Captain of Soul Plane, James Franklin, strode confidently to the stage in a neon banana yellow suit, reclined an oversized first class seat, and got comfortable.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Appreciate everybody coming out. Just have a quick few comments about the previous game that I don’t know if necessarily has been covered yet. So the coach’s players of the week from last week on offense was Michal Menet and Noah Cain, and on defense was Robert Windsor, and on special teams was Blake Gillikin, who had a huge game for us. That’s that. Move on.
Got Michigan here at home for the white-out. Coach Harbaugh coming in here, got so much respect for the University of Michigan, their history, their traditions, their program. Coach Harbaugh has done a great job for them, as well. Coming into the season, they returned 16 starters, eight on offense and five on defense and three specialists. When you kind of look at them on tape and on film, starting with their offense, we’ve got a lot of history with Josh Gattis. Very happy for him professionally, very happy for him personally. A great opportunity to go be the offensive coordinator at the University of Michigan. Everybody knows that we were together for a long time. Josh was with me at Vanderbilt for two years and then here at Penn State and did a fantastic job. I want to thank Josh for the job that he did when we were together, and again, very, very happy for him and his family.
When you talk about scheme, they’re an 11- and 12-personnel scheme. They run the split zone, they run the zone, they run the truck scheme, they run counter, and then drop-back pass and play-action pass with the zone read. I think there are aspects of it that we’ve done here. There are aspects of what they did at Alabama, and then there’s some aspects probably of what Coach Harbaugh wants, too, from Michigan. I think it’s a combination of all those things, no different than for us. After each year, we evolve and tweak things and you hire a new staff, come in and they bring a new idea in, as well. But they’re doing a nice job.
Guys that we’ve been impressed with is Ben Bredeson, a young man that we recruited out of Wisconsin, a senior offensive linemen for them doing a good job. John Runyan, who’s a local guy, New Jersey, but played high school in Philadelphia. Comes from a football family. And then Ronnie Bell. And there’s a bunch of guys that we could list. They’ve got tight ends that we could list. There’s other wide receivers. There’s a bunch of guys that we could list off, a bunch of offensive linemen, a bunch of receivers, a bunch of experienced, talented guys. As everybody knows they’ve recruited very well there for a long time. So got a lot of weapons all over the field, and we could sit here and list them all out.
Defensively Don Brown, I think you guys know, got tremendous history with Don, as well. I think Don, it’s hard to give him enough credit for what he’s done over his career, and specifically what he’s been able to do at Michigan. Statistically, they’ve been one of the better defenses in the country since he’s arrived. He did the same thing when he was at Boston College before that. He’s just done a great job. Very aggressive, in your face style of defense, does a great job.
They’re a base four-down defense. They will get into some three-down, as well. They’re a middle of the field, closed cover one team, they’ll go heat man one, and then some variations of three, as well — excuse me, variations of two, as well.
Pressure 45 percent of the time, so a good percentage of pressure overall, first, second or third down. And again, a bunch of guys on defense that are impressive. Kwity Paye, a young man from Rhode Island, is really having a nice year for them, playing at a high level, four and a half sacks. Khaleke Hudson, as we know, a young man from here in the state of Pennsylvania has had a really nice career, really strong career his entire career there at Michigan.
And then on special teams, I think Coach Partridge has done a really good job and two players that really jump out to us is Khaleke Hudson is really, really good on their punt block team. And then same thing with No. 29, Jordan Glasgow. Jordan does a phenomenal job. He’s their starting outside linebacker, but then he also starts on three units on special teams and does a fantastic job.
It’s a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. We’re excited to be back in Beaver Stadium, going on the road and winning is tough. Last week we had to deal with it, and hopefully we can create an environment here that’s the toughest environment in all of college football. I think we’re part of that argument. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I think Saturday is a great opportunity for us to prove it and show the world.
Kris, what technically can we fit in the stadium? Is Scott back there? What can we get? I mean, what can we really get in there? Scott says 112,000 is what we can get in there (laughter), and then I think another 300,000 tailgating, another 600,000 alumni watching all over the country and the world, and then hopefully we can recruit another 500,000, maybe borderline Penn State fans that we can get on board with us this weekend.
