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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the non-conference slate wrapped up, Penn State hits the road this week traveling to No. 4/5 Michigan.
The Nittany Lions (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) head to Michigan (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) for a challenging Big Ten conference opener as the Wolverines prepare host Penn State in their fourth of five consecutive home outings in Michigan Stadium.
Quarterback Trace McSorley continues to leads the newly installed Penn State offense, ranked first in the Big Ten in passing yards and 20th nationally in the FBS standings.
"I feel like the offense in general is really comfortable with running the new system with coach Moorhead and going through three games now we have a really good feel for the offense and how a game week goes from Monday to Saturday," McSorley said.
Among a host of offensive options that have continued to emerge throughout the season, McSorley found Chris Godwin for 117 yards on seven receptions against Temple. Godwin's 6.0 completions per game is also among the best in the Big Ten at sixth in the standings. DaeSean Hamilton joins Godwin highlighting the Penn State passing game as the duo has combined for more than 50 percent of the Nittany Lions' completions this year. Add in running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Mike Gesicki, who each accounted for a pair of plays measuring at least 52 yards against Temple.
The Nittany Lion offense will have to find a way to execute against a Michigan defense that's currently leading the FBS in third down conversion and red zone defense, while also ranked second in tackles for loss. Led by do-it-all Jabrill Peppers, the junior leads the team in tackles (28), sacks (2.5), tackles for loss (9.5) and is also leading the nation in punt retuning with 173 yards.
Offensively, the Wolverines are fourth nationally averaging 53 points per game, guided by quarterback Wilton Speight. His targets include a combination of quick wide outs in Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh along with tight end Jake Butt. Between the three, combo is responsible for seven touchdowns on the year, with all three averaging at least 42 yards per game.
"They're just a big, strong, physical, mature team, and then they do have some speed aspects," Franklin said. "Jabrill does that for them on defense, special teams and offense. Their receivers do that as well as their tight end, (Jake) Butt. So it's a challenge, there's no doubt about it."
Penn State will look to new faces to lead the defensive effort this week, with injuries impacting the linebacker unit.
"We've adapted to the situation fairly well," linebacker Jake Cooper said. "I know that there's injuries around and it's the next man up mentality and we've taken each other under our own wings and we've taken each other accountable for our own positions and we're growing together as a unit. We're highly supportive of each other, we're a very enthusiastic group and I think that we're going to get the job done."
Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Tim Banks stressed earlier this week that the Nittany Lions would have to trust their keys on defense to shut down down a dynamic Michigan offense that presents threats in both the pass and the run game.
"If you trust your key 99 percent of the time you'll be right," Banks said. "For the most part our keys are our keys and it's up to us to be extremely disciplined in reading them and then reacting to them."
Led by second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, Michigan will square off against Penn State for the 20th time in program history. The Wolverines have not dipped below the Top 10 in the rankings this year, completing their non-conference schedule with wins against Hawaii (63-3), Central Florida (51-14) and Colorado (45-28).
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on ABC with Dave Fleming (pxp) and Brian Griese (analyst) and Todd McShay (sideline) on the call.
What To Watch For -
1. Penn State has continued to embrace the 'next man up' mentality, truly demonstrated last week by junior Brandon Smith, who stepped in at middle linebacker and finished off the day with a career-high eight tackles and a half of a tackle for loss. Smith will look to continue growing the unit, not only through leadership but effective communication, having confidently called the defense in the win against Temple.
2. James Franklin has stressed ball security throughout the season, as the Nittany Lions have struggled at times to keep the ball off the ground. Quarterback Trace McSorley noted earlier this week that although there have been issues, each has been correctable. McSorley said that specifically from the quarterback position, the key this week would be making the correct reads and taking time to be accurate with each throw.
3. Cornerback John Reid has not been under the radar on punt returns in the last few games, as his 8.8 yards per game ranks fourth in the Big Ten standings. Reid highlighted the Pitt game with his second career fumble recovery, while also registering a 59-yard punt return in the first quarter. He followed that performance with his first interception of the season against Temple to lock up a 34-27 Penn state victory.
1. Having made his first career start against Hawaii, Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight is averaging 228.7 yards per game with a 63.8 completion percentage on the year. Speight's best performance in the non-conference slate was in a win over UCF with 312 yards, completing 25-of-37 passes, adding four touchdowns for an all-around career-high effort. Speight sat out during the 2014 season before playing in seven games during the 2015 season.
