James Franklin Full Pre-Maryland Press Conference

See what the Nittany Lion coach had to say about last weekend's loss at No. 1 Ohio State and the upcoming road trip to face Maryland in Baltimore.

COACH FRANKLIN: Hey, guys. Appreciate everybody being here. Obviously, starting out, to summarize the previous game, we played the No. 1 team in the country, a very, very talented team, a team that knows how to win. We had opportunities in that game to be up at least 10-0 on the road, and we just didn't take advantage of the opportunities that we had, and when you do that against a real talented team on the road, you're going to have a hard time.

So to me, that's the reality of it. I thought it was a point there in the game where they made some plays and we got tentative, which is not who we've been. We've been an aggressive team. So we need to be aggressive. We need to be aggressive in the way we play. We need to be aggressive in the way we coach and call the game. We need to be aggressive, and we didn't do that consistently on Saturday.

So give them credit, good football team, but we got to take advantage of opportunities when they come.

Overall, obviously, the turnover margin's been a real positive thing for us this season. We did not win that battle on Saturday. We're still, I think, second in the conference in turnover margin. That's something that's allowed us to be successful. We've got to continue doing that.

Obviously, Carl Nassib is still doing really well. I don't know if I've ever heard of a guy that's leading the country in sacks, tackles for a loss, and forced fumbles. That's a really impressive statistic.

And the other thing that's been a story line now for a year and a half that we've got to get changed is field position. Punting has been a real challenge for us now for a year and a half. I've already talked to you guys about some of the challenges that we have with that. The thing that we have to find a way to work through is in practice we've been pretty darn good. We track every punt.

Daniel Pasquariello has a really strong leg and can really bang it in practice. Gulla is probably a little bit more consistent but has not been able to get the long punts that Daniel has had. But they both have done a good job in practice, and for whatever reason, that's not transferring to the game.

That's something we spent a lot of time talking about this morning. Got to do a better job there. Last year I think you could have made some arguments that was based on pressure. There were some times against Rutgers and people like that where we got pressure on the punter. That's not the case anymore. Really people have stopped rushing us, and we've had time. So we've got to do a better job of that, and we're having a lot of discussions about how we can work through that and get better and help those guys as much as we possibly can.

So we've got to plan for this week. That's going to be a real challenge, obviously, this week with Likely, who's a very, very talented, explosive returner, and has had a huge impact this season for them, especially early in the season.

So that's kind of a background of the last game and a little bit about this game this week. Obviously, playing University of Maryland is going to be exciting. We have so many fans and alumni in that region. Playing at Raven Stadium should be a great venue. So excited about that as well.

Got a lot of crossover with our players and their players -- high school teammates, guys that competed against each other in high school, a lot of crossover with the coaches. Me and Mike Locksley worked together at the University of Maryland for five years. Got tremendous respect for him as a coach. That was kind of early in my career, and me and Mike built a strong relationship. I've got a lot of respect for him and what he does with his job. Excited for the opportunity that he has there.

I think we've got nine players on our team from Maryland, and then we have one from the Washington, D.C. area. You look at Keith Dudzinski is their defensive coordinator, Mike Locksley is their offensive coordinator, and special teams they do by committee.

So great opportunity. I think obviously Big Ten made a decision to add Rutgers and Maryland to the conference, and I think, obviously, from a regional perspective, that's probably made a lot of sense. Made a lot of sense from a business perspective and probably made a lot of sense from a regional perspective for our fans and their fans.

Q. James, how did Wendy Laurent and Derek Dowrey do at guard at Ohio State, and do you expect them to be in the lineup on Saturday?

COACH FRANKLIN: I thought Wendy did some better things. We -- obviously, that was kind of the matchup in the game. When you watched the game or you watched the film, that's where they probably had a big advantage. That was a matchup that we did not win on Saturday.

We went into it with our plan focusing on Bosa, Bosa, Bosa, Bosa. Bosa did some nice things, but I think the real issue was their D-tackles matched up against our guards. We're going to continue to look at those things, finding ways to give ourselves a chance to be successful on the offensive line going against talented teams like that, but that's still something that we need to get solidified.

I think Paris since the first game has played better. He and Nelly sometimes have a tendency to get pushed back in the pocket, but for the most part, our battle at guard, guards showed up on Saturday. So we've got to do a better job of that.