Couldn’t be more appreciative of our team and how they’ve gone about everything so far. Same thing with our staff. But we’ve got work to do. We’ve got a really good team coming in here with great tradition and history and support, and we’re going to need to play well. Excited to get out there at practice today and take the next step and give ourselves the best opportunity to be 1-0 this week.
Q. Does Michigan’s offense look radically different than what you’ve seen from them in the past, and since they do have aspects of what you’ve been doing, how can that help you and your team in preparation?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think they have familiarity with us. We have familiarity with them. But again, there’s some Penn State in there, there’s some Alabama in there, there’s some Michigan in there. So there’s familiarity in both directions. I would say in some ways they’re probably more familiar with us than we are with them because Josh is not — didn’t leave right from Penn State and go there. He’s had other experiences. He’s had other influences.
Q. James, with Robert Windsor, he seemed especially determined in the off-season to make the most of this year. What maybe stood out to you about his preparation coming into the season and the spring and the summer, and how rewarding is it to see it pay off for him?JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, you know, he’s a senior. He’s a year older. He’s more mature. I saw his mom after the game and gave her a huge long hug and just was telling her how proud I am of Robert. I mean, literally in every aspect of his life. The young man that — it’s funny, he told a story Friday night before the team about how his family just dropped him off with all his bags and just left. To think about that young man that his parents dropped off from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, five years ago, and to think about how he has matured and grown in every aspect of his life and really a kid and a family that are so appreciative of the whole Penn State experience, to me this is why you do it.
That’s what it’s all about. I couldn’t be more happy for him. This is how you want the story to play out. He’s earned this. He really has. He’s earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, and he’s gotten better every single year, and this last year he’s really put it all together. I think he’s got a chance to have a huge impact for us on Saturday. We’re going to need him to have a huge impact on us on Saturday. I think one of their strengths is their offensive line, so we’re going to need our defensive line to play really well.
Q. Saturday you said you studied the run game after last year because you didn’t think it was sophisticated enough. What sort of things did you study, and how is the run game more diverse now?JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, we were pretty much — and again, I don’t want this to come off the wrong way — but we were pretty much an inside zone team. That’s what we were. We had variations of the inside zone, and it really wasn’t last year, it’s really been the last two years with Ricky. I just felt like we needed more diversity in our running game. We had the inside zone and then we had the tackle wrap schemes that we did.
You know, I think some of the stuff that we’re doing now, some of the counter — depending on what category, family, kind of how you view football, how you put it in — but some of the counter stuff we’re doing with the guard, pulling in the tight end, pulling, as well, and wrapping and leading through, a lot of that stuff showed up in our four-minute offense at the end of the game. So now not only do we have a little bit more diversity in normal downs throughout the entire game, but also when you get into some of those situations where you want to be able to run it, at times where everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to run it, and have the ability to do that. I think that’s the first time we’ve done that against that type of opponent in my six years since I’ve been here. I think that is a critical, critical moment in our six years on the offensive side of the football.
That’s kind of what I’m talking about is I think it makes it a little bit more difficult to defend, and it allows you in situational football to have some things in your back pocket that you can go to. And Ricky did a really good job of having answers. We’re able to look at their front, we’re able to make a call, depending on what pressure they’re bringing or what front they’re showing. We got what we consider our best call into that look. And I thought our O-line did a great job. I thought our two tight ends — I think that’s probably another difference is we’re now not just an 11-personnel team, we’re an 11-personnel team where we have the ability to be a 10-personnel team, and then we also have the ability to be a 12-personnel team.
The thing that’s great is our 12-personnel has the ability to align and play like a 10-personnel team. So we can get into a spread set with our tight ends, and they’re a threat. We can get into 12-personnel and line up in a traditional two-back set and be able to run two-back runs. And when you’re able to do that from 11 or 12, it makes you more difficult to defend.
And I’m fortunate because as the head coach, I get to kind of bounce back and forth from the offensive meeting room to the defensive meeting room. We kind of have this neat deal that we built a few years ago. We used to have this old storage closet in between the offensive meeting room and the defensive meeting room. I don’t know if any of you guys have been up there and seen it. Maybe this summer when you guys come back to the barbecue I’ll show you. But it used to be just this storage room and it had playbooks in there from like the ‘60s. It’s just wasted dead space, so we gutted that out and turned it into a GA office.