2. James Franklin was quick to point out that Michigan would enter Saturday's matchup looking to establish their run game, mainly with a big, physical and experienced offensive line.
"They want to establish the run with their offensive line," Franklin said earlier this week. "They want to run the ball. They want to play-action pass. They're obviously averaging a bunch of points a game."
3. All-American tight end Jake Butt has caught at least one pass in each of the last 19 games heading into Saturday's matchup. As Michigan's second-leading active career receiver with 107 receptions for 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns, Butt is coming off back-to-back games with a team-high seven catches for at least 86 yards against UCF and Colorado.
Final Word -
Penn State and Michigan are each among the most storied programs in collegiate football. Both programs are among the Top 10 in NCAA history in winning percentage in total victories. Michigan and Penn State also share some of the largest venues nationally, with both stadium capacities stretching beyond 100,000.
The Nittany Lions will open the Big Ten schedule at Michigan for the first time since 2007. Opening the 24th season of conference play, Penn State is 11-12 in openers, since defeating Rutgers, 28-3 in last year's opener. Penn State is 7-7 when beginning conference play on the road.
On the assessment of
a dynamic Michigan offense ...
Banks: I think just the overall perimeter speed and athleticism. It starts with Jake Butt, obviously an All-American type player, and he has shown it throughout the first couple of games. That will be the biggest challenge, having the ability to defend him at in the zone and defend him in some man situations. He's a big strong kid who runs routes very similar to a wide receiver. He's definitely a big threat that will have our antennas up.
Can you speak to the
challenge that the safeties face Saturday in balancing and defending the run
and the pass?
Banks: It's always a challenge. We have to be really disciplined with our eye, concentration and reading our keys and reacting accordingly. They make it difficult on you. They do a lot of things well in terms of how they run the ball and how again, as I mentioned earlier, getting Butt involved in the pro-game. We'll have our work cut out for us. It's definitely a balancing act and we have some things in our arsenal to be able to hopefully help our safeties with some eye discipline, putting them in some spots that we feel will make them even more effective.
Could you take us a
little more in depth into the decision to move Koa Farmer to linebacker and as
someone who has coached him, what kind of skills does he bring to the table?
Banks: The decision, just like every decision, was just in the best interest of our team and our defense as a whole. We're trying to get our best 11 out there in situations where they can help the team, being the quickest and the most efficient and he was definitely someone we felt brought value in that regard. He's also a kid who has played some linebacker in the past. We have some packages where he slid into that position and during certain situations in some of the earlier games, so it was really a smooth transition in that regard.
As far as what he brings to the table, he's a really strong kid. He was actually a big safety. He's anywhere from around 215 to 220, but still obviously one of those fits extremely well at that size so hopefully he'll bring us some added speed and definitely a kid who is happy to be able to get some more playing time and help this defense and this team in any way possible.
From the coach's perspective,
what do you see in Michigan's Jabril Peppers and what makes him so special?
Banks: Just super competitive, that's the first thing that jumps out to me. The way he goes about his business, whether it's kick return or whether I see him running the ball on offense or on the few snaps that I've seen maybe on TV with him playing on defense - just ultra competitive. Obviously his skill set speaks for itself, but just all the things they have asked him to be able to do to help their team. He just seems to be ultra competitive and you love to have those kids. It will be a challenge defending him when he comes out there on offense and we'll have our hands full, even on special teams.
As a Michigan native
and then playing later at Central Michigan, what did you think of the Michigan
program? Were you ever a fan and what was it like growing up there?
Banks: I don't think you can live in the state of Michigan without being affected by their brand and just their overall tradition. I've had numerous cousins and relatives who have graduated from there and I'm very, very familiar with the tradition. It's great and any time we get the chance to go there and compete against them, you know you're on the same field with a lot of great players who have come and having the chance to compete in that area is always exciting. I'm looking forward to the challenge, I really am. There will be a lot of fans there, they have a big stadium as we do and we're just looking forward it. For me personally, being back home and having the chance to to compete against a storied program.
How are some of your redshirt
freshman doing, like Jarvis Miller, Johnny Petrishen and Ayron Monroe?
