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Penn State Football
Weekly Press Conference – James Franklin
September 19, 2017
James Franklin | Head Coach
First of all, I really appreciate everybody being here. We were able to go 1-0 last week which is our goal every single week. We started out the season with a win against Akron, then [got a win against] Pittsburgh, then a win versus Georgia State. We feel fortunate that we were able to find a way to be successful each week and are excited about that.
Let me talk right now and get it out of the way so we can move on from “field goal gate” or “time out gate” or whatever you guys want to call it. You know how that whole thing played out, so to be very clear: I was not icing anyone. I want to be as clear as I possibly can be.
We had mostly our fourth team defense, some threes, on the field. We have never -- I've been doing this 23 years; we've never worked a fourth team field goal block. I'm on the headset and our defensive coaches are talking about how those guys won't even know how to line up. I'm shaking my head and the recommendation was to get the second team in there. I call the time out and we are able to get the second team on the field, and from that point on, we're going to go block the kick.
You know, Kris has sent me some things people said that when the score is 56-0; that we should just stand there and let someone kick it through the up rights.
If that's how you think and how you feel, then you won't ever understand me and you won't ever understand us. Whether it's the first play of the game or the last play of the game, if we’re losing or winning, if it's raining or it's sunny, we are going to fight for every inch and every yard on the field and for every second on the clock.
We have a standard of how we do things. So if people don't think that we should go block the kick at the end of the game because of the score, then you probably won't understand us. We have a standard of how we do things and I want our guys to do that on the football field and I want them to do that in life. If you have a bad day, you've still got to go to work in the morning. When something bad happens at work, you've still got to come home and be a great father and a great husband. The situation or the elements, should not affect our standard and how we do things.
It's their job to try to score; it's our job to try to keep them out of the end zone. It's not a whole lot more than that. This has become a thing. But that's really what it is. We have a standard of how we do things. It will be that way today and it will be that way as long as I'm here.
A few things about Georgia State. Trace McSorley was our Player of the Week on offense...Defensively, Marcus Allen was our Player of the Week and on special teams we went with both Tyler Davis and Blake Gillikin. We think we're kicking the ball really well right now and doing some good things on special teams. I'd make the argument that that's the area where we are most improved and has had a big impact on our season, so far.
In general, we were able to play a lot of guys. We played 78 players in the game. Our kickoff team has been excellent all year long. It's fun to watch. I think when you kick off as many times as we did on Saturday and can watch the sixth kickoff and see the guys are still full speed, flying down the field, that is a great way to evaluate.
I remember when I was a young coach listening to some old ball coaches who’d been doing it a long time, they said one of the great ways to tell what type of team you have is to watch the fifth or sixth field goal block -- or PAT and see if your team still going as hard on the sixth PAT field goal block as they are earlier in the game. That's a great sign of the type of team you have, and I think the same thing shows up on kickoff.
Brandon Polk, we are very pleased with his overall development and how he's playing right now: his enthusiasm for his teammates and the effort he's playing with. If you watched that play with Saquon Barkley, we all know how fast Saquon is. Watch Brandon Polk, he's on the opposite side of the field, he sprints down, catches Saquon and gets in front of a defender, and then goes into the end zone and celebrates, and he's as happy as or happier than Saquon is. I'm very pleased with him.
Offensively, one of our issues last year was starting out slow. We've been able to be better in that area. We're still very explosive. Defensively, we're giving up some yards but I think we're playing really good defense. We're getting turnovers and keeping people out of the end zone.
On special teams, I just think we have been fantastic. Our coverage units and our drive start differential from our offense compared to our opponent's offense has been a dramatic factor in games. Pleased with what's going on.
To move on to Iowa, we obviously have tremendous respect for their program. When you look at Coach Ferentz their record against Top-10 opponents at home, especially playing at night, you know this is going to be a challenge.
I've never been there. I want to educate our players. I want to educate myself on what to expect. I've talked to a lot of people. I've called a lot of people. I've asked a lot of questions. That place is going to be rocking Saturday night. Their sidelines are very tight. Their fans are going to be right up against you. We want to get our players prepared for that.
We've got to get ready for the noise. You know, we'll be trying to replicate their band and whatever songs they play in the stadium and try to get our guys ready for that for our first road game this year.
Obviously one of the kind of cooler, historical things in college football from a tradition standpoint is their pink locker room. I think it's awesome. I'm not going to make a big deal out of it with our guys. I'm actually going to talk to our guys about it being a really, really nice gesture by the University of Iowa to welcome Penn State, since our original school colors are pink and black, and how wonderful it is and what a wonderful gesture it is that they painted their locker room pink for us.
