Penn State coach James Franklin met the media for his weekly press conference Wednesday, recapping last weekend's blowout, shutout of Illinois and looking ahead to this week's road trip to Northwestern.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Like always, want to thank everybody for being here. Unbelievable weather out there. Just got done doing some filming in the stadium. Usually don't see the weather until practice. We're kind of in the Penn State lash submarine that we live in all day long watching film, but it's an unbelievable day out there.
Some notes from this past game against Illinois: 1-0 this week, really happy with that. 7-2 overall. You look, you make some comparisons last year to this year, I think we're making some really nice strides.
4-1 in the conference. We're ninth in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game and first in the Big Ten in that category, so we talk about being a real disciplined football team. Really, really proud of that stat.
And then the other thing is 17th in the nation in turnover margin, and we're third in the Big Ten. Iowa and Michigan State are tied for first. You know, two areas that we take a lot of pride in we think are really important on the field as well as off, the discipline aspect of your program. I think that's been a real secret to our success, not beating ourselves with turnovers and penalties, and we need to continue to do those things.
Talk about winning grades, our players getting graded by their position coaches, we had a season high of 32 grades, winning grades, so I thought that was real positive. We want to continue building on that.
Defensively, obviously the shut-out, did a great job with our pursuit, our tackling and our execution grades. We eliminated big plays. Only gave up two big plays in the game, what our defense considers big plays. We've been disruptive; nine tackles for loss, four sacks. We were really good; we were 71 percent on 3rd down. So some great things there.
And then obviously Carl is still doing some great things that are allowing him to be first in the nation in sacks, first in the nation in tackles for loss, and first in the nation in forced fumbles. What a great story Carl has been and will continue to be because of his approach and his attitude.
Offensive notes: 14 explosive plays in the game. We also had another nine plays of 9 to 11 yards, so talk about a bunch of big plays in the game.
A stat that I think is an exciting stat is we're No. 2 in the nation in plays of 30 yards or more, so talking about one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Been really exciting to see that.
Seven for seven in the red zone, five touchdowns, two field goals for the year. We're at 91 percent in the red zone, which is really good, and then a great balance on Saturday, 37 runs, 33 passes.
Areas to improve: When we didn't have success, it was because of drops, penalties, turnovers and sacks, so we've got to do a better job with those things. Had some easy drops, had some penalties that hurt us, so we need to do a better job there. We fumbled the ball twice on Saturday. That hasn't been who we've been. We need to continue to do a good job of that. It was one of the few games this year that we actually lost the turnover battle in the game, so we need to continue focusing on those things.
Six different offensive line starting lineups in nine games. Special teams, I loved the effort and energy that Nick Scott and Koa Farmer are bringing to our special teams. If you want to watch something and study something, maybe go back and watch the game again, watch those two guys on kickoff coverage, not just the tackles but even the ones that are kicked out of the end zone. They're racing down the field to see who can be the first one to that end zone and really having fun with their roles.
Really proud of Tyler Davis. His number gets called, he comes in, does his job and does it extremely well. So just an example of a guy preparing and making sure he's ready when his time comes.
Offensive player of the week was Christian Hackenberg. Defensive player of the week was Troy Reeder. Special teams we went with Koa Farmer and Nick Scott. That's the coaching staff's players of the week.
You know, Northwestern, Coach Fitzgerald, second longest tenured coach in the Big Ten. 10 seasons at Northwestern. Offensive coordinator, Mick McCall; defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Very, very well-coached, sound team. Very rarely do you watch a tape and are they out of position or not lined up correctly, so been impressed watching them on tape.
Got some real opportunities, as well. Great opportunity to go on the road, play a Big Ten opponent, and looking forward and excited to doing that.
Special teams, they do it by committee, and then the thing that probably stands out to you is one of the big differences, they have 12 senior starters on their team compared to us having five. So that's kind of where we're at. Everybody knows that. But I always kind of look at that each week because I think that experience matters.