Banks: They are coming along, I'm super excited about the direction they are headed. They're big strong safeties who I think, in the future, will actually be exactly what we were looking for in the recruiting process. Jarvis Miller is doing a good job on special teams for us right now. He made a couple of tackles and is going hard. I think they're coming well. Ayron Monroe is practicing well and we expect to see some really good dividends out of him. JP is going to develop so we're really pleased with where they are now and the direction those guys are headed.
Can you talk a little
bit about, you mentioned the strong safeties, being so big and strong - are they
the type of guys who could possibly grow into linebackers at some point?
Banks: We have some big safeties. Obviously, Marcus Allen is a bigger safety and I mentioned Jarvis Miller earlier. We like to keep them at safety if we can, we like big size and pick fast guys if they can run, but again, we're going to do what's best for our team and what's best for our defense. So at some point if Coach Franklin or Coach Pry thinks that the best thing to do is to move some guys around to bring more value to our team, I'm definitely open to it and I'm sure those guys will be as well. We talk a lot about doing what's best for our family and understanding what your roles are and I think our kids have embraced that. Right now as it relates, we don't see any of those moves on the horizon.
How would you
evaluate Malik Golden and his play so far this season?
Banks: I think he's playing well. I think he has gotten better each day and as I stated earlier, I think he has gotten better. I think he'll be the first to tell you that he's playing at a more consistent rate, even from what he played last year. So I'm pleased, I really am. We ask a lot of our safeties in terms of communicating not only to the corner, but communicating to the linebackers and he's done a marvelous job of quarterbacking our defense.
I'm wondering if
Marcus Allen is one of the more unique personalities that you've ever been
around as a coach?
Banks: Yes, he's fun to be around. He loves to play the game and the way he practices is exactly how he plays the game on Saturdays. Just having fun, flying around, always laughing - he's great. He's a pleasure to be around and you love guys that not only do they play hard on Saturday's but they play hard during the week of practice and that becomes contagious to the rest of the guys, particularly if you have a young group.
Mike Gesicki said
yesterday that Nick Scott was someone who kind of pumped him up, helping him
play his best and has been someone has helped him be his 'Best Mike.'
Banks: He is an energizer bunny. He's always up, he's always smiling and when you step between those lines he has great energy and great juice. On our special teams, he's always the first one down and he takes a lot of pride in his role on the team. He's a guy who went from running back to corner to safety and we feel like he has found a home at safety but just his overall energy that he brings, as I mentioned with Marcus, it just becomes contagious. He's great. That doesn't surprise me. I had not heard that, but it doesn't surprise me that he's that type of young man.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football head coach James Franklin addressed the media Tuesday afternoon to preview the Nittany Lion Big Ten opener on the road at Michigan.
Penn State (2-1, 0-0) and No. 4/5 Michigan (3-0, 0-0) will both open their respective Big Ten conference slates Saturday at Michigan Stadium. The Nittany Lions and the Wolverines are set to meet for the 20th time in program history, with Penn State opening conference play at Michigan for the first time since 2007.
The Nittany Lions also enter their first season in a nine-game Big Ten schedule format after the conference announced in July 2013 that Penn State would play the six teams East Divisional opponents (Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Rutgers), in addition to three other West Division teams in 2016. The last time the Big Ten played a nine-game conference schedule was 1984.
As every week, Franklin opened his press conference with a review of the Temple game before switching gears to Michigan. Franklin recapped with positive emphasis on continuing to create explosive plays offensively.
The Nittany Lions look to build on last week's effort, which featured three long yardage plays for at least 50 yards. Quarterback Trace McSorley logged two 52-yard completions, with wide receiver Chris Godwin grabbing the first reception to open scoring and tight end Mike Gesicki making the catch with one hand to put Penn State in scoring position the second half. Running back Saquon Barkley also helped widen a three-point Penn State advantage to 10 with a 55-yard scoring haul in the fourth quarter.
Franklin also had positive things to say about the depth and talent running back with Miles Sanders, Andre Robinson and Mark Allen all getting more opportunities against Temple following a short departure from Barkley during the game. Describing a strong, powerful and consistent effort from Robinson, Franklin also highlighted the quickness in Allen's game, which gave him the ability to leave defenders grabbing at nothing.
"I think you're going to see a series or half where you'll get those guys in," Franklin said. "And typically what we've been doing say the first drive, Saquon's in there, and he's tapping for Andre in the first drive. So now the second drive when he taps, he's tapping for Miles or Mark or whatever it may be."
