

But, yeah, I think one of the things you’re trying to do, and one of the things that we could do right now is we could play the three true freshmen as back-ups, rather than moving the offensive line around to five different positions when one guy goes down. But is that really in our program’s best interest long-term, and is that fair to that young man as well when he may not be ready? That’s what you’re really trying to decide and what you’re really trying to manage. When you’re in a situation like we are, these are the decisions you have to make.

The easiest thing is when you lose one guy and leave all the other four guys at their spots and just bring one guy in. But like you say, you put him in there and he’s not ready, does that help him in his development and does that help the program long-term?

So those are the decisions that we’re trying to make. Are there some exceptions to the rule? There is no doubt about it. We’re willing to do the exception when we think it’s the right thing to do.

Q. Do you have any update you could share with us on Ryan Keiser? How often are you able to be in contact with him and his family in the last week?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, again, as I told you before, I don’t want to get into the specifics and details unless there is something to really be told. But he is doing extremely well from everything that we’re told. We have a staff meeting every morning at 7:00 a.m., and that is part of the discussion. I’ve talked to Ryan’s mom multiple times. I’ve talked to Ryan’s wife multiple times. Our training staff as well as our doctors have been involved every step of the way. I think Tim Bream, our head trainer went down yesterday to visit with him. From everything I’m hearing and everything I know he’s doing great.

One of the things I tried to be careful with as our team, I want them to reach out to him and let him know how much we love and care about him and support him and we’re here for him. But on the same hand, he needs his rest. He doesn’t need his phone buzzing and ringing all day long as well. So it’s a fine line.

But from everything I hear, he’s doing really well.

Q. All those offensive wrinkles, I might not be able to sleep trying to figure it out.

COACH FRANKLIN: I wasn’t able to sleep last Saturday night.

Q. We don’t talk about Adrian Amos a lot, which is probably a good thing when you’re not mentioning those guys back there. But what kind of year has he been having for you? What type of leader is he and person off the field?

COACH FRANKLIN: I think he’s having a solid year. I really do. I think he’s doing things well. I think the fact that he’s had to step up even more so with Keiser not being back there.

He’s kind of a quiet leader. Does things by example. I still think he could be a little more of a play maker for us. He has that ability. He’s one of the more freakish athletes I’ve been around in terms of strength, speed, power, explosive-type athlete. I really could see him this last third of the year really making an impact for us and we need him to.

Q. With that Ficken mayor joke, with it being Election Day, was that coincidence?

COACH FRANKLIN: It was coincidence, because I just found out it was Election Day about a half hour ago.

Q. Cool, I have a question separate from that: I guess, how nice is it as a coach in general with the kickers perfect long kicks to know how, I guess, automatic he’s been so far this season given how the offense has done in that area of the field?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, there is no doubt he’s been a weapon for us, especially in terms of field goal and PAT. I do think on kickoff that’s an area he could still improve with consistency. But he’s been a weapon.

I’m really proud of him. Because when I got here that’s not really what I was told. You look how far he’s come, you look at the confidence that he’s playing with right now, the type of leader he’s been for our team, I can’t say it enough what a great example he is for all of us, including myself. You keep a positive attitude, you keep working hard, you grind, you do all the things necessary physically as well as mentally in terms of preparation, and good things are going to happen. I’m really, really proud of him.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports


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