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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 14 Penn State football (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) returns home from the road, set to host Rutgers (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten) Saturday in a noon outing at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions will welcome home alumni for homecoming, in addition to 7,500 service members in attendance courtesy of Penn State's Seats for Servicemembers program. In honor of Veterans Day, Penn State will honor all active duty and veteran service members and their families in a Military Appreciation game.
"Going to be some challenges [for us] with balancing homecoming, military appreciation day, which is always a great opportunity for us to make sure that the people that serve our country know how much we appreciate it, and Penn State does an unbelievable job with that," Penn State head coach James Franklin said.
The Nittany Lions enter Saturday's matchup coming off a pair of tough losses on the road by a combination of four total points.
While returning to the comforts of the home crowd offers a sigh of relief, Penn State is by no means taking even a mere second to exhale.
"I'm a huge believer in, you take care of today and that will take care of tomorrow," Franklin said. "We are going to make sure that we get back to the formula that got us here in the first place and I believe so strongly in that."
Poised to get back to basics, not much change was needed for the Nittany Lions this week, beginning with film corrections on Sunday.
"I would say mostly just understanding what mistakes we've done, why they happened, how can we capitalize on them and eliminate them going forward," wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins said. "After that, just erasing it. It's already done. Nothing you can do about it and just attack the next week, one week at a time."
With the past in the past, Penn State has turned its full focus toward the Scarlet Knights, who arrive in Happy Valley with wins in three of their last four conference games, most recently topping Maryland, 31-24 at home.
"Offensively they're a pro style offensive that mixes some spread concepts in there a little bit," Franklin said. "We have a lot of respect for Jerry Kill, as Matt Limegrover and Jerry were together for 17 years, and we have a lot of respect for him. Defensively, they've moved to odd- front defense, which is different. We don't see that very often. It changes how you have to game plan."
Led by second-year head coach Chris Ash, Rutgers will also begin a two-game road stretch beginning with the Nittany Lions, having already matched its team-high mark for Big Ten wins in just the last few weeks.
What to Watch For -
1. Earlier this week, Rutgers defensive coordinator Jay Niemann noted the matchup problem that someone like tight end Mike Gesicki creates. Noting both size and length, Niemann said mixing coverages would be key to limiting Gesicki's impact.
Coming off a career-high outing at Michigan State (8 catches for 89 yards), he's second on the team with 38 receptions on the year. With four receiving touchdowns this year, he's also tied for 12th in the Big Ten, also owning the team's longest active reception stretch with one catch in 23 consecutive games.
2. Physicality up front was a major takeaway Franklin expressed postgame at Michigan State. For Franklin though, it's not something that happens overnight, as it's an issue spanning more than just the last two weeks, and more of a mentality than it is an action item in practice.
"We have been saying internally and externally, that we want to be a more physical team up front," Franklin said. "When I say that I'm not just talking about the offensive line. I'm talking about tight ends. I'm talking about all of it. I think it's something that we can do a better job of and need to do a better job of to take that next step as a program."
3. Penn State is plus-12 in the turnover margin, which is tied for fifth in FBS. Having forced at least one turnover in the last 10 consecutive games, the Nittany Lions have hardly struggled when it comes to creating opportunities off of turnovers. On the other side of things though, Franklin made specific note of the impact the three turnovers the Nittany Lions committed at Michigan State made. It's not all a total negative though.
"One of the areas that I thought we've been struggling on defense this year with sudden change and I thought our defense handled the three turnovers extremely well," Franklin said. "Those three turnovers came out to be two punts and one take away. So that was a real positive. We want to build on that."
What to Watch For -
1. During his weekly press conference, Franklin pointed out the Rutgers odd-front defense, something that will dictate Penn State's blocking schemes in the running game and in the passing game from a protection standpoint.
For someone like tight end Jonathan Holland, it's a challenge the Nittany Lions are looking forward to.
"I feel like playing college football I've seen a lot of teams with a lot of different defenses," Holland said. "Their defense is definitely very different from ones that we've seen but I feel like it's just a great matchup and I feel like our entire team, position by position, is really eager for the matchup that's coming up this weekend. I feel like we're all going to be very prepared for it. It comes down to us being able to execute."