So I kind of walk back and forth between the offensive meeting room and the defensive meeting room through that GA office. And things that I hear the offense talking about that I think can help the defense, and then I go to the defensive side and things that the defense are saying that I think could help the offense. And I bounce back and forth.
So that’s the value of being the head coach is you’re seeing things from 300 feet and being able to spring some perspective to both sides of the ball, because you’d be surprised how little time the offense and the defense spend together once the season starts.
Q. K.J., can you describe his personality in depth a little bit and the effect that it has on your team, his teammates? Is it unique at all, the energy and his style?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I like K.J. a lot, as a person, as a player. I think that play the other night where we threw the little swing pass to him and there was 12 defenders around him and he found a way to get three yards — three of the most exciting yards you’ve ever seen in a first down — is exactly how we drew it up and schemed that play to work out.
But K.J., he’s been phenomenal. Not only is he a dynamic player, but he’s a dynamic personality. He walks into team meetings, he walks into interviews, he comes out to practice every single day, and 99.9 percent of the time, he lights up the room. He brings energy. It’s infectious. It’s fun. You want to be around him. You want him around others. It’s special. You know, he’s got two great parents. Dad is awesome, but I think his personality probably most closely aligns with Mom. You guys have all probably seen the rap birthday videos that they’ve done. That’s how Mom is. She’s the same way. They’re great.
You know, so I love K.J., love the whole family. As you guys know, I’ve said this before, K.J. would fall into this category, as well, I’m going to try to send Mom and Dad away on a romantic vacation up in the Poconos with them old heart-shaped beds that they used to have in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Mount Airy Lodge and the champagne glass, hot tubs they used to have up there. I’ve enjoyed having K.J. as part of our program.
Now, you know Mom is going to have a response to that. She absolutely will.
Q. Mount Airy Lodge used to be a great place.JAMES FRANKLIN: Have you been?
Q. To play golf, not to do anything —JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we weren’t asking all that. (Laughter.)
Q. You mentioned on HBO last week that your goal was to become the first African-American coach to win a college football National Championship, and I was wondering what African-American coaches served as your role models early in your career, and when did you feel that this was a goal worth chasing?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, again, I’d like to talk about being 1-0 this week, but I did open this up, so I’ll answer your question. But you know, Tony Dungy I think played a big part. You look at that first Super Bowl with Tony and Lovie, I think had a profound impact on the sport and the game and on coaches that look like me and look like Lovie and look like Tony. I think that had an impact. And then when you saw it happen at the NFL level and felt like that was an important moment within the sport, and hopefully opened up some opportunities for others, that hopefully the same thing could happen in college football.
If you look at the number of head coaches in major college football, it’s not great. There’s been times where it’s kind of gone up a little bit, and there’s been times where it’s dropped back down, but the number really hasn’t changed in a long time, hasn’t grown. So again, my focus is on my family. My focus is on our locker room and on our football program and our team and Penn State, and I wake up every single day completely consumed with my family and Penn State.
But what I would also say is those goals and aspirations align. They align with that. They align with Penn State. They align with my family and the type of role model that I’d like to be for my daughters and those types of things.
It’s not something that I spend a whole lot of time talking about. It’s not something I spend a whole lot of time thinking about, but it is probably something I do carry with me that is important, that is important to me.
Q. It seems to me that Iowa plays pass coverage much differently than Michigan does. How is this a different challenge for your passing game, and why do you think the passing game maybe wasn’t more efficient, 117 yards on Saturday, less than five yards per attempt? Why do you think it wasn’t a little bit better?JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, first of all, yeah, very different styles, very different approaches defensively. I mean, probably couldn’t be any more opposite, to be honest with you. But very effective. They’ve pretty much played that way with everybody.
One of the things I think is a tremendous compliment — I think I said this last week — if you turn their tape on from this year, you turn their tape on from four years ago, it is very similar. They have an identity, and they play within that identity really well, and they allow their players to play fast and they allow their players to play aggressive. I think Mr. Stone is a great example of that, some of the freedoms that he has in that defense and has got tremendous instincts and just plays.