Q. James, can you talk about you said we need to be a little less tentative and maybe more aggressive. How do you think Christian managed the game against Ohio State? You had some issues on third down, obviously, and then on fourth down there were a couple of sacks. How do you think he played? Did that aggressive nature show up on third and fourth down?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, it's a combination of everything. I think, obviously, there's some things and some plays he'd like to have back and we'd like to have back. I think there's also part of we've got to make plays for him. I think that's going to be really important as well, guys making plays for him. I think that's important. There's no doubt there's plays he'd like to have back and we'd like to have back in that game where we thought we had some opportunities and felt like we could have made some plays.

I do think the push that they got on our tackles into our quarterback's face at times had a factor and then obviously our guards not consistently winning their battles. And then when we had chances to make some plays, we didn't make the plays. It's a combination of all those things. I have a part in it. Coaching staff has a part in it. Christian has a part in it. The players have a part in it. All of us together.

Q. James, you were talking about your punters a little bit ago. Last year when they were struggling, you opted to move away from the directional kicks, just boot it and shift the pressure to the coverage unit. Is that something you consider doing again, or are there other ways to improve the consistency there?

COACH FRANKLIN: That's a great point. We just got finished talking about that this morning at 7:00 a.m. in our special teams meeting. I don't think this is the week to do it with Likely. That's part of the issue. When you play Rutgers and their return guy and you play Ohio State and their return guy, and now this week you're playing Maryland and Likely, who's got three returns for a touchdown, two punts and a kickoff, if I'm correct on that, the last thing you want to do is leave the ball in the middle of the field with 53 1/3 for a guy to work with.

So I do think that's something we discussed about obviously taking some of that pressure off them and allow them to bang it as far as they can down the field and put the pressure on the coverage unit. I don't think this is the week to do that considering the impact that Mr. Likely's had on games this season so far.

Q. You spoke a little bit about Mike Locksley. How do you think he's going to approach this week? And how do you approach playing a team under a new head coach in midseason that had a week off?

COACH FRANKLIN: It's hard for me, obviously, to speak on that, but to me, one of the things that we're talking about as a staff is we have to be prepared for the onside kick, like Indiana did. We have to be prepared for the fake punts. We have to be prepared for the double passes. And we have to be prepared -- you know, they got an opportunity to play Penn State and obviously get a win that's really important to them, and I could see them doing whatever they have to do to get it.

So taking some calculated risks, doing some things like that, and we just need to make sure that, again, we're not chasing ghosts, but that we're prepared for those things that they may do to maybe gain a possession or gain two possessions, create some momentum, and things like that.

So fake punts, onside kicks, trick plays on offense, shot plays. Obviously, they're a mobile quarterback. They're going to look at some of the things Ohio State did last week, and we need to be prepared for them to settle down on a quarterback now, and he's mobile. Pennsylvania kid, from what I understand, from Pittsburgh Central Catholic, one of the more interesting backgrounds. You don't typically see a starting quarterback in the Big Ten who is also a two-time state champion wrestler, if I'm correct on that. That's kind of a unique combination.

But I could just see them coming in and being really aggressive and taking some calculated risks.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your tight ends. They've got 20 passes so far in seven games. How have you judged the way they've played overall blocking and receiving? And would you like to see more production from them in the passing game?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think we've been better. I think we're making strides as being more complete tight ends than we were last year. We have missed some real opportunities either with missed throws or either with dropped balls, things that I think we can do better. Those guys have the ability to do it.

So, yeah, I think they have improved since last year. They're more willing and able blockers, and I think with that, we've seen some opportunities for them, but we've got to consistently take advantage of those opportunities.

Mike Gesicki came and saw me this week. We had a really good conversation. Saw his dad and sisters before the game. There's nobody that wants it more than Mike Gesicki. He's very proud to be here at Penn State, really appreciative of the opportunity that he has, and he's got a lot of ability. He needs to go out and make plays. So I'm excited to see what Mike's going to do this week in practice. Kind of talked to him about experiences and things that I've been through in my life or things that I've studied other athletes or people that have been through adversity, and if it's handled the right way, it's a tremendous opportunity for growth.

So I thought we had a really good conversation. Followed up with a text with him later that I believe in him and I believe in our guys and I believe in our team, and I do. I'm excited for Mike. I'm excited for Mike's growth and his opportunity and to watch how he handles it this week. It won't surprise me whatsoever if he goes out and has a huge game for Hack and the offense on Saturday and makes a bunch of big plays.

Q. You said after the game that you might have to hold an open tryout for punters. I assume, from what you said so far today, you're not really going to do that, but I just am interested in like how -- what different things have you tried to try and coach that better? I imagine that's a hard thing to do. What have you tried?