2. The Scarlet Knights have three running backs averaging at least 4.9 career yards per carry. Among the unit, Franklin made specific note of Gus Edwards, a fifth-year senior transfer from Miami.
"I think the big this is the back," Franklin said. "The running back who transferred from Miami is a really good player. He's 235 pounds and he's a downhill guy and I think he's a redshirt senior so he's kind of been there and has that experience, gets behind the offensive line and they run the inside zone and it's almost like wedge play. They just kind of cram it in there."
Edwards leads the team with 630 rushing yards and 732 all-purpose yards, ranking 10th in the Big Ten with seven total touchdowns on the year. He's also coming off a season-high outing against Maryland with 109 rushing yards to record his first 100-yard rushing game in a Rutgers uniform.
3. Last year Rutgers went 0-9 in Big Ten conference play. At 3-3, a fourth conference win would be the most for the Scarlet Knights since securing five wins as a member of the Big East conference in 2012. With three wins following a winless conference season, Rutgers is one only six of the past 30 Big Ten teams since 1960 to win at least three league games the following year.
"Obviously they're coming off a hot streak," offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez said. "It's always going to be tough and they're going to come in and try to knock us off. They're going to come in with a lot of momentum, so we just have to be prepared for it."
The Final Word -
Penn State has claimed a win in 10 of its last 12 homecoming outings. With a 70-22-5 record in nearly 100 outings in front of the alumni crowd, the Nittany Lions have won their last two consecutive homecoming games. Homecoming success aside, Penn State has won its 12 straight games inside Beaver Stadium, in arguably the best atmosphere in all of college football.
"We have a distinct advantage here at our stadium and we want to continue that, and we need our fan support come Saturday, and to find a way to be successful," Franklin said. "It's going to take all of us. I said that in my opening press conference and I believe that more today. It's going to take all of us together to go to the stadium, and make it a very challenging environment for people to be successful."
As the Nittany Lions prepare to head into the first of their final three games of the season, Banks fielded questions from media members spanning everything from defensive improvements to the scout team.
Catch up on a few updates from the teleconference.
Banks of course pointed out the tremendous benefit that two senior safeties leading the unit provides for the Nittany Lions. Between Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, Banks noted there isn't much someone like Allen hasn't seen on the field, with Apke also bringing valuable game experience.
After their departures though, Banks is confident in who the Nittany Lions return.
"When you lose Marcus [Allen] and that many starts, it can be challenging but I can kind of look at it a little bit different," Banks said. "I feel like we've done a really good job recruiting around here and I feel like we have some guys who will be ready to step in and pick up where these guys have left off."
Speaking of Allen ...
Banks called Allen one of the best he has ever coached at the position in terms of how his sheer athleticism combines with his 6-foot-2 frame
"I've had guys his size who maybe weren't quite as athletic or guys that are a little smaller that may be a little bit faster, but when you start talking about overall combo guy, I don't know if I've had a combo guy with that type of skillset with that type of size," Banks said. "He can do it all. You can drop him in the box and he can play as a linebacker or you can play him on the hash and he can play as a regular safety. You can actually put him in coverage so he can cover."
Regardless of what the stat sheet says, Banks noted that when a team isn't experiencing success it's common to continuously evaluate everything from practice to game situations - leaving no stone unturned until success is attained. As Penn State head coach James Franklin noted more generally this week, the Nittany Lions spent some time self-scouting ahead of Saturday's noon matchup against Rutgers on the heels of a pair of conference road losses.
"Obviously we've made adjustments that we felt needed to be adjusted and some things we thought we were doing well, we'll continue to do," Banks said. "We've obviously played against some really good opponents the last two weeks and some things that we would like to do better, we've addressed, and hopefully we'll be able to do those things moving forward."
Scout Team Update
Banks mentioned named like KJ Hamler and Des Holmes when asked about a few Penn State scout team members who are stepping forward.
"KJ [Hamler] is one who comes to mind," Banks said. "He works extremely hard, he's a fast kid, a quick kid, has great energy during practice. He's really given us a great look in practice week in and week out. Des Holmes does a great job for us up front, very physical."