You know, you look at turnover margin, we have an advantage there. Penalty yards per game, we have an advantage there. And field position, we have an advantage there, so there are things we look at each week. Excited about those opportunities.
Q: How has Geno Lewis handled his decreased playing time and numbers, and what does his success the last week say about him?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I'm really proud of Geno, no different than I just mentioned Tyler. I'm really proud of Geno because he hasn't had as many opportunities this year as he's had in the past, and to be honest with you, I think he's handled it really, really well. Is he happy about it? No. But does he have a great attitude? Does he come to work every single day? And what we talk about is you can't always control the amount of touches you're going to get as a running back or the how many catches you're going to get as a wide receiver or whatever it may be, but what you can do is the opportunities you get, you make the most of them.
You could make a heck of an argument he's made the most out of his opportunities, especially in the low red zone with going up and catching the ball and high-pointing the ball and creating touchdowns off of fades and things like that.
I'm proud of him. His attitude has been great at practice every single day. His work ethic has been really good. Body language, all those things that coaches talk about has been really good, so he has taken a challenging situation for some people and turned it into a real positive, and I'm really, really proud of him and his growth, and I also think that speaks for our team. I think that speaks for our team, as well.
A lot of times when those things happen and you don't have a healthy team, you see groups of guys starting to get together like that and maybe they don't feel like they're getting enough playing time and things like that, and then it starts to fester, and we don't have that. We've got a bunch of guys supporting one another, and what was great was when Geno scored, how the sideline, how all his teammates reacted to him, and he's been great. So I'm really, really proud of Geno and I'm proud of our team for how we're handling things like that.
Q: You talked a little bit about Carl in your opening statement. I wanted to ask you about Garrett Sickels. He's kind of the guy that gets a little bit overlooked on your defensive line. What have you seen from him on the practice field and in games this year, and how would you evaluate his year?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, he just keeps growing. You could make some arguments, he's at a similar point that Carl was last year, having gone back and studied the stats. That may be something for you guys to do, you may be interested in doing, is comparing where Carl is this year to where Garrett was last year. But how he works, his motor, that's the thing that's always kind of stood out about him is his motor, how he works at practice, how he competes. He's got a lot of things that you're looking for in terms of the attitude, in terms of the body type, in terms of the athleticism and quickness, and obviously he's had a great situation in terms of being able to grow in the program and in the defensive scheme while being able to be mentored by some older players that are having a lot of success.
I think you guys have heard me talk about this before with our players about leaving a legacy, and leaving legacy is not just about wins and losses. Legacy is about how those guys approach practice every single day, how they approach the weight room, how they approach their academics, and now three years from now, guys are talking about, hey, when Carl Nassib was here, this is what he did; this is how he worked. I heard similar things when I first arrived here about the Mautis of the world and guys like that. They leave a legacy from a leadership perspective and from a work ethic perspective.
Q: Sort of building off what you were saying about Geno, for you as a coach, as a psych major, what have been some of the keys over the years in helping a player get through a rough stretch on the field, whether it's a guy who's been around for a while like Geno or a guy in his first game for you like Paris?
JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, I think the biggest thing is to create a family environment that is focused on improvement and supporting one another, and you know, critiquing the performance and not the person. I think that's important. I think how you do that, the environment and the culture that you create in your offices, in your meeting rooms, those things are really, really important, and I think the other thing is, you know, competition, learning how to handle competition throughout our program. It's only going to get more and more competitive every single year, and that's kind of what's happened right now. We have more and more competition at every single position. Guys are handling it very well and stepping up.
And I think Geno is a really good example of that. He just kind of keeps working, and obviously based on his production the last couple weeks, his role and his opportunities will continue to grow.
But I think more than anything, it's having coaches that truly care about their players and the relationships that they have with the players and being able to have honest, open conversations. Those conversations aren't always necessarily what you want to hear, but they're up front and they're honest.
A lot of times no different than when we look back when we were younger and you had a conversation you didn't like at the time, but you look back five years later or ten years later and you kind of get it now and you kind of understand.