COACH FRANKLIN: We actually had a tryout with the punters and kickers on campus. I did bring that up this morning again. Do we possibly do that again? But I think in the end of the discussion that we had, we got two guys that have shown the ability to do it in practice and do it in practice pretty consistently. We got to get them to translate that to the game and compare game situations last year to game situations this year. Those things really haven't factored in. It's translated. It's not a physical thing. It's a mental thing. It's confidence. It's having an SOP, a standard operating procedure, of how they do things all the time, over and over again, the routine of it.

So I think college is a little bit different than the NFL. A lot of NFL teams have kicking coaches. Most college programs don't have a kicking coach. You've got a special teams coordinator. But Charles Huff was a center, and I've never seen him kick a ball in his life although he's gone around and done a lot of research and studied in the off-season. That's probably an area where in college there's probably a lack of that, a lack of that personal coach, that personal development.

So we just got to keep kind of doing what we're doing and stay positive with those guys and have conversations with them and surround them with conditions of success. It's no different than anything else. They'll come out of it because they physically have shown that they have the ability to do it. Right now it's getting over the hump mentally.

Q. Just to build off of that, you've had good, solid, consistent punters over the years at your previous stops in the NFL, of course. Do you have a philosophy on how to develop young punters? What do they go through in practice? What's their kind of routine that they go through that they're doing so well and just not translating it?

COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's a couple things. It's things that we've talked about in the past. The fact that we don't have a scholarship punter, kicker, and snapper in the program is a part in it. It's not the complete part, but it's a part in it. The fact that we got the job, and there's only one scholarship offensive tackle in the senior, junior, and sophomore class, that's a part of some of the challenges.

But also it's a development aspect. We've been fortunate to have a blend. We've had a blend in our past of scholarship players and walk-on players behind them that have kind of learned the ropes and then earned the job and sometimes have earned scholarships. We've recruited guys out of high school who have come in and earned the job. It's a combination of all those things. So it's a process.

I think a lot of these guys have kicking coaches in the off-season that they're really able to work with that they kind of set up on their own. But I think that's the biggest thing for us right now is those guys having success in games. That's the thing that we have to get them over the hurdle. We have sports psychologists on campus. We have a lot of different things and resources that we need to take advantage of, and we've looked into all those things.

I had some guys come and meet with me this week. Some of the finest athletes in the world -- you look at baseball players, and they may be hitting with the highest average in the league, and all of a sudden they get in a slump. You've got to work through those things. There's a lot of ways to attack it, some of those things I've already mentioned, and all those things have been discussed as a staff, and all those things are being discussed with the players in ways that can help them.

Q. Just curious, your reactions to Pat Narduzzi's comments yesterday and also how you feel about the occasional back and forth between Penn State and Pitt coaches with comments the last year or so.

COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, I don't want to read into anything. There's been comments and things that I've said in the past that people have read into. So I'm not going to read into anything.

Happy for them and the success that they've had, but my focus is on Penn State completely, 100 percent. But, yeah, I think it's great. There's a lot of good football being played in this state with Temple and Pitt and Villanova and Penn and East Strasburg, a lot of good football being played, and I'm happy for all of them. But I'm not going to read into anything else.

No, I don't like back and forth. Me and Herb Hand had a conversation a few months ago to stop that. I think there's been other times in other things that have happened that people have read into things that were not there, looking to try to get hits on websites or try to create some drama that was never really there. But, yeah, I've said this before. I've got tremendous respect for all the universities in this state. Is this a competitive business? No doubt about it. But I'm focused on Penn State.

Q. A couple of days later, did you second guess your decision to leave Christian in that game given how banged up he appeared to be? There's been a lot of media criticism, fan criticism, that sort of thing over it.

COACH FRANKLIN: I think, yeah, obviously, we could have put Trace in. I think you guys are going to see that over time, that our staff and our players and me specifically are really, really competitive, and I think it's hard to put your backups in the game before the game is over. It's almost like waving a white flag, and that's not kind of who I am or who we will be. We're going to fight to the last play of the game.

Is there a fine line in that? Yeah. When you ask our doctors and trainers and they say everything is good and we ask the young man and he says everything is good, there's been a lot of times where we've had guys that have had bumps or bruises or sprains or whatever it is that have played.

Could we have put Trace in that situation? Yeah. But I'm telling you, as a competitor, it's hard to say I'm going to put the backups at this point in the game and wave the white flag. That's not kind of who I am or ever really will be, but I also get what people are saying. I understand why you bring it up.