He wrapped up though, point out that it's an entire unit of young guys who have stepped up to play at a really high level to give the Nittany Lions the best looks during game week.
"It takes a lot to go out there and understand that you may not go out and play on Saturday's and still give your all," Banks said. "That whole freshman class has been awesome. They treat Tuesday and Wednesday like gameday and that's paid a lot of success to how well we've played throughout the year defensively, because of how hard those guys have worked on scout teams."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few days separate Penn State football from its return to Beaver Stadium following back-to-back road trips.
Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin and wide receiver Saeed Blacknall met with members of the media following practice Wednesday evening. Catch up on a few highlights from the media session.
We Salute You
The Nittany Lions welcomed members of Penn State's ROTC programs for the final few periods of practice. Following practice, coach Franklin and the team took time to shake hands and briefly meet with the practice visitors.
"We just want to be appreciative and respectful and obviously there are so many different groups and organizations on campus and in the community and with it being our military appreciation game this weekend, we wanted to make sure we connect with those guys," Franklin said.
Something that has now become yearly tradition, Franklin noted the Nittany Lions have forged relationships with the group, now exploring possibilities for teambuilding and leadership projects in the future.
Growing up in New Jersey, Blacknall noted that he has plenty of connections and relationships with individuals on the Rutgers roster. While he's not communicating with them during game week, he noted it's kind of like high school when they actually line up on opposite sides of the field.
"It's like a throwback, like a high school reunion and you're just coming back and you know how they play and they know how you play," Blacknall said. "Obviously you've gotten better because you're in college but it's just one of those things that's cool to me."
Speaking of High School ...
During playoff season, Blacknall's high school team only lost three games. The final loss of course came against now current teammate Jason Cabinda's high school team.
"It was snowing, it was a terrible day," Blacknall said. "My quarterback couldn't even drop back to throw a pass to me. I was open so many times and you just had him bull-rushing through the line sacking my quarterback probably 10-15 times and then they handed the ball off to him every play. I think it ended up 21-0, it's something I don't like to think about, he always jokes about it too."
Blacknall of course noted that in his junior year, it was his team that sent Cabinda's high school team off the field with the loss to get to the state championship.
Focus on Physicality
Franklin noted that playing with more physicality is more of a mindset than it is something that can be drilled in practice.
"I think sometimes we're happy with just blocking the guy as well as we think we need to, to get the job done rather than sending a message and trying to finish a guy and pancake blocks and things like that," Franklin said. "I had a talk with a number of guys this week, these guys have done this. They've done it in their careers and they've done it in high school, I've seen it but they've kind of just been satisfied with what we've been doing."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football returns to action Saturday, returning from the road to host Rutgers in Beaver Stadium. Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin met with members of the media in his weekly press conference. Offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez and wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins also joined for a pair of media sessions.
Following back-to-back road trips, Beaver Stadium is a welcome atmosphere for the Nittany Lions.
"It's great to be home. It's great to be back for homecoming," Franklin said. "It's great to be hosting military appreciation. It's great to be in our own surroundings and in front of our fans and loved ones and things like that. That's great."
For wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins, returning to Beaver Stadium is all about the comforts of home.
"There's no environment like here. The fans are great," Thompkins said. "The environment is great. We feed off it as a team. We do a great job at home, as you know. It's just good to get back to your bearings. And being in an environment that you're comfortable playing in."
An area of improvement identified by Franklin has been increasing physicality up front. For Gonzalez, that's an area that comes down to mindset and the way the Nittany Lions approach practice. More specifically, it's incorporating everything into more of a finishers mindset, working through the whistle the entire week of practice rather than holding out for gameday.
"I think it's a huge challenge not only for me, but for the rest of the offensive line and I think that's the real emphasis this week, to try to improve that. That's what we do every week to try to improve our physicality. I think that will be our mindset this week, and just try to be as physical as we can against Rutgers."
On The Quote Board -
- Franklin on improvements to handling in-game momentum shifts.