Defensively, Franklin was quick to point out the leadership and confidence showcased by linebacker Brandon Smith, who totaled a career-high eight tackles and a half a tackle for loss in the win against Temple. With injuries providing opportunities for younger players to step up, Smith isn't the only Nittany Lion who has been directly impacted by the next man up mentality.
Franklin also noted that this week he has safety Koa Farmer listed at sam linebacker behind Manny Bowen, who Franklin also said could be potentially moved around a little bit too.
"It's a transition that we think is going to happen," Franklin said. "[Farmer] did it a little bit since he's been here. He was predominantly an offensive player in high school. We think his best position long-term is an outside linebacker."
Focus areas for the week continue to be similar to last week in terms of ball security and gap accountability. Those areas improve though by continuing to stress ball security fundaments and building confidence among some of the younger Nittany Lions.
"If you can find a way to protect the ball on the offense and create turnovers on defense, that is a huge momentum swinger in the game and creates more opportunities," Franklin said. "Same thing, if you look statistically at giving up big plays on special teams, blocked punts and things like that, it's hard to win if you do those things, so eliminating those things."
Penn State is 11-12 all-time in Big Ten openers and 7-7 when beginning the conference schedule on the road. Saturday's opener is set to kick at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.
On The Quote Board -
- Among those injuries at linebacker, Franklin noted that Wartman-White would also miss the remainder of the season due to an injury he sustained against Temple. Wartman-White was among the top five on the team with 14 tackles in three games, including 3.5 tackles for loss and a half a sack.
"I feel for Nyeem because he's had two years in a row now where he's missed the season and has worked really, really hard and has had an unbelievable attitude from a leadership standpoint as well.
- With the offensive line starting to come together as a unit, Derek Dowrey mentioned that the line will never be a finished project. Dowrey also commented on the progress the unit has made as a unit.
"I think it's just time playing together. A lot of us have been through this the last couple of years and I think we've been getting better steadily, but I think now it's starting to show on the field a little bit more."
- Brandon Smith never gets angry and he's never been to Michigan Stadium before, but he's no stranger to a hostile environment.
"I've gone to some away games that were pretty hostile," Smith said. "I think it just gets the guys even more excited sometimes when people are jeering you and mocking you and all sorts of things. You know, you can either get distracted by it or it can increase your intensity and your focus."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Penn State has showcased some serious depth at the wide receiver position
this season, with five different receivers combining for 10-of-14 long yardage
pass plays on the year.
Last week, it was junior Chris Godwin's turn as he stepped up to lead the Nittany Lions with seven catches for 117 yards, notching his seventh career 100-yard receiving game.
Godwin highlighted the Temple game with a 52-yard grab in the first quarter to put Penn State on the board early, finishing with three of his seven receptions for at least 16 yards. His seven catches also moved him to 10th all-time on the Penn State career receptions list (112).
Godwin enters the week leading the team with 73.3 yards receiving per game, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten standings. Averaging 6.0 receptions on the year, he's also ranked second in the conference and 30th nationally among DI FBS programs.
Heading into the 2016 campaign, expectations were high for the 1,000-yard receiver, who was named to both the Maxwell Award and Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch Lists prior to the start of the season.
Godwin had been relatively quiet in the first two games totaling 11 catches for 113 yards. Despite opening the year with a 26-yard reception in the first quarter against Kent State to put the Nittany Lions in position for their first touchdown of the year, Godwin is simply among a deep group of talented options.
Last week, wide receivers coach Josh Gattis acknowledged that dealing with six or seven offensive possibilities has meant that he's asked the team to be unselfish in how they approach a newly installed offensive scheme.
A selfless mentality just makes it all the more exciting when No. 12 is called though.
"Anytime you can get in the end zone is a blessing," Godwin said following his team-high performance against Temple. "Just the fact that it was my time was a great feeling. With the offense that we have, anyone can score at any given moment. It's just a matter of being patient, working on technique and waiting for your turn."
Head coach James Franklin noted that he was pleased to see different faces making contributions last week. With injuries taking their toll, Penn State saw career-high efforts from linebackers Brandon Smith (eight tackles, 0.5 TFL) and Manny Bowen, who collected his first career sack in the second quarter. Other new faces included defensive end Torrence Brown, who earned his first career start against the Owls and combined with defensive tackle Robert Windsor for a sack in the fourth quarter.
