UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Head coach James Franklin talked with the media for the final time on a game week
in 2015 when he addressed questions on Tuesday afternoon to preview Penn
State's trip to No. 6 Michigan State.
The Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) will meet the Spartans (10-1, 6-1) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. inside Spartan Stadium. Franklin reviewed Penn State's game against Michigan and looked ahead to the regular season finale against Michigan State inside the Beaver Stadium media room.
Penn State kicked off the final week of the regular season with a good practice on Sunday afternoon. The team participated in community service efforts on Monday in advance of Tuesday's practice, and all eyes are looking ahead. There were lessons to be learned from the Michigan game, but Coach Franklin and the team are excited about what is coming this week.
"Michigan State is an experienced football team, a talented football team, so it should be a tremendous challenge," said Franklin. "But I know our guys are fired up about it. We've got a great opportunity on Saturday. There will be no way to send these seniors out better than to find a way to get a win on Saturday and go into the postseason with a lot of momentum, so looking forward to the opportunity."
Moving into the final week of preparations for the regular season, Coach Franklin wants to see more physicality out of the Nittany Lion offensive line and tight ends. The games where the Lions have been successful on offense this season are the ones where the Blue and White has set the tone up front.
"We had our opportunities, didn't take advantage of it (against Michigan)," said Franklin. "I think the things that jumped out to me and probably to everybody else, we need to be much more physical on the O-line and at tight end. There was times where we did not win those match-ups, too many times that we were getting knocked back in the backfield and made it difficult to consistently run the ball for positive yardage."
Coach Franklin's point gets magnified in the red zone when physical play in the trenches is essential to score touchdowns. Penn State has been one of the best teams in the conference all season long in converting red zone visits into points (92 percent). But to beat teams like Michigan or Michigan State, the Lions know they need to put touchdowns on the board.
Penn State has scored 20 touchdowns and 15 field goals in 38 red zone visits this season.
"When you get down there, you need to make the most of your opportunities," said quarterback Christian Hackenberg. "You don't beat good teams by kicking field goals (in the red zone)."
Much has been talked about the magnitude of Saturday's game for Michigan State. Simply put, the Spartans will play in the Big Ten Championship Game with a win over the Nittany Lions. Franklin noted on Tuesday that the Lions have plenty on the line Saturday, as well.
"We've got a chance to win eight games in the regular season," said Franklin. "We've got a chance to go into a bowl. We've got a chance to continue to do special things on the field and continue to build our program and our culture and the things that we're doing, so we're playing for a lot. Trust me, we're playing for a lot."
The Michigan State game marks Penn State's third contest against teams ranked in the nation's top 12.
The Nittany Lions will practice in shells on Tuesday and Wednesday before the final game week session on Thanksgiving Day. Saturday's game inside Spartan Stadium will kick at 3:30 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN.
Press Conference Notes:
- The Nittany Lions used their off day on Monday to participate in community service at The Village where approximately 45 members of the team spent time with the elderly during lunch hour. Additionally, the team went bowling on Monday afternoon.
- Coach Franklin on defensive tackle Austin Johnson's leadership...
"Austin is a guy that's very well-respected. He's graduating. He's doing it in the classroom. He's been a great teammate. You know, he's been very, very productive on the field, so yeah, I wouldn't say he's really outspoken, but there's times where he does speak up. He's also a guy that I see in our offices all the time. He's always up kind of watching film and hanging out with the coach. He's got a great relationship with Coach Spencer."
- Coach Franklin on the Michigan State defensive line...
"They're big and physical and long on the defensive line. At linebacker they're very, very productive, and in the secondary they are athletic and long, as well. I mean, that's kind of their model. It's like their whole defense is six-foot or taller, and they challenge you. They challenge every yard. They challenge every route. They're going to be in your face with press coverage on the perimeter, no gimme throws, no easy throws, and then they're going to use their safeties. They're going to get very involved in the run game, which puts their corners in some challenging positions at times, but their philosophy is they're going to get to you before you can get the ball out, and that philosophy has worked very well for them for the last couple years, and that's exactly what showed up again on Saturday."
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