"On a positive note, one of the areas that I thought we've been struggling on defense this year with sudden change and I thought our defense handled the three turnovers extremely well. Those three turnovers came out to be two punts and one take away. So that was a real positive. We want to build on that."
- Thompkins on blocking.
"I knew that the biggest thing coming into Division I football is blocking. People are big. They're strong. And I'm for the that big. I'm not that strong. But blocking is all about Hart. That's the one thing Coach Gattis tells us is you can train all you want, blocking drills, all this and that, but is it comes down do you want the person behind you with the ball want to score. And I want receiver person on offensive to score. I go all out for blocking and my teammates.
- Gonzalez on Rutgers.
"It's a challenge every week to try to face a defense like them. They're physical. They're a big group. And they're coming off a few games where they've won. Obviously they're coming off a hot streak. It's always going to be tough. And they're going to come in and try to knock us off. And they're going to come in with a lot of momentum, so we just have to be prepared for it."
- Thompkins on how running back Saquon Barkley has handled himself in the last few weeks.
"One thing that I admire from him [Barkley] is he's a team player, he's not one of those guys that goes in demands the ball. He knows the type of players we are as receivers. He knows the type of player Mike is at tight end, he knows Trace and et cetera. But that's one thing that he handles very well is he knows he's not the only piece to the puzzle and he's willing to sacrifice that for the success of the team."
- Franklin on Barkley
"Saquon is one of the better football players, if not the best football player I've ever been around. He's able to be explosive in so many different ways, and that's what we want to do. We want to get the ball into his hands in a lot of different ways. I think that gives us the best opportunity to be successful."
- Gonzalez on where his game has grown the most this season.
"I think I've just gained more confidence in my game. I think last year, toward the beginning, I wasn't really confident. It took a while to build it up and I wasn't really clicking with the offensive line, I was kind of a lone wolf. I think this year I just made a lot of changes. Obviously with my faith, just believing in the process and believing in my abilities and the confidence grew. It's a product now and I've been playing pretty decently."
- Thompkins on dealing with adversity.
"One thing I would say is that even though it's a tough loss you also learn from wins as well. Just because you win a game doesn't mean you didn't have mistakes. Whether it's a win or a loss, with maturity it becomes even though we've won, hey, I did not play a perfect game. There's things that I need to work on and improve. That just comes with, like you said, maturity. That's something we have as a team, is we know that no matter how much we win by or how much we lose by, the mistakes will show. And that's something that you have to take into account, understand what happened, why it happened, and then just go on to the next week."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football has shifted its focus toward Rutgers, set to return home to Beaver Stadium to host the Scarlet Knights in a noon matchup on homecoming.
Cornerback Amani Oruwariye grabbed his fourth interception of the season in the fourth quarter at Michigan State. Having recorded four of Penn State's 10 takeaways this year, Oruwariye enters the week ranked first in the Big Ten and second in FBS averaging 0.6 interceptions per game.
Quoting Coach Ash
At his weekly press conference this afternoon, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash noted the Scarlet Knights would face a talented football team in the Nittany Lions. He was also asked about running back Saquon Barkley, specifically in regard to Ohio State's Urban Meyer naming him the best all-purpose back the Buckeyes have faced in his career.
"He's very good, there's no doubt about it," Ash said. "Saquon Barkley is as good as there is. He can do it all. He can run the ball, he can catch the ball out of the back field, he can line up as a wide receiver, he's very strong, tremendous balance - just unbelievable change of direction. The way he can stop and restart and make you miss in the open field is as good as there is. He's outstanding and you never want to say a particular player is as good as you've ever seen, but I'd say he probably is."
Coming off a Career Day
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki registered a career day at Michigan State, logging eight catches and 89 receiving yards for a career-high effort. One of quarterback Trace McSorley's top targets, Gesicki enters Saturday's matchup with at least one catch in the last 23 consecutive games.
Rutgers defensive coordinator Jay Niemann made specific note of the matchup problem Gesicki creates with his size and length.
"He's got such a big catch radius," Niemann said. "You see them throwing footballs up in the air to the guy and he just goes and he out-jumps people. It's like going after a rebound almost. You have to mix coverages, you can't just sit in one thing. You have to try to mix your matchups as best as you can and some of that's going to be dependent on the down and distance."
Penn State will once again honor the commitment and sacrifices of veterans and their families hosing its Seats for Servicemembers program in its sixth year Saturday. The Nittany Lions offers no cost tickets to active and retired servicemembers on a first come first serve basis earlier this summer. Penn State will also host a free pregame tailgate at the Bryce Jordan Center as part of Penn State's Military Appreciation Week.
On Homecoming ...
Saturday also marks Penn State's annual homecoming game. Penn State owns a 70-22-5 all-time record on homecoming, having won five of its last six games in front of the homecoming crowd. Last year, the Nittany Lions defeated Maryland, 38-14, set to meet the Scarlet Knights for the third time on homecoming.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The trip home from East Lansing, Michigan was mum, as Penn State filed quietly on to the plane, having traded soggy grass-stained jerseys for travel suits.
When Penn State head coach James Franklin entered the postgame media room, among dissecting a nearly seven-hour outing at Spartan Stadium, his message was clear.
Yes, a seven-hour outing, as severe weather forced a 3-hour and 22-minute delay. That wasn't what Franklin chose to focus his message on though.
His message was simple, return to the basics - the very core of what it was that got Penn State right up to 12:05 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
Like a single drop sends a ripple through a calm pool of water, Franklin's message spread through the team as they trickled into the media room to meet with reporters.
"We have to get back to who we are, what got us to this point," running back Saquon Barkley said. "What got us to this point is playing together, playing as family. When we're 2-2 last year, we weren't even talked about, we're getting talked a lot now. We have to find a way to get back to, who we really are."
Barkley and even a few other Nittany Lions couldn't quite put their finger on it postgame though, with a good week of practice building confidence headed into the final game of a challenging middle part of the Big Ten slate.
"At the end of the day it's football, you have to give credit where credit is due, Michigan State is a great team and have the chance a great chance to finish out the season strong too," Barkley said. "We have to focus on Penn State football, both offensively and defensively and get it right, getting back to our standard and mentality."
As Franklin noted, that means turning the focus entirely toward a 1-0 week, tuning out anything and everything that might pop up along the way.
"If you focus on being 1-0 and you achieve that each week, everything else will take care of itself," Franklin said.
Even quarterback Trace McSorley noted that honing in on the focus and getting into the submarine is not as easy as clicking off the remote or tapping uninstall on a few apps.
"It's something that I kind of think maturity on our team is going to kind of show," McSorley said. "We need to be mature enough to handle that. It's impossible to completely tune it all out and not to see any of it. You have to be mature enough to know that it doesn't really matter, all that matters is the product on the field."
For McSorley, even coming off his second-highest passing yardage total, wasn't enough for him to take his mind of the stinging feeling.
With 381 yards through the air and three touchdown passes, McSorley moved to the top of the record book with 51 career passing touchdowns. He tied the record in the first quarter, finishing off Penn State's longest scoring drive of the season (92 yards) with a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton.
Among his top receivers, Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins both registered 100-yard receiving games with a touchdown catch each.
Since Penn State and Michigan State started playing for the Land Grant Trophy in 1993, there have only been two other games featuring a pair of 100-yard receivers (2008, 1994).
Thompkins and Hamilton combined for seven receptions for at least 10 yards, including Thompkins' career-long 70-yard scoring grab on the final play of the third quarter.
While Penn State won the explosive plays battle 14-13, even as Franklin said postgame though, it still wasn't enough to make up for costly turnovers.
"We lost the turnover battle, we lost the field position battle, explosive plays were a wash, so that's the story of the game," Franklin said. "It's pretty much that simple."
With just a few hours remaining in Sunday's usual practice day to re-examine and make corrections, it's clear Franklin's message has been received.
"These past two weeks, I'd be lying if I said they do don't sting, they don't hurt," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "I think it's a reality check for us. It's a wakeup call for us. If we're the team that we say we want to be and if we're the team that we say we are, then we're going to bounce back from it."
Defense: Chavis, Haley
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