Penn State place kicker Tyler Davis has not missed either a field goal attempt or a PAT kick this year, extending his career combined total (field goals and PATs) to 35-for-35. Having made two field goals in the win against Temple, Davis is among 18 DI FBS players to have a perfect 1.000 percentage on the year. Davis, who did not play a single snap of football during his high school career, took over place kicking responsibilities late last year.
A few notes on
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh mentioned earlier this afternoon that Penn State's offense presented an opportunity to change things up, specifically noting that the Nittany Lions have both a very good quarterback and a very good running back.
There's really no question as to who his was referring to, as quarterback Trace McSorley enters the week leading the Big Ten in passing yards. Running back Saquon Barkley also ranks first in the conference in scoring (14.0), having secured the win against the Owls with a career-long 55-yard scoring run.
At 3-0 on the year, Michigan enters the first week of Big Ten play ranked fourth in the AP poll and fifth in the coaches' edition. Among leaders for the Wolverines, Jabril Peppers stands out, having earned Big Ten Special Teams and Co-Defensive Player of the Week awards this week.
"There's not another player like him - I know there's never been another player like him that I've coached," Harbaugh said. "The unique thing about him is all the positions that he can play, if you start counting them it would be safety, corner, nickel, outside linebacker, flat receiver, wildcat quarterback, running back, kick returner, punt returner, hold up - that's 11 or 12 right there and I know there's others he could do and do well."
Penn State travels to Michigan to take on the Wolverines Saturday, Sept. 24 at 3:30 p.m. live on ABC.
By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Postgame media sessions at Beaver Stadium typically hum along with questions from the flurry of individual interviews prompting familiar names like Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkey and Chris Godwin. This week, a new name emerged from the Beaver Stadium media room following Penn State's 34-27 win against Temple.
Just a little more than an hour drive from Beaver Stadium, a standout linebacker and running back from Lewisburg Area High School turned away offers from prestigious institutions like Penn and Princeton to pursue his Penn State Football dream.
Before Saturday, Smith's career stat line included appearances in five games, three contests in 2015, including one tackle against Illinois. Smith did not see any playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and was a member of the scout team as a walk-on true freshman in 2013. On pace to graduate in December, the kinesiology major and Dean's List student currently carries a 3.77 cumulative GPA.
Saturday afternoon, nearly every player in the media room, including head coach James Franklin, had something to say about the bold and brave performance from the Penn State walk-on from Winfield, Pennsylvania, who had just recently earned a scholarship.
In front of more than 100,000 fans in the "Stripe Out" crowd at Beaver Stadium, he stepped in the game at middle linebacker for starter Nyeem-Wartman White, who departed the game in the first half with an injury.
"Coach told me to be ready to play," Smith said.
Smith embraced every sense of the familiar "next man up" phrase he had surely heard all week, with the Nittany Lions already dealing with the loss of starting linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell to injury.
Still, he rose to the occasion, stopping Temple running back Jahad Thomas, a 1,000-yard rusher, midway through the second quarter to match his career-high one tackle mark. Smith wasn't done though, as he registered seven more tackles in the second half, pairing up with Torrence Brown for his first tackle for loss, bringing down Temple quarterback Phillip Walker for a 1-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
"I thought it might be for a couple of series to give Nyeem Wartman-White a break," Smith said. "I didn't really know what to expect but I was preparing mentally and physically for the game because you never know what's going to happen and you have to be ready when your number is called."
When No. 47 was called, Smith made the most of the big opportunity he'd been preparing for his entire career, delivering and communicating calls without missing a beat, despite having little to no experience in practice with the first team.
"Brandon comes to work every single day," defensive tackle Parker Cothren said. "He's a guy that I've always looked up to and tried to follow because his work ethic is unbelievable. He's always ready to go. His number got called today and he came out and had a great game."
Franklin awarded Smith one more opportunity postgame, letting him break the team down at the end of the Nittany Lion locker room talk.
Smith's focus was family.
"There's nothing like being a part of a football team," Smith said. "We spend all our time together and I broke it down on family tonight, because that's the way I feel about these guys and we feel about each other. We're here together, we spend about 345 days out of the year together and it's just been an awesome experience."
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