VIDEO: San Diego State Week Player Q&As | Transcripts: James Franklin | Players
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talked with the media on Tuesday to preview Penn State's home contest against San Diego State.
The Nittany Lions (2-1, 1-0) and Aztecs (1-1, 0-0) will play for the first time at 3:30 p.m. (BTN) inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday, continuing a string of five straight weeks of home football in Happy Valley. Franklin reviewed Penn State's 28-3 Big Ten-opening victory over Rutgers and looked ahead to the non-conference matchup during his weekly meeting with the press.
Coach Franklin felt like Saturday's 28-3 victory over Rutgers was the most complete game Penn State has played since he became head coach. All three phases fired on all cylinders and executed at a high level.
"I'm actually really pleased with how we're playing as a team right now," said Franklin. "I thought that game on Saturday was probably the most complete football game we've played since we've been here. Now, have we played better on defense? Yes. Have we played better on offense? Yes. Have we played better on special teams? Maybe not. But all three phases together, I thought we played great team football at this point where we're at as a program."
The special teams unit has been a bright spot for Penn State during the first three weeks. The Nittany Lions have big-play ability on both return units, and the coverage teams held Rutgers in check throughout the evening. Redshirt freshman Nick Scott notched a kick return of more than 30 yards for the second straight week. Scott is also an integral part of the coverage units, which forced Rutgers into an average starting position of its own 18-yard line on Saturday night.
"Nick Scott's making a huge impact," said Franklin. "Everybody is focusing on him as a returner, he's having just as much or more of an impact in running down the field. If you guys get a chance and watch the game, watch all of the kickoffs and look who is the first one running into the end zone. Even the balls that are kicked and not returned, we take a lot of pride in being disciplined and covering down to the end zone.
Defensively, Franklin noted the unit's ability to create turnovers. The Lions had three takeaways against Rutgers (two interceptions and a fumble). For the season, Penn State is plus-3 in turnover margin. A big piece to forcing turnover begins with the play up front. The Nittany Lion defensive line has been outstanding throughout the season. And Franklin even thinks the group even has another gear.
"I talked to them about I love for them to have more of an impact on first, second, and third quarter, although they were very disruptive, I still think more sacks earlier in the game would be helpful," said Franklin. "They did take over the game and dominate the fourth quarter, which is awesome."
The defense welcomed the return of linebacker Brandon Bell and cornerback Grant Haley in Saturday's win. Bell had nine tackles against the Scarlet Knights. Haley made two stops, broke up a pass and hauled in his second career interception.
On offense, the entire line earned the team's weekly internal player of the week award for its effort in a 330-yard rushing night. Additionally, the Nittany Lions did not yield a sack for the second-straight week. Franklin credited the group's aggressiveness as a factor in the growth of the unit, but the play of Christian Hackenberg and his recognition at the line of scrimmage has paid big dividends for the Lions, as well.
"Really proud of Christian and how he's handled everything," said Franklin. "I think he's doing a great job. We had very specific plays on Saturday that, if they were running a certain blitz that we wanted to check into the certain specific play verse the blitz, and those accounted for major runs and touchdown runs. I would say almost every single one of those touchdown runs are major runs was him checking into that specific look."
Following the Big Ten opener, the Nittany Lions return to the non-conference slate for two more weeks before seven straight contests in the Big Ten. Led by head coach Rocky Long, the Aztecs have appeared in a bowl game during each of the last five seasons. Franklin said the scouting report of San Diego State begins with its exotic defense that creates havoc before each snap.
"They play what I would call a chaos defense. Anybody ever see those defenses where they don't even lineup, they just kind of walk around and do all those things," said Franklin. "They blitz from every angle possible. So we're going to have to continue calling and managing the game the way we are right now."
The Nittany Lions will practice in pads on Tuesday and Wednesday before the final game week session on Thursday. Saturday's contest will kick at 3:30 p.m. on BTN.
Press Conference Notes:
- Penn State played in front of a tremendous crowd on Saturday night. Coach Franklin talked about the importance of the fans following the game, but he wanted to emphasize the group of supporters again on Tuesday.
"I want to thank the fans. I had a chance to do that after the game, but want to do it again. From the moment we left the hotel, the fans were everywhere. Driving down the street, they're pounding on the side of the bus... Get in the stadium, look up, the students are there in pregame, screaming and going crazy and supporting us. Focused on the warm-up, and next thing I know I look up in the stands and there is the stripe out. It's already formed and really cool."
- Coach Franklin on true freshman John Reid and his progress.
"John's doing extremely well...He's very, very competitive. If you watch practice, which I know you guys don't get the opportunity to do, but if you watch practice like we do every single day, every play for that kid is like the Super Bowl. I mean, he is so competitive. He doesn't want a pass completed ever on him in practice. When he breaks it up or intercepts it, he goes crazy like he just won the Super Bowl. That is the same reason why I think it's translating to the game for us, he's the guy."
- Coach Franklin on Saquon Barkley's team-first attitude.
"I think Saquon's going to be a great teammate here. He's going to make the commitment and sacrifices to help his team be successful. He's also going to give credit to his offensive line and special teams for providing field position and the defense for playing great team football."
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