So it all starts with relationships and building that trust with the position coaches, the assistant coaches and their players, and the coordinators and the head coach and so on and so forth. We work hard at those things every single day.
Q: What kind of, if any, changes do you plan to make this week at practice to factor in the fact that you're playing a 10th straight game?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, very similar to what we did last week. We had a lighter Sunday. Sundays are typically light anyway. The focus was more on meeting time and walk-throughs with the vets, the travel squad guys. Non-travel, we did a scrimmage. Me and Kris have been having some discussions about maybe opening one of those to you guys to allow you guys to come to the non-travel scrimmage and watch the young guys go out there and play. We're looking at doing something like that. Kris will be in touch with you.
And then Monday is a normal off-day, and then Tuesday, we'll go instead of full pads like we did earlier in the year, last week and this week we'll just go helmets and shoulder pads, so we'll still get some banging in there but not a lot, and Wednesdays are normally helmets and shoulder pads, we'll take them all off and just go helmets and do more jog-throughs and full speed skellies and things like that.
Last week I thought we could have done a better job of taking the running off, so I thought we limited the banging but we still had probably a little too much running, so cut the running back a little bit with the skill players this week, and then Thursday will be a normal Thursday for us, helmets, shoulder pads. We will bang a little bit on Thursday, but it'll be quick whistle, and we won't be on the field very long. We'll cut back a little bit more this week again, and find a way to go into this game physically prepared and mentally prepared, as well. And I think that's important, that at this point of the season that we look at doing some of those things.
Q: Has Tyler Davis won the starting kicking job, and how has Joey handled his struggles since Saturday?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Tyler Davis, you know, kind of like I mention to you guys every week, we'll kind of look at this week and see how it goes at a number of positions, kicker being one of them, and we'll see how those guys do during the week.
Obviously Tyler came in and did a great job on Saturday, and we're really proud of him. Obviously Joey was disappointed with how it played out on the field with the kick out of bounds and the two low kicks that were blocked. It was a combination. They did get push on those two, as well, but they were very low. He's disappointed because he knows he can play a lot better. But Tyler did well. We'll evaluate those guys this week and see who we think gives us the best chance to be successful on Saturday.
Q: The secondary really played a solid game on Saturday against a really good passing attack. I just wondered how much of a step forward you think they took in that game, and could you also talk about the way the extra guys are playing, like Golden, Reid and Apke?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that's a good point. I think Reid is playing a bunch of football right now as a true freshman and doing well. Apke is playing more and more each week and gaining Coach Shoop's confidence, which is difficult to do. Bob is not a guy that likes to play a lot of guys. He wants to keep the starters in the entire game, so getting Apke some reps I think has been really good in building that confidence.
And then Golden is kind of the same deal. He's really earned a lot of people's respect in our program. He's practicing at a really high level right now and doing some good things. So very pleased with those guys.
I thought we had a good plan. We knew we were going to have to play a little bit more man coverage in this game, not give them -- this past game, not give them the free-access throws, which this guy is going to hit a lot of those, and tighten the coverage down. They're still going to complete some passes against us, but I thought overall they did really well. I thought our linebackers obviously -- Reeder getting the interception and the return for over 40 yards was a huge play, and then obviously our D-line is always a factor in our success in defending the pass because of the pressure that they're able to get on the quarterback.
Q: Northwestern has a redshirt freshman quarterback. He's a dual-threat guy. How similar is he, and kind of compare and contrast him to the dual-threat guys that you've faced recently.
JAMES FRANKLIN: He is big and strong and athletic. He's a redshirt freshman, so he's still gaining experience. They did a little bit of the zone read stuff early on in the season. They went away from that. Most of his big runs are really just from scrambles off of drop-back pass, and he's made some really big plays there.
We anticipate and are preparing all week long that they are going to run the zone read and all the quarterback stuff, so that's what we'll be working on all week long for these guys. We think that's what they're going to do against us based on they've shown some of that and based on them studying our film. So we'll be working on that heavily this week. Actually in practice we're going to do a period where our second offense with Trace and Tommy will run those plays against our first defense in practice to make sure that they're getting the speed that is hard to get from the scout team, and then on top of that, we'll call our offensive plays so they're not reading a card. They'll run those plays that we have in our system to allow those guys to get that look in practice. I think that will be really helpful.