I'm not going to make a big deal out of it. I'm going to say it that way; have fun with it, and then just kind of move on.
Coach Ferentz, during his tenure, has one of the more consistent teams in all of college football. You look at what they have been able to do not only against Penn State in our last 10 games but also against ranked opponents. You're talking about a blue collar team that takes a lot of pride in their fundamentals, their techniques, being sound and playing hard. Really, in some ways, similar to our history and our traditions.
You think about last year and after they came and played here, the next week was a night game. I remember watching it last year and they upset over Michigan, who I think was No. 5 at that point. It's going to be a tremendous challenge, there's no doubt about it, and we're looking forward to it.
After the game Saturday, you mentioned you had some concerns about your run defense. I know the last two opponents have run for 150 yards against you. Will Iowa provide even a sterner test for that run defense this week?
JF: After going back and watching the tape, I would love to see us give up a fewer yards but most importantly, we're getting turnovers and keeping people out of the end zone.
I think [running the football] is what Iowa prides themselves on and being really physical up front. Coach Ferentz is one of the more well respected line coaches in the country from his NFL time, and his teams have always been great up front.
So yeah, it's going to be a challenge. They are a big tight end team. They have got one of the better running backs in the country, a young man out of New Jersey. So it's going to be a challenge, there's no doubt.
It's a little bit different. You're not facing a team that's a spread team or an RPO team. They are more of a traditional offense, like a Michigan, like a Michigan State, like a Stanford. Iowa is going to get up and they are going to line up and they are going to try to pound you from multiple personnel groups.
They are probably -- with Brian Ferentz now being the offensive coordinator, they are probably a little bit more multiple when it comes to motions and shifts, but they are going to try to run the inside zone on you. If they feel like they have got leverage, they are going to try to run the stretch play on you and get on the edge and cover guys up, and the back is patient enough to find a seam and then hit it. We've all seen that he's a playmaker, and they have a big, strong-armed quarterback that they are able to take advantage of off the play-action pass.
It's going to be a real challenge for our defense. I don't think there's any doubt about that.
You didn't have Amani Oruwariye at corner against Georgia State and I wanted to get your thoughts on your two freshman corners, Tariq Castro-Fields and Lamont Wade: not only how they played last Saturday but just your thoughts on what they have shown early in their careers.
JF: I think we've been able to get to know Lamont over a longer period of time in terms of being on our campus and in our program with him graduating [high school] early and being here for spring ball. There's been an excitement and a buzz about him, not only through the recruiting process but when he got on campus and backed it up.
So we're excited about him. I think his role will continue to grow as the season goes on. He's a confident guy. He's a mature guy. He's a playmaker. But he's learning every single day at practice and he's learning every game, and I think Tariq is the same way.
Tariq showed up here in more of a traditional sense in the summer, taking summer classes, and then in camp. It was pretty obvious early on that Tariq was a long kid who can run and has good ball skills. He is mature and is intelligent, so it was obvious that he wanted to play and was willing to do the things necessary to play.
We're excited [about that position on our team]. Zech McPherson is another guy. We've got a bunch of guys that are young that we're excited about are playing and playing well for us. I expect as the year goes on that those guys continue to play more and have larger impacts.
Late in last year's Iowa game, people got a preview of what you could do with Trace and Tommy on the field at the same time. How much would you say that package has grown or evolved in the past year, and how much pressure can that put on a defense with both of them out there?
JF: I think it does a number of things. It allows us to get another guy involved in our game plan. It allows us to get Tommy game experience and get him on the field, which is always a challenging thing to do at the quarterback position; get guys meaningful reps without throwing off the flow of your offense. It also puts another weapon on the field. He's a big, strong, fast guy, and defenses have to be concerned about him throwing the ball, as well.
It makes a defense tentative when you have a quarterback like that carrying the ball. You have to have in the back of your mind that this guy could throw it at any moment, which is going to make you a little bit tentative in terms of how hard you run support.
It's a nice package. It's something that we have been messing around with for a while now, and we've got a bunch of accumulated reps in practice. Now being able to use it in a game, we've got a lot of different ways and a lot of different things that we can do and that we've done in practice.
I think this package will continue to evolve. What's nice about (Tommy) is he can play like a receiver, he can play like a running back, he can play like a quarterback and we've used him in almost all of those ways.
I don't think there's any doubt that it creates stress on a defense.
You addressed this earlier about the pink locker rooms at Iowa. I wanted to ask you from your degree in psychology perspective, what effect does something like that have on a football team, if any?