Q. To build off that question, along those lines, like you said, keeping kind of all of those starters in, how does that conversation, that dialogue go on the sidelines? Like you said, you don't want to wave the white flag, but how do you balance that when long term you need these guys healthy to have success for this team? But like you said, you don't want to raise a flag.

COACH FRANKLIN: I think it comes down to what you think is the most valuable thing for your team. You could also make the argument putting those backups in, they're gaining experience. But at that point, I don't know how valuable that experience is anyway. It's not like you're -- at that point, we're running a traditional offense and doing all those things.

It's a fine line, there's no doubt about it. I'm just telling you that my approach and my demeanor, it's going to be hard for me until the final whistle blows to not be doing everything in our power to fight to win the game.

Q. I spoke with John Donovan last week, and I just wanted to clarify something. He said that you are involved with all facets of the game, including the offense, as you have been for the past five years working with him. But at the beginning of the season, you told us that you would like to become more involved with the offense, and week to week, we have heard that you're more involved. Can you specify a little bit as to the juxtaposition of those two comments?

COACH FRANKLIN: I think John's point is a great point. There's not an aspect of this program where I'm just sitting back and letting it happen. I'm very involved with the defense. I literally just left one of their meetings. I'm very involved with special teams. We met this morning at 7:00 a.m. I'm very involved with the offense. Since the Temple game, did I get more involved on game day? Yes. Have I done that? Yes.

The challenging part -- and I know some people do that differently, but when you try to be the CEO of the entire program -- and there's academic responsibilities, there's the offense, defense, special teams, there's all the other things that we're responsible for. I've never been around anyone that has been the head coach and also one of the coordinators when you're constantly being pulled out for something. A player has an issue, and now I'm pulled out, and now the whole staff is sitting there waiting for you to come back. I've never been around anything like that.

So John's point was the guy cannot be any more involved in all aspects of our program, which is an accurate statement. But I have been more involved on game days of saying run now, pass now, move the pocket. These are some things we need to do. In the past, I've made some suggestions, and I've made some more stronger suggestions here recently.

I wouldn't say play calling. I would say more about what we're doing. We need to run the ball right now. We need to throw the ball right now. We need to move the pocket, those types of things.

Q. James, I believe Godwin got here last June, last summer. At what point did you realize he would be one of those green light guys? And what did he do to lead to that decision?

COACH FRANKLIN: I think we've talked about this in the past. Obviously, he's got physical skills. He's a big, strong guy. He's athletic. I think he ran one of our fastest 40s at the wide receiver position. But I think the thing that's really stood out about him is his maturity -- his maturity, his intelligence, his football IQ. He picked up the playbook very quick, makes very few mistakes in games or in practice. He's a guy that you can depend on. He's a guy that you can depend on as coaches. He's a guy that you can depend on as the quarterback. So he's got a bunch of traits that are desirable traits.

Q. I don't want to be the guy that asks the same question for the fourth time because I know nobody likes that.

COACH FRANKLIN: But here it comes.

Q. Here it comes anyway. Playing Hack makes sense, but when you get down to the end of the game there and you've got Barkley in, where is that line between the bell that goes off in your head that says we're competitive and we want to feel like we can win this game, but at the same time you've lost the game at that point and that's not really realistic. You might want him healthy down the road this year, next year. How does that decision play out?

COACH FRANKLIN: I get it. You're going to ask the same question for the fourth time, and I'm going to give the same answer for the fourth time. There's a fine line. Is there a point where you need to do it? Yes. Does it go against my nature?

Me and you in the off-season, we're going to play a pickup basketball game. Me and you. You and your buddies in this room and my staff, and it's going to be fun. You bring your camera. You can't bring anybody else but the people in this room. You're not going to go see Chambers. You can pick from this room and I'm going to pick my guys. I'll tell you, whether you're up by eight or it's even, I'm going to come after you. That's just kind of who I am.

So I get the point, and I agree with what you guys are saying to a degree. There's just that fine line, and there's not an exact point, there's not an exact time, it's just the right thing to do. You've got to figure out when that is. But what I'm telling you is the personality that I want this team to take on is that we are going to fight you from the opening whistle to the last whistle and see what happens.

There's been stranger things happen. There's been games where people have walked out of the stadium. There's been games where people turned off the TV and things have changed. So I get it. There's a fine line to that, and I understand the argument, and I understand the discussion. I'm just telling you my nature, it's hard to do that. It's hard to wave the white flag.

Q. Just so you know, we got Lou Prado jumping center for us. Get ready for that.

COACH FRANKLIN: I love it. He's sitting in the back of the room glaring me down right now.

Q. Kind of a bigger picture, inherited a veteran quarterback, you're a year and a half in, did you expect to have more of an offensive identity or production level, particularly when you guys have gone on the road?

COACH FRANKLIN: Yes. I think, obviously, we're behind where we want to be, where they want to be, everything, there's no doubt about it. I think it goes back to some of the things we've already discussed.

I said this to you guys before, some of our challenges are not quick fixes. I just read somebody saying the other day about -- I think it was Coach Fitz at Northwestern -- talking about how impressed he's been with the fronts in this league, how the fronts have improved, the defensive line front and the offensive line, and that's things that we've discussed in the past.

Some of those things aren't quick fixes. We're improving. We're improving in those areas. But, yeah, would you love to be further along and have a much different identity at this point? There's no doubt.

Q. On the one formation, you guys were pinned in pretty deep. You didn't have any back protection. What were you looking to get?

COACH FRANKLIN: We went empty, and empty does a lot of different things. Obviously, it didn't work in that situation. It's not like we went empty and we're going to drop back and hold on to the ball. It was three steps from the gun. That's catch the ball, take one step, and the ball comes out. Typically, the other thing that empty does, it makes it difficult to disguise where the pressures or the blitzes are coming from, and you see it. Obviously, at that point, we got beat up front. Our five against their four, and we got beat.

My point I already addressed is the ball's going to come out quickly on the three step. You're spreading the field so they can't disguise so you can see where things are coming from, but it didn't work out in that situation.

Q. Saquon Barkley, obviously, when a running back produces at such a high level, a lot of that has to do with the offensive line, but how much of it, with his performance over the past four, however many weeks has been the offensive line just getting the right push and this young man making something out of nothing.

COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's a combination of both. I think our offensive line is improving, I do. I think they're improving. I do think that Saquon Barkley has some special qualities, and I think that his ability to make guys miss and break tackles -- I've said that to you guys before about that's how you evaluate a running back is by making people miss and breaking tackles, and he has the ability to do that.

So I think the combination of our offensive line is improving and putting him in better situations to be successful, and then what he brings to the game with his skill set, those two combinations has been helpful. I've also made the argument too that no different -- if you have a special kickoff return guy, the guys block at a higher level. You have a special punt returner, the guys, because they know something special can happen, it's the same thing with the offensive line.

So I think it's gradual, slow improvement by our offensive line, but I also think Saquon Barkley is a factor in that as well. I'd also make the argument we were still able to run the ball when we didn't have Saquon and Akeel. So I think that speaks to the improvement that the offensive line is making, but Saquon has some traits that allow it to take it to a whole other level.

Q. You mentioned Carl at the beginning of your press conference, talking about the leaps and bounds that he's made. Now that he's halfway through his senior season, are you starting to see a nuance with how he approaches the game? From a mental standpoint, I know a lot's been made with what he's been able to do in the gym with his size and his speed. And I would imagine facing an offense like Ohio State over the weekend would certainly challenge because of how multifaceted they are. What have you seen from him as a mental approach?

COACH FRANKLIN: I would say it's the opposite. It's not that anything's changed with Carl this season with his approach. I think it's a young man that through all different types of defeat and success -- he did his share last week. We do shares Friday night at the hotel. It was one of the funniest shares I've been around, talking about his experience in high school, talking about his experience when he first came here, his meetings with coaches.

You talk about a guy that kept kind of pounding away with a sledgehammer on a stone with very little success -- and kept pounding and kept pounding and kept pounding and kept pounding and started to create some fractures.

But I don't see anything really different in Carl and his approach and his mentality right now that I didn't see when he first arrived on campus. All the things I talked about -- a guy who's really hungry, really driven, really motivated, somewhat or probably more than somewhat quirky. But what I love about him and I think we all appreciate it is a guy that, although he's quirky, he's very comfortable in his own skin and who he is. I love to see that in our young people, that they embrace who they are and are comfortable with it, and people respect that. That's Carl.

Carl made a comment the other day, he goes, I wasn't a cool kid when I was young. I was awkward, and I'm not a cool kid now, and I'm still awkward. But he kind of owns it.

I just think it's a great example with the right work ethic and the right attitude and then some God given ability and you keep working through that, good things happen. So I think it's actually just the opposite. I think it's a guy that's kind of stuck with it and persevered.

Probably a great example of Penn State. If we keep working and keep a positive attitude and persevere, good things are going to happen for us as a whole as well.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports


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