But he's a big, strong guy. We were aware of him through the recruiting process, which always kind of helps you kind of get a perspective on guys you're facing. But you know, we're going to have to be ready. They're a very, very good football team who's won a bunch of big games already this year, and obviously we're going to play them on their home turf, so should be exciting.
Q: Your passing game is starting to hit its stride a little bit, but statistically speaking Northwestern's pass defense has been really quite strong all season. From what you've seen on film, is this one of the better pass defenses you've seen, and if so, what are they doing so well?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don't think it's one specific thing. I think they're good on defense because they're very probably similar to our defense. They don't give up a whole lot of big plays. They're not out of position very often. I read Coach Fitz's quotes and watched his press conference, and he talked about how we're taking a lot of shots and making big plays down the field. That's kind of what they do really well is not give those types of plays up.
So you know, that's going to be a challenge. Defensive line, they're able to get pressure on the quarterback. In the back end they keep everything in front and they tackle extremely well. Open-field tackling they do a great job, so they'll give you the hitch. You throw the hitch, you think you're going to get eight, nine yards after the run, after the catch, you get six yards because they tackle well. You get a ball on the perimeter and the safety runs the alley and makes a really good tackle. They do a good job.
Their defensive coordinator has been doing it for a long time. I've got a lot of respect for him. Know a bunch of guys on the staff, as well. But they're very similar to us in a lot of ways in terms of how they approach defensive football.
Q: Could you assess the performance of the linebackers, specifically in the context of some of the changes that have gone on since last year when you had Bell in the middle and Nyeem on the outside?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I think obviously losing Nyeem and losing Bell at times this year and having some young guys on the field, true freshmen, a bunch of true freshmen on the field, I think overall really well. I think Brent Pry has done a great job of fundamentals and making sure those guys are sound technique-wise, but then also giving them a really good understanding of the scheme and what we're trying to get done and where the strengths and the weaknesses are of the defense and then being able to be the quarterback of the defense and make those calls on the field.
You even look at Reeder, still a guy that hasn't played a whole lot of football. You look at Cabinda is a second-year player, but those guys are playing at a really high level. Manny Bowen is starting to come on. Cooper is starting to come on for us right now. Getting Bell back closer to healthy has been significant for us because he's an experienced player.
I think overall the group has played really well. Von Walker is a guy that we don't talk about a whole lot but has really matured as a player and a leader in our program. Those guys are doing extremely well.
Q: Off-topic here, but tomorrow is the town hall meeting for facilities. I wanted to ask you about the size of Beaver Stadium. A lot of fans say they would like more seat space or even seat backs. I'm curious where you stand on the possibility of the capacity dropping to 90,000 or 95,000 and if that would hurt from a cache standpoint in recruiting or anything else?
JAMES FRANKLIN: What was the first thing you said? More seat backs or you said something about that?
Q: Right, either more space or seat backs.
JAMES FRANKLIN: A little more elbow room, huh?
Q: Well, right, that's what I hear from people. They would prefer a little bit more space. I'm just curious how you feel like if you had to drop the capacity to appease some of those people?
JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, I don't know. I think it all depends on kind of where we're at with attendance. I think obviously everybody would love to be in a position where we have 107,000 in the stadium week in and week out. We've been one of the better programs in the country for a long time with that. Got great support from our people.
You know, I think the challenge is the amenities. We want to make sure that we're providing as many amenities as we possibly can to create a great game-day environment in the stadium. So they're all the things that our administration and some of the companies that we've hired to help us with these projects that are experts in these areas, that's what they're studying. That's going to be the big decisions that are going to have to be made in the off-season.