JF: I think it's awesome. I do. We just got done painting our house. My daughter, Shola, went with a teal blue. And my youngest daughter, Addison, went with pink. It looks great in my daughter, Addison’s bedroom, and I think it's probably going to look cool in their locker room.
How would you compare your offensive line and how they are performing now compared to the second half of last year? There seem to be some struggles in the run game, but what's your take?
JF: I think that's fair. I think not having [Brendan] Mahon last week caused some challenges for us. On top of that, we moved [Steven] Gonzalez over to the opposite guard, and I think that affected him a little bit.
So we weren't as clean as we've been. Having Mahon back [this week] I think will be really helpful. Then let's be honest, everybody's going into the game with a defensive model to say we are not going to allow Saquon Barkley to run the ball and beat us.
I think we've been creative enough to get him the ball in different ways, and he's been impactful that way, but I don't think there's any doubt that we have to get better at consistently running the ball between the tackles, and I think having Mahon back, who is such an experienced player and such a strong, physical guy; that we feel good about what we're going to do.
I think that's fair. I think that's an area we need to improve on offense; that, and third down.
Your Big Ten opener last year was on the road at Michigan and didn't go too well. I just wondered, are there any lessons learned in that game that you can apply for this year's opener at Iowa?
JF: I think as you guys know, each season stands alone. Each game stands alone. We're going to do everything we possibly can to prepare and show our guys what it's like to go on the road.
But we've got a much older and more mature team right now that has played a bunch of games on the road in Big Ten venues. So I think we'll be more prepared from an experience standpoint.
But yeah, there's no doubt about it; that obviously we have learned based on a lot of different past experiences.
Yetur Gross-Matos is a guy who got a lot of snaps on Saturday. I remember a couple weeks ago that you said that he has a great motor, great talent, but doesn't really understand what he's doing yet. Is getting him so much work Saturday a reflection that he's starting to figure it out or is that a reflection that you're trying to get him work so that he can figure it out?
JF: It is probably a combination of both. We're trying to speed up his maturation process as much as we possibly can.
As you can imagine, you're playing big-time college football; the speed of the game, the size, the strength, all of the different subtle adjustments that he needs to make on how he takes a block on, whether he's wrong-shouldering it, whether he's hard-joining it; whatever we're asking him to do, the details are so important.
The details are going to determine whether it's a tackle for a loss or whether you give up an explosive run. A guy doesn't hit his gap correctly; you've got a defensive end who is long-sticking from the defensive end spot down to the A-gap, and he doesn't get there...he doesn't squeeze the offensive lineman into his gap and all of a sudden you get creased for 30 yards.
It's just understanding some things you can get away with in high school that you can't get away with in college. He's a great kid, he's a smart kid and he's going to be a really good football player and we are just trying to speed his maturation process up as much as we possibly can.
It was cool. We had a bunch of guys get in there and play well. It's nice, because you watch scout team and there's guys showing up, and then some of those scout team guys were able to get in the game and play really well and make an argument for themselves. We've got some young guys that we're excited about and he's definitely one of those guys.
How would you quantify progress in the running game? Is it something you see? Is it an eye test thing? Or is there a statistic you look at?
JF: It's probably a combination of both, but I also think the eye test is important. If you look at what people are doing to defend us with the number of guys in the box.
Last week, people basically aggressively run-fitting us, not allowing us to stay on the double team and running the linebackers through the A- or B-gaps, and you've got Will Fries starting at guard for the first time. As coaches, we're telling him to get as much movement on the double team as you possibly can up to the linebacker. Well, as he's trying to do that, the linebacker is screaming through the hole and coming clean.
So it's a process. I think obviously when you have moving parts and you have a guy starting for the first time, there will be some growing pains that you're going to have.
I also think it's a factor that people go into games just like we go into games saying that we're not going to allow this guy to beat us. We're going to focus on this player or this scheme or whatever it may be. That's Football 101 for defensive coordinators. They are going to try to make you one-dimensional. If you're a team that throws the ball all the time, they are going to drop eight and make it difficult to for you to throw. If you're a team that prides yourself on running the ball, they are going to try to take that away from you.
Whatever the strength is, you try to take that away from them and make them beat you with what is considered not their strength. I think a lot of people are saying, Saquon Barkley is a special player, and our whole defensive game plan is going to be about stopping him and forcing other players to beat us.
For us, we are fortunate because we have a number of players that I think are weapons and that we can beat people with, which makes that a challenge.
If you had to choose, you're going to say you're going to do everything you can to stop Saquon Barkley. Or you're going to play soft and keep everything in front of you and he's going to get his runs, but he's not going to get a 50-yard run. They are going to get their passes, but they are not going to get a 50-yard pass. You kind of have one of two different philosophies that you see people taking week-by-week.