I think we were probably impacted, I thought, early in that game. We talked about this afterwards. I think early in that game on offense we played like a young team, made mistakes, dropped some balls, weren’t clean with some protections, had a little bit of antsy feet at times. We just weren’t as consistent. We missed some throws. We dropped some balls. We dropped some snaps. We just did some uncharacteristic things on the road in a tough environment against a really good opponent.
But most importantly, we played really good complementary football and won the game. We didn’t turn the ball over. So I thought Sean played extremely well, and I thought it’s a really good game for him to grow from and to learn from.
I think we all forget because he’s playing at such a high level, he’s still a redshirt sophomore first-time starter and is doing some really good things. It’s an opportunity to grow. It’s an opportunity to learn. I know he has. I know he will. Same thing with the offense. I learned some things and going to tweak some things in practice, which I think will help us, and looking forward to getting better again.
But we’ve been one of the better passing teams in the country all year long. We’ve been one of the better passing teams in the country — excuse me, in the conference, all year long, and you’ve got to give Iowa credit. Iowa is good up front. They’re good in the secondary. They’re good at linebacker, and they play really well. And if you look at most of their games, they’ve been those types of games. That’s really — I don’t have a long-term study on this, but if you go back and look at Coach Ferentz’ career, I think that’s his career, low-scoring, one-possession games where they find a way to win those games by protecting the football, playing great situational football, and kicking a field goal at the end of the game to win the game. That’s stylistically how he’s been, and that style has served him well and served Iowa well. If you look at his history with Penn State, it’s served him well with that, too.
Q. Sean Clifford has 252 yards rushing, which is second on the team behind Noah. Has Sean’s ability to run the ball this well been a surprise to the coaches, or did you get the sense in the preseason that he would be this effective?JAMES FRANKLIN: I actually thought that you and Audrey were going to find a way to get me to rank him on the running back depth chart.
But no, yeah, I think I had mentioned to you guys this off-season that Sean probably doesn’t get enough credit for the type of athlete he is and how he came in with certain numbers in terms of running, jumping, and change of direction and has worked really hard at attacking that. I remember specifically a time two years ago where he did something really good at practice, and I pulled him to the side and I said, look, you’re doing some great things, but you have got to get faster. You have got to get more explosive for us to be able to run our offense the way we want to run it and for you to have the type of impact we want you to have. And I remember some people thought that was funny.
But I look at how hard he’s worked — and I’m not saying that conversation was the reason he’s worked so hard because that’s how he’s wired anyway. But he’s really worked himself into a really good athlete. And now we’re not going to go into a game with a game plan to run Sean, but when opportunities are there for him to extend plays or make plays with his feet, he can do it.
Now, the thing that he can’t do that we’ve got to spend time working on, which he’s not good at, is sliding. Like it’s like literally Little League baseball slide. It’s like, it doesn’t look natural. It’s awkward. So literally we’re going to spend time at practice like sliding, getting down.
I think some of it’s indecision. It’s like he wants to get as much yards as possible and then he kind of changes his mind. I think we said before, it’s like the squirrel crossing the road, like you can’t be indecisive. He’s got to get better there. But I couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s running.
Q. Did you get any feedback from the Big Ten with respect to Pat’s touchdown/non-touchdown?JAMES FRANKLIN: No, not really.
Q. Nothing at all?JAMES FRANKLIN: I mean, I did, but it’s not appropriate to talk about here in this setting. If they want to say something, they’ll say something. I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Big Ten. But Michigan, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan…
Q. How close is Justin Shorter to maybe being more of a consistent impact type player? I know he’s dinged up a little bit, but it looks like his numbers aren’t quite where some of your other starters are?JAMES FRANKLIN: I think that’s more he’s missed some games. We’re very excited about Justin, and he’s done some great things. But he’s basically missed two games because the game he got injured in and went out of the game, he didn’t play the rest of that game and then missed the whole next game. I think that’s really it. He’s got a very bright future. I think all three of those guys complement each other really well in Jahan and his style of play and K.J. and his style of play and Justin and his style of play, and Justin being very different at 6’4”, 230 pounds.
Daniel George has done a nice job, as well. Chisena has done a nice job, as well. I feel like we’ve got a really good group, Mac, there’s a bunch of guys that we can talk about. But yeah, I think the only difference between him and those other guys is he’s missed time and they haven’t.
Q. What kind of feedback have you received about the HBO episode that aired last Wednesday?JAMES FRANKLIN: It’s been good, but again, you know, I’m not really spending time this week on feedback from HBO last week. It was great. We’re very appreciative of the opportunity. I thought our guys handled the experience really well. The feedback that I’ve gotten from Michael Hazel, who follows stuff like this and from Kris Petersen and from our administration, Scott Sidwell and people, it’s been really good, but I’m not tracking it. I’m focused on Michigan.
Q. The numbers that stand out for Clifford, the rushing yards, touchdown total, but two turnovers through his first six starts, I think is a huge number. Is that something you can anticipate as a head coach, or is it more like we’ve got to get him in live action to see how he handles the ball, and how pleased have you been with that ball security?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, very. I think that’s one of the key ingredients to our success is not just his ball security but really our whole offense, and we’ve got to continue doing it. That’s decision making at the quarterback position. That’s ball security when guys are carrying the ball high and tight, outside arm, nose of the ball up, ball protected. A lot of times from the free hitter, the guy that you don’t see coming, the guy from behind, the guy scraping over the top of the pile. That’s the quarterback in the pocket making sure he’s got two hands on the ball, which is one of — I think, probably one of the more challenging things to coach. Because the guy in the pocket is getting ready to throw the ball when he goes to run, the natural thing is to do this, and getting him to keep two hands on the ball — we were fortunate the one time he stepped up and the guy came behind him, but ball almost came out.
But he’s been good. That’s offensive line protecting, and that’s offensive line protecting blind side hits. That’s running backs in protection, running backs as ball carriers. It’s all of it. And then it’s finding ways to get turnovers, which our defense is doing a better job of.
So it’s all of those things. For us, I think last week the two differences in that game was Blake’s punting, which impacted field position, and us winning the turnover battle.
Q. Michigan, 21 sacks on the defense. What do you have to do to handle their pressure and kind of keep Sean upright this week?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it always comes down to two things. It’s, number one, match-ups and making sure that our fundamentals and techniques give our guys the best chance to be successful against their match-ups. And then on top of it, it’s having a really clear understanding of who and what they are, how they’re trying to attack your protection, and being able to identify it.
Early on, I think we had one sack this year where we didn’t ID the blitz correctly and Sean got hit. The guy completely untouched came running free on him, on a blind-side hit. There’s going to be times where guys get beat, but you’ve got to make sure as much as you possibly can that you’ve got a hat on a hat so that we can protect our quarterback, the ball can come out on time, and we’ve got a chance to be successful on offense.
For the most part, I think we’ve done a good job of that. I think Michigan and Don do as good a job of attacking people’s protections as anybody over his time at Michigan. So not only are we going to have to be ready for what we’ve seen on film, but we’re going to have to be ready for something that he pulls out of his bag that he hasn’t shown yet, specifically to attack us.
Q. You talk about situational football a lot. How do you think you’ve done with situational back usage, because it seems like these guys maybe have different skill sets, but it doesn’t necessarily seem like they’re all being used in those different sorts of situations. How do you kind of balance what Noah Cain might be good at versus what Ricky is good at and then your situation that you’re at on the field?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it did show up in the four-minute. I had mentioned to you guys we felt like that was going to be something that was good for Noah and his style of running, and it did show up. But besides that, we’re rotating our backs, as we’ve discussed ad nauseam, and really all of them are doing some nice things. It’s not like stylistically they’re so different that we have to change what we do. You know what’s funny is I would think a lot of people would look at Noah and say he’s probably a traditional I-back, big back, downhill. But in our spread offense, he’s been very, very successful.
I think the other guys fit more of maybe what people would characterize as a traditional spread back. So really probably the biggest thing for us is the four-minute situation, where I think that really makes sense for Noah.
The other thing that’s good is sometimes you have backs that aren’t good in the passing game, whether it’s protection or in the passing game in terms of receiving the ball out of the backfield, route running, catching the ball consistently. All four of them do that extremely well. You know, it doesn’t really impact us or limit us in any way.
Q. Last year, very physical, they came right out, I’m not even sure they threw a pass in moving the ball down the field. Do you anticipate that type of physical challenge again? Did the Iowa game right in front of this help you in that regard? And also just curious what you did with those ‘60 playbooks that you guys came across that you made an office out of.JAMES FRANKLIN: 60 playbooks?
Q. Yeah, didn’t you say you had 1960 playbooks that were in the office.JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I’m sorry, I wasn’t following you.
Yeah, so I think when it comes to Michigan this week and how they’re going to try to attack us, all we can do is study the film that we’ve seen that they’ve put on tape. The personnel packages, the plays that they run out of those personnel packages, the schemes, what they’re trying to do. And then also our familiarity, with Josh and now Coach Harbaugh, and prepare for that.
I think we have enough film to be able to do that between the bowl game from last year and what they’ve done this season, because the Army game is probably not a great game for us to break down.
But then the playbooks and things like that, to be honest with you, I’m not sure. I’m assuming they went to the archives or the museum. But I’m not really sure, but they’re nice offices now.
Q. We talked about Iowa’s philosophy on defense being very different from Michigan’s philosophy on defense, but they do have set philosophies. And please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like at least from a coverage standpoint on defense, you seem to be more of a week-to-week or a game-plan-type of coverage team. Does that go back to your idea even on offense where you want to have as multiple of an idea as possible to prepare your team offensively and defensively to be, as you’ve talked about, complementary on both sides of the ball?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don’t think so. I think we very clearly have an identity on defense, and it’s really been the same one for nine years. Has it tweaked and changed? Yeah. When we play certain opponents, do we lend a play, maybe one coverage or one style more than other? Yeah. But if you go back and watch our film at Vanderbilt, you go back and watch our film from when we first got here, you go back and watch our film from last year, there are some things that have changed, but we’ve had a similar identity. There’s going to be years where you’re really good on the D-line and you don’t have to blitz as much to get pressure, so that’s going to change how you call the game. There’s going to be years or games where maybe you’re not able to get pressure from your down linemen, so you’re going to have to blitz more and take a safety out of the middle of the field to be able to do that.
There’s going to be games where you feel like our best opportunity to play well is to play zone coverage and have eyes on the quarterback and eyes on the ball to create turnovers. And then there’s going to be games where we say we match up really well with their receivers, we want to play man coverage, we want to take the easy throws away, we want to force the quarterback to hold the ball and create some sacks and pressures that way, from a coverage perspective.
I think we have been tweaking and Brent Pry has added his flavor to the defense, but we’ve really had a similar identity for nine years.
Q. It’s probably good that we haven’t asked you a lot about him through six games, but Rasheed Walker, his development, how do you think he did — Epenesa is really good at what he does. But how do you think that maybe is a learning experience for him, plus that whole body of work that Rasheed has put together?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I’m really pleased with Rasheed. Got a very close relationship with Mom and Dad. Rasheed has been really good. He’s grown up a lot. Got a very bright future. And you’re right, when you’re not talking about a guy a whole lot on the offensive line, that’s typically a pretty good thing, especially for a redshirt freshman and a redshirt freshman that was matched up against arguably one of the better defensive ends in the conference, if not in the country, and kind of a unique different match-up.
Typically the D-ends that we go against are in the 6’4”, 250-pound range. And then you have the Shaka Toneys of the world, and then every once in a while you’ve got a guy like him who’s 6’6”, 280 pounds, 285 pounds. That’s a different match-up, and that takes a different set of fundamentals and a different set of skills to be able to counter that and battle that. I think he’s playing really well. I think our offensive line in general is playing really well right now. And we’re going to need them to continue to because the defensive line and the defensive front that we’re going to play on Saturday is going to challenge them. And the style that they play, as well, which is to overload the box and confuse the O-line and the quarterback is who they are. And then to play a style on the perimeter to make the quarterback hold the ball with press coverage and things like that, that’s who Don is.
Q. How important is recruiting this weekend, especially setting up for 2021, and then also how important is it with your recruiting staff and how they coordinate everything? You guys usually always have about 100-plus recruits this weekend.JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, it’s — the environment is really important for the future of our program. It has an impact on game day and how we play and how challenging we can make it for their offense. It also has an impact that there’s going to be a young — a bunch of young players sitting in those seats or hopefully standing in the stadium and feeling the energy that we have in this town and the energy in the stadium and say, hey, this is where I want to play.
I mean, you think back, I remember when I first got here thinking about that. Was it a seven-overtime Michigan game? How many players ended up on our roster that were in the stands that night. Does it have an impact? Yes. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, I think it does, especially in a white-out.
I remember Jesse James talking about if you come to the white-out, it’s almost impossible for you not to come to Penn State. It’s almost impossible.
So yeah, it’s very important for our future and to keep building this thing, to close out this class the right way, and then also building for future classes after that.
You know, I would challenge our fans to understand that they’re going to have a dramatic impact on the game on Saturday, but they’re also going to have a dramatic impact on the future. I also think that we’ve got a great tradition and history around here of how we treat everybody that comes to town, that is people coming to see their first game at Penn State. It’s really important that they have an unbelievable experience so they go back to their towns and their states and their communities talking about what a special place Happy Valley is.
And this is a bucket list place to go visit when it comes to college football. That’s important for visiting fans so that when Michigan fans come here, they go back and tell everybody that Happy Valley and Penn State is one of my favorite places to travel and see an away game. Although we’d like to get it to the point where they can’t get tickets, but you understand the point I’m making.
So all of it, I think, is really important. And for the most part, we’ve got a chance to do something really special on Saturday that everybody had an impact in, and I think that’s what makes it so special. It’s the players, it’s the coaches, it’s the staff. But it’s the fans. The fans can have a significant impact on what happens on the field and how that environment impacts our future, as well.
Q. You mentioned the white-out. In your time here, have you and the guys, the players, come to embrace the white-out any more or less?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think everybody does. I’ve been telling Coach Parker what it’s going to be like because even though some of these guys have been coaching college football for a long time, it’s different. It’s different. And I tell people, literally, I’ll have that eight seconds where I’m standing there in the tunnel and you see it and you hear it, but you literally feel it. You literally feel it. I’ll enjoy it for that eight seconds, and then you run out and you’re so consumed doing your job from that point on, it’s kind of hard. It’s kind of hard.
It’s funny, I watched that video of the game against Ohio State and Mark Allen hugging me right after the win, and I don’t really remember — I remember watching the video of it but not kind of the moment. You’re just kind of so consumed with doing your job.
But yeah, it’s special. And again, I don’t want you guys to misinterpret what I’m saying. I want our guys to enjoy it. I want our guys to appreciate it. But our process doesn’t change. I think it’s pretty cool that — I think this is accurate — in the history of Penn State football, and we’ve played a lot of great football here for a long time, this is the first time ever that we’ve had Gameday on our campus three years in a row. I think that speaks volumes about how people perceive our program right now and what we’re doing.
I know we hired Andy Mutnan, our trainer, from Washington State, and Washington State last year was the first time they’ve ever had College Gameday. We’ve had it three years in a row. Pretty special. And very appreciative. And I also know it’s not just what we do on the field. It’s when ESPN and College Gameday come, how our staff treats them, how our communications staff and marketing staff and how organized we are and how we have things set up. And it’s a first-class operation. That plays a part in them coming. How our fans show up at 5:00 in the morning or whatever time it is to be out there going crazy, that plays a part in it. Because if you don’t have the other pieces, the football team and the football program isn’t enough. You have to have it all for you to get them to come here three years in a row, and we’re one of the few programs in the country that have it.
Q. Can you share some insight into the evolution of Jan and Cam since the 2016 Michigan game and maybe even the evolution of the program since that point?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. You know, I think your point is a good one. You think about how much has changed from them, how far we’ve come, where I think at that point Jan was a walk-on scout team tight end and ended up going in that game to play middle linebacker after we were down like five linebackers. Had an ejection, then he tears his ACL in that game. Just one thing after another. We were just coming off of sanctions and scholarship numbers, and just a lot of challenges and a lot of adversity.
But those guys that stuck with us then, that committed under those circumstances, that battled through the adversity that we had as a program, I think those guys really are the backbone of what we’re doing right now. They’ve seen the highs and the lows and the adversity and the ups and downs, and they’re battle-tested, mentally tough, physically tough guys, and I think they’re really the backbone kind of our program.
It’s hard — because it’s funny, sometimes you get upset with the young players because they show up and they think almost they’re entitled to the success, and you get mad at them because they’re like, you have no idea what we went through. But it’s not their fault. They just don’t know. But I do think there’s an importance to that, of those guys that have been through that adversity and built it. It’s amazing, it’s very similar to what we do with the facility, even with the staff. When I show — whenever we get something new done and show the team, we do an unveiling, I always do a before and after. So I show them what the facility — what the locker room used to look like and what it looks like now. And it’s amazing the reaction of the players, because most of the recruits, they never — the ones now, like the guys who just signed this past year, they never saw any of that stuff, and they’re shocked by it. The staff, Joe Lorig and Parker, they’re like, that’s what it was when you guys got here?
I am very proud. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a rather short period of time under very, very difficult circumstances. And there’s been a lot of people that have been a part of that. But like I’ve said and like I continue to say, the thing we can’t do is take a deep breath and feel like we’re back. Because the programs that we’re competing with, they haven’t taken a deep breath or pushed the pause button in 50 years.
That’s my responsibility as the head coach to continue to educate and have challenging conversations and push people to keep driving this thing forward and do it in a way that fits underneath the Penn State umbrella and that everybody is comfortable with, but pushing everybody. Because I think for probably about 15 years, we didn’t do that. And again, I don’t want anybody to misinterpret what I’m saying, and I don’t want that to come off — I don’t mean that as a slight to anyone. But we just — we’ve got to push. We’ve got to push, and we’ve got to keep fighting and climbing and scratching and clawing for every little inch we can, because the margin of error is so small where we’re at, and everything matters. Everything matters. We’ve got to compete in every aspect.
And by doing that, we’ll give us the best chance to be 1-0 this week. And by doing that, we’ll give us the best chance — no different than we talked about the environment for recruiting for the future. That will give us the best chance that we’re part of these conversations moving forward. Because the minute you let off the gas in any area, you fall behind, and then you’re battling to get back where you want to be and where people think you’re supposed to be.
Q. In a running back room with so many different guys in there, how does Noah Cain distinguish himself, not just on the field but in the locker room?JAMES FRANKLIN: We’ve got four running backs that we really like. I’ve got a little recorder. We’ve got four running backs that we really like that all get along extremely well, and Coach Seider has done a really good job of that. And there’s going to be a week where I come in here and you guys are talking about Devyn Ford being the next great running back at Penn State. There’s going to be a week I come in and it’s going to be Journey Brown. There’s going to be a week that it’s Noah Cain, and there’s going to be a week that — yeah, Ricky Slade. And all four of those guys have the ability to be as good as there is. That’s what I think is so special, and that’s what’s so exciting. That’s what’s so exciting. There’s going to be games, whether it’s based on match-up or whether it’s based on scheme or whether it’s based on confidence, they just had a great week, or the opposite.
What also is great about this right now is you’d better not miss class. You’d better do everything you’re supposed to because we’ve got the type of competition right now, if you give us one reason. That’s what you want, you want that at every single position. It also keeps those guys fresh, keeps some of the wear and tear off them, as well, so I think that’s valuable. But we’ve got four guys that we’re very, very excited about. That’s Ricky, that’s Noah, that’s Devyn, that’s Journey. That’s all of them.
And what’s great is they’ve all kind of got different perspectives. They’re all at different points of their career. They all come from different backgrounds. But Coach Seider has done a really good job there.
Q. You mentioned a couple weeks ago having Jan and Ellis split reps almost 50/50 in the middle there. What do they do so well that complements each other, and how valuable is it having two guys you like at that position specifically?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it’s really important. I think Jan is Steady-Eddie and really productive, and you know what you’re going to get from him, in coverage, in run support and in commanding the defense. I think Ellis has a lot of those qualities, too. He also has the ability maybe to have a few more splash plays. But also I think that’s the thing, where Ellis is growing into what Jan is from an experience and from a knowledge perspective. That’s why being able to go one to one with those two guys allows Ellis to close the gap on Jan from an experience standpoint and from a knowledge standpoint.
But we’ve got two really good middle linebackers that we’re excited about, and then a bunch of other guys, too. But those two guys rotating by series, again, we think is invaluable for them and their durability and for their experience. But there’s — it’s not like you’re in a situation where you’re going two to one or three to one because there’s a dropoff from an experience standpoint or a production standpoint. We don’t really have that, and that’s valuable.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
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