Would you love to be able to provide all the amenities that you can in some of the best venues in the country as well as keeping it at 107,000 in the stadium and selling it out every single week? Yeah, that's the perfect situation for everybody involved. But obviously there's going to have to be some give and take there, and what that means at this point I'm not really sure because my focus is on Coach Fitz and Northwestern.
Q: What does it do for the locker room when a guy like Geno who's been around for a while and has kind of struggled through a malaise, if you want to call it that, comes back and battles his way back?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Again, I don't see it that way. He's worked really hard all year long. He's had a really good attitude all year long. Has he wanted more opportunities? Yes. But the word you used, I haven't seen that. I haven't seen that. He's worked really hard at practice. I thought he's handled it extremely well. When he had an opportunity to make plays, he's made plays, and when that happens, your role is going to increase.
I've been pleased with him. But I haven't seen it the way you described it.
Q: From the nitpicking department, both kickers put a kickoff out of bounds last week and it seems to have been a problem in multiple games this year. Are you directional kicking on purpose? Is that something you feel you need to address in practice?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yes, we are directional kicking on purpose, but the direction of choice is not out of bounds. That would be a positive thing.
Yeah, I think you guys have heard me say this before, whether it's punt or whether it's kickoff return, kicking the ball down the middle of the field to one of probably their best athletes on the team and then putting stress on the other 10 guys to cover 53 yards I don't think is ideal. So we're going to keep working on it.
Our whole kickoff coverage and our whole punt coverage designs and schemes are about only having to defend a third of the field or maybe two thirds at the most, so those things are important for us.
Obviously you never want to kick the ball out of bounds, but sometimes against some of the opponents that we're going against, especially in punt, it's not the end of the world. You punt the ball for 37 yards and it goes out of bounds with zero return, I don't know if that's a whole lot better than a 40-yard return and the guy returns it a few yards, or you give the opportunity for a huge return.
There's a fine line. We've obviously got to get a lot better at it so we can swing the field position, which is an area we haven't been great at all year long is swinging field position and being able to play on their side of the field more often.
But we're making some progress, and we're making some progress slowly but surely. Saturday obviously didn't show up the way we'd like it to.
Q: You said about the linebackers earlier, I know you're a positive guy, but when Nyeem went down, did you think that Jason would have stepped into and embraced this role as well as he has, because seemingly it looks like it couldn't have been more of a smooth transition for you guys.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, now it looks that way. I didn't feel that way, nor did any of us, the first game of the year when two of your more experienced players on defense go down.
But yeah, Jason Cabinda, you guys have spent some time with him during interviews or in press conferences, he's a sharp guy. He's charismatic, he's intelligent, he's confident, and he's really been that way since the day he showed up on campus. He's also a guy who already looks like a junior or senior in college in terms of how big and strong he is. He's almost 250 pounds.
So you know, you never know until the guy gets out here and actually does it, but he had enough of the things that you're looking for in terms of traits or characteristics for that position. He had them. And we also have always felt like he was a Mike linebacker, although what we call our Will linebacker and our Mike linebacker are two basically box linebackers. We try to keep them in the box as much as we possibly can, unless the ball is in the middle of the field and you're playing a true spread team that doesn't have a tight end in the game and you've got two wide receivers on either side. Then you're probably not going to have that guy in the box.
But we've kind of always felt like he was probably more of a Mike linebacker anyway. We're able to get away with it because our Will linebacker plays in the box so much anyway.
Q: Pat Fitzgerald labeled this defensive line the other day as a nightmare. I'm just kind of curious what your reaction is to hearing another coach say something like that, and as far as defenses go, where does Northwestern's pass defense maybe rank in terms of other ones you've faced this season?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, I think as head coaches, you turn the film on either Saturday night after you've graded your own film or Sunday morning and take a peek at the team you're going to play, and probably the two things that probably jump out to you right away is the fronts, the O-line, the D-line and how they're playing because it all starts there and kind of goes back from that point on and how you kind of build things and how you defend things. And then obviously are there any space players that scare you, a guy that gets his hands on the ball in space that can make big plays. They're the things that jump out to you right away before you kind of start looking at things in depth.