I wanted to ask you how you feel about your No. 2 running backs given the fumbling but also both scoring on explosive plays?
JF: I think both those guys have a very, very bright future. Miles [Sanders], I thought his run was excellent. I thought Andre [Robinson’s] run was really, really good.
We got two guys, just like we are kind of talking about at the quarterback position, that have shown that they are able to do it and do it at a high level and be consistent.
We're going to need them throughout the season, so we're fortunate and we're blessed. Once again, I think the programs that we want to compare ourselves to, most programs have three or four big time running backs that you feel can get in there and have a chance to make big plays. So we couldn't be more happy with the depth that Coach Huff has built in terms of development at our running back position.
You talked about Akrum Wadley being their game-breaker on offense. Would you say Josey Jewell's that player on defense? Also, in the summer you said you already game planned for four games. At this point, how much does that change now that you've seen Nate Stanley and new quarterback and the new offense?
JF: I think that's a good point. Josey Jewell no doubt is that. He's the leader and Bell Cow of their defense. A very instinctive player, a very physical player, a very productive player over his career. I don't think there's any doubt about it: He makes their defense go from a leadership and a play making perspective.
I think your other point is about the game plans. You do those game plans in the summer, and then you look at them the week of, but it not like you say, “okay, the game plan is done, let's go home at six o'clock.”
You're looking at that [game plan] and then you're watching the most current tape you have on that team to see if they are who you thought they were. Are they consistent with who they have been in the past and is there some stuff that we were doing in the summer that we think is still relevant in this game plan.
The other thing that happens is, you may go into the beginning of the season thinking you're going to be a really good outside zone team, and then as the season develops, you're really good at inside zone or you're really good at something you weren't really anticipating. It's just how the season and the team evolves.
So your game plan is based on that and your game plan is on the video evidence of what you've seen Iowa do the last three games or last four games including the Bowl game, and obviously who you are as a team and what your strengths and what your weaknesses or matchups are and things like that.
Defensively your defense has seen 55 third downs in three games. Is that a concerning number?
JF: I think you really want your number of third downs to be as high as possible. Just like I've said in the past, on offense, what you want to do is you want to eliminate as many third downs as you can. You want to get as many first downs on first or second down and not have that many third downs. That's what the best offenses usually do.
So the fact that our defense is getting people to third down, I think is a positive. Now, we've got to get off the field so that you don't have a 15-play drive and have three or four third downs in one drive.
I think the first step is getting people to third down, not allowing first downs on first and second down and then being able to get off the field. That is the next step for us. I think we’ve done a better job with turnovers. I think we're doing a better job at this point in the season on turnovers, but I do think we can still be better on third down, there's no doubt about that.
When you look at Tyler Davis’ misses, is that a virtue of the hold or did he just miss the kick? How do you break that whole situation down?
JF: What I love about Tyler is he's a mature kid and he's very honest. He missed the one on Saturday and he came to the sideline and said, "That one's on me. I just missed it."
To me, as a coach, there's a lot of value in that when you've got a guy that is going to say, I just mishit it. Rather than the guy that every time he misses it, it's the snapper or the hold or the wind or the rain.
Tyler is a guy that you're going to get really good feedback from. If he missed it, he's going to say he missed it. If he felt like they missed the spot but he still should have made it, he'll say that. Maybe it missed the spot a little bit, but he still feels he should have made the kick; or the snap threw his rhythm off, but he feels he still needs to get it through the uprights.
Typically what he says, when we watch the film, he's usually right on point. That's also a mature player that's been there, been there a lot.
So we have a new snapper and we have a new holder and that factors in, but the most important thing is we've just got to get them as comfortable as we can as the season progresses. I think they are in a really good place.
There is some of that that factors into it. I think the first [miss] was a bobbled hold that didn't get down clean and the second one was on him. When I say a "bobbled hold," I mean, the combination snap-hold. As we all know, it takes all three of those phases working together.
After the game, you had mentioned that you expect to have Mahon back. I wanted to make sure that that's still the case. Is Cam Brown in that situation, as well? And from the questions we have to ask: Can you give us any update on Torrence [Brown]?
JF: We expect Mahon and Cam Brown back. At this point I don't really have any updates with Torrence. I'll probably have more information down the line...but at this point I don't have anything more substantial for you.
Talk about the progression that the offensive line has made in the past couple seasons to where it's at now?
JF: I think Matt Limegrover has done a tremendous job with the offensive line. Coach Limegrover has done a great job.
I think the players themselves have taken a lot of pride in how they play and how they practice and how they prepare. I think they’ve had a chip on their shoulder, because as we all know, the first couple years we didn't play the way we wanted to play for a number of reasons.
When you look at Saturday, I don't think we gave up a sack. I think there was one sack that came up in the stats but I think it was on the backwards pass. That ended up being calculated as a sack, but from a coaching perspective, I don't really look at it that way.
We've improved. Is there still area for improvement or area for growth? There's no doubt about it. We have got to limit the negative yardage plays. We've got to be cleaner. We've got to be more physical. We've got to be able to impose our will a little bit more consistently. I don't think there's any doubt about that.
Once again, we've just got to continue to get better each week as the season goes on, and then also keep things in the perspective of what people are doing against us defensively.
A perfect way to illustrate what I'm talking about is in the first game we ran like 12 or 15 plays on offense, and Saquon Barkley never touched a ball. And you're sitting there saying to yourself: Well, how can that happen? They need to hand the ball off to Saquon Barkley and run. Well, there are run-pass options, and if we are reading outside linebacker and he's folding into the box as aggressively as you possibly can, we are going to pull the ball and throw the ball on the perimeter.
So, it's a combination of all those things. But I think we can definitely be better and it's going to be a focus and an emphasis on running the ball between the tackles.
What can you tell your eye about Daniel Joseph on the recruiting trail and where is he in year two of his development?
JF: He’s one of the guys I was going to mention when we were talking about Yetur and getting a bunch more reps in the game. Then we had some guys that got in the game and have opened some eyes on scout team and have opened some eyes when they got in the game.
He was very productive when he got in the game. Had a really good meeting two weeks ago with Daniel and his mom and dad. They were in for a game and we met after the game, and they just wanted an update on where he's at academically, where he's at socially, where he's at football-wise.
He's another guy, he's a big, strong, physical guy. He's a skinny 250 pounds with some of the longest arms on our team. He was very productive when he got in the game. We think he's got a really bright future, we really do.
His first year, he had some nagging injuries that kept him out of practice and I think slowed down a little bit of his development his freshman year, but he's really shown some nice things this season. We're excited about what he's not only going to do this year but years moving forward, as well.
Saquon's average touch has almost doubled in yards this year compared to last year. What are the pluses? You're talking about negative runs but what are the pluses of that; that he's much more efficient, he's healthier, and at what point do you go: That's who we are.
JF: I think a lot of it is scheme, and don't take that the wrong way. I don't need to sit here and say to you guys that Saquon Barkley is pretty good.
So when I say "scheme," I'm not taking anything away from Saquon. My point is with what we do in the run-pass options, he's usually running into good looks. Now he's one-on-one with a safety or a corner or it's his job to block that one unblocked defender and make a big play. He's really good at that obviously. So I think that's a factor.
I think two years ago, we all remember, he had a bunch of explosive runs where he would get caught and he said in the off-season, "That's an area I want to improve. I want to be able to finish runs." So that's a factor.
You're exactly right in terms of what is our identity, that's our identity. We're an explosive, big-play offense in the passing game and in the run game, and if you're looking to watch a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense, then this probably isn't the scheme for you.
I would also make the argument that was one of our big off-season studies was how do we get better with four-minute offense. You read all the coaching books from the beginning of time and you go to all the clinics, and four-minute offense is: run the ball, milk the clock and win the game on your terms. You line up in victory formation with 22 personnel, you take the snap from under center, which people tell me that all the time, and then you kneel it down and flip the ball to the official and the game's over.
One of the mistakes that we made last year is we tried to be a four-minute offense in four-minute situations, and that's not who we are. You can't say at a critical time of the game that you’re going to now become something that you never are.
So for us, it's not losing our identity in short yardage...Just because it's third-and-1 doesn't mean you have to cram it up in there where there isn't a hole. It doesn't mean you have to run the ball every play in four-minute offense.
Now, you have to throw high-percentage passes and things like that, but I think that's one of the things I think we looked at is the point that you're taking.
That's one of the things that I love about being a head football coach is all the different personalities that I get to deal with every single day on the coaching staff and with the players. One of the things I've always been attracted people that own who they are. They are either really cool or really weird, and I love those people. I love the people on the extremes that kind of own who they are and are very comfortable in their own skin. I think that's what we have to do on offense and defense and special teams.
That doesn't mean you can't identify weaknesses in areas you say you want to get better at, but also, owning who you are. Owning how you're going to handle situations at the end of games. Owning how you're going to run your offense, defense and special teams. Owning those things; I think there's a lot of value in that.