Obviously the production that our defensive line has had, the stats that I already read out, the sacks and tackles for loss and things like that, you know, they're plays and they're stats that can significantly impact a game.
I understand what he's saying. I think they have a very, very good defensive line, as well. I think they play very good on defense, like you mentioned.
They do a great job of not giving up big plays, and whenever you can limit chunk plays, you're going to have a chance to be successful. It's one of our stats is to have three explosive plays or less a game, and when we've done that, we've been pretty successful on the defensive side of the ball, just like on offense our goal is to have eight explosive plays, and when we've done that, we've been successful on offense.
They do a good job of forcing you to just take what the defense gives. You're not going to be able to do that consistently enough to beat them, and then they do a great job of work and tackling fundamentals so that when you do complete one of those throws, they're going to get you on the ground without it having a significant impact.
So I think they do a really good job. They do a really good job. It's going to be a real challenge for us. We're going to have to be balanced like we were on Saturday and be able to run the ball, be able to mix in the high-percentage throws and then find situations where we're able to take some shots and create some explosive plays.
Q: Last week on the teleconference Bob Shoop told us that on the bus ride back from Temple after Nyeem had gone down, Jason Cabinda approached him and said, "Put me in there." I was wondering what your reaction was when you heard about that yourself. And it's almost like a fortuitous thing; you never want to see a player go down, but the person that you guys put in there seems to be kind of born and built for the role.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, like I mentioned, because of kind of his personality and his demeanor and his leadership abilities, it doesn't surprise me at all. I really hadn't heard that until someone mentioned it in the press conference or something like that. But it doesn't surprise me at all.
I also think that's where the development in your program is important, so when you do have a significant loss, you have somebody prepared and ready to step in. That's not always the case, but that's where development comes. That's where recruiting comes, because this is a contact sport. This is a violent sport. You're going to lose guys from time to time. That's where that game depth that we talk about is so important, and I think we have that on the D-line. We have that at linebacker now.
So yeah, it's been good. It's going to be real fun when you get Nyeem back, as well, and you have all these guys out there competing at practice every single day and then competing to get the best three linebackers on the field.
Q: Saquon, tremendous game against Ohio State, and then kind of the run game kind of struggled against Maryland. A decent week last week. What do you have to do to get him back on track, especially facing such a stingy defensive front as Northwestern and what they're going to present to you?
JAMES FRANKLIN: To be honest with you, I think he's doing really well. I don't know what the stats say, but I'd have to guess he's one of the more productive backs in the Big Ten, one of the more productive backs in the country, and I think probably one of the most productive freshmen backs in the country.
I don't see it that way. I think he's doing well. I think there's also the part of what we've already all talked about; this is 13 straight weeks. You're talking about a high school guy. The demands that we make on our guys academically, the demands that we make on our guys socially, the demands that we make on our guys football-wise, it's a lot for a true freshman.
You also had the point where he had an injury and was out a couple weeks and is still working back through all those things. We're just going to keep allowing him to grow and get opportunities and have those other guys, as well, carry the ball and make plays in pass protection.
I'd say Saturday, that's probably the area it probably showed up for the first time this year where he made some mistakes in pass protection. I think if you're watching the film and don't know or watching the game and don't know what we're doing or what the play was called, which is a lot of times -- people thought Paris Palmer gave up some sacks, and they weren't Paris's. It was at the running back position.
So what we were doing and some of the movement, we were getting the quarterback on the move, and the tackle has to step down into the B-gap and protect the defensive tackle first and then hinge back out on the defensive end, and the running back is supposed to be right on his hip, and they kind of end up double-teaming. The running back would kind of chip his outside and tackle is on his inside, and that didn't happen a couple times.
We just keep maturing those guys and keep growing those guys and keep allowing them to impact the game. As we all know, he's got special abilities. The R. Kelly "I Believe I Can Fly" play down in the low red zone, he's got a lot of ability. So to see him continue to grow and continue to get opportunities is going to be important for all of us.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports