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First off, I appreciate everybody fighting the interesting weather and coming out today.
A couple of things in reviewing the Michigan State game; first of all, obviously, a bunch of unique situations. I've been doing this for 23 years and I've never had a weather delay at all, let alone three-plus hours. I've got to give Michigan State and Coach Dantonio a bunch of credit.
I do want to address the issue of the end of the game, with me running off. I happened to look to the right after the field goal went through, and saw a couple of players running off the field. Koa Farmer is one of the best kids that we have in our program, and there was probably three or four kids that were doing it, and he happened to be one of them. Koa came in and talked to me -- I don't want anybody to think that Koa is not one of the best kids that we have in our program, he really is. There were a few guys that would handle the situation different than we would like.
So that got caught on video. But I want to make sure that everybody understands Koa Farmer is an awesome young man, and we met on Sunday to talk about that. He reached out to me and wanted to come meet with me about it. He's just a very conscientious, thoughtful, good kid. I want to make sure everybody understands that.
Obviously we have to be able to be more consistent offensively. I think that the biggest factor in that game was the turnovers. It's hard to win when you turn the ball over three times on the road against a good opponent. [When you do that] you're going to have a hard time being successful.
We've got to find a way to get the quarterback pressured on defense. We haven't done a great job of that recently. That's a really good quarterback we faced. I think that was a major factor in the game. We weren't able to get pressure on their quarterback. And then special teams, we just haven't been as clean the last couple of weeks as we've been.
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.
We have to get our running game going on offensive, we've got to get off the field on third down, and on special teams we've got to be a little more consistent with everything we're doing.
Getting on to our opponent this week in Rutgers. Coach Ash who is doing a nice job. Obviously they're coming to our place. 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.
Obviously offensively they’re a pro style offensive that mixes some spread concepts in there a little bit. 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. It changes your blocking schemes in the running game and the blocking schemes in the passing game for protection standpoint.
And on special teams Janarion Grant is always an issue and always a concern. So we need to be ready for that.
Q. You said after the game Saturday you've got to become more of a hard-nosed team up front. How do you go about changing a team's personality or identity three-quarters of the way through the season?
JF: It's not going to happen overnight. We've got to keep stressing it on both sides of the ball. We've got some injuries that have factored into that, but we need to be able to create space on offense and we need to be more physical and strike our keys, and win one-on-one matchups defensively. So it’s not something that's going to change overnight. We have done some really good things this year, but we need to do it more consistently, and we need to do it in every circumstance: at home, on the road, against ranked opponents, versus non-ranked opponents, in conference games, in nonconference games. We need to be more consistent with everything we do.
Q. Your thoughts on the defensive end play against Michigan State. How did you think the group did?
JF: Whenever you lose two starters at one position, that's a challenge. Losing Torrence Brown and then you loss Ryan Buchholz, that's a challenge. We can't say we don't miss those guys...saying that would not be truthful.
Hopefully we'll get Ryan back sooner than later and I think Kevin Givens brings value, but obviously he doesn't have nearly the accumulated reps at the defensive end that he does at defensive tackle. The more experience he gains there, and the more we develop some of the younger guys, that will be helpful. Because we are missing those two guys right now, there's no doubt about that.
Q. About becoming more hard-nosed up front. How do you make that change? Is it mentality, how much is scheme and play calling?
JF: I think it's all those things. It's a combination of how we practice, our mentality, [player] development, recruiting and scheme. It's all those things. That's a challenge, especially when you face really good fronts. I think it's created some opportunities for us, as well. Trace has thrown for a bunch of yards and that's a part of that because people are so invested in overloading the box. That formula has been pretty good to us when we don't turn the ball over.
Obviously when you have a hard time running the ball and you're throwing for a bunch of yards and those things are creating great matchups on the perimeter and great throwing situations and you win, then you can live with it. But you still need to improve in those areas.
When you turn the ball over then that's obviously where you have some real challenges. So, we want to become more balanced, as much as we possibly can. It's not going to happen overnight. It's going to be a constant growth each practice, each day, each week as the season goes on.
Q. How did the players respond to your message of returning to the formula that you know works?
JF: All the feedback that I got from our coaches, from our players and from our administration, it felt like my message after the game was good. Looking at the guys' body language and things like that, it seemed like it was received well.
I think last year we started to have some conversations that we hadn't had in the past and this year we had a few conversations that we haven't had the past. It kind of opened that door. Once that door was opened we started to have a little bit more of those conversations. I'm just a huge believer in you take care of today and that will take care of tomorrow. So we are going to make sure that we get back to the formula that got us here in the first place and that I believe so strongly in.
It's not like we had gone far off that model or that formula. We just cracked the door open and when you do that you start to hear more of it than you should.
Q. As far as penalties go, you are one of the least penalized teams in the country going into Ohio State. After the last two weeks, what do you do to make sure that doesn't become a trend going forward?
JF: I'm pretty comfortable with that. I don't think it is a trend. We've been that way all year long. As you guys know, I turn penalties into the officials each week. I don't feel like it's a trend. I don't see that's a trend.
There is a part of it when you play high-level competition and you're playing high-level athletes, you see a little bit more of that. I don't see that being a trend for us. I really don't. Again, we study all those things. I turn those things in. And we have discussions and study it and talk to some guys that we have on our campus, as well, about rules interpretation. We have officials at practice every single day.
I look at the whole thing and the whole season, we've been one of the better teams in the country in penalties. We've had two games where it's spiked up for whatever reason. We'll continue to study it and make sure that doesn't continue.
Q. You talked about getting Saquon the ball more. Have you seen that being done enough? What has the defense done to prevent that from happening?
JF: I think it's a combination of all those things. We would like to get the ball in Saquon's hands, but we're not going to force it. We're not going to run him into looks that aren't good looks. And obviously we have some things called for him to get the ball out of the back field and people are covering him, but we're not going to force the ball to him.
I think Saturday was a combination of a lot of factors, which I think you guys are aware of. To call it the perfect storm of events is probably a great way to describe it.
Obviously, we want to get the ball in Saquon's hands as much as we possibly can. But we won't force it. And once again, if people are taking so much time keeping Saquon from getting the ball, it creates other opportunities. I think Trace threw for about 400 yards last week. That's going to happen when you overcompensate, it creates opportunities in other areas.
For us the big issue is the turnovers. This isn't about creating stats for one person, this is about finding the best ways to win. This is a chess game, and the defense is going to try to do things to take things away from you. You need to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that their scheme or their style presents.
Q. You said after Michigan State that you don't believe in goal setting. I think I know kind of what you mean by that, but some people might find that surprising. Can you expand on that idea?
JF: Well, you know, maybe I haven't come out and said it in that direct way. Really for my seven years as a head coach every speech I've given, be that talking to the team, at clinics or things like that, that's something that I've always believed in. I think goal setting is a powerful, useful tool for some people. But it's not something that I've ever used for the leadership position.
For us it's about our formula of how we do things, not necessarily setting a goal. I think what I learned early on as a head coach is you set a goal that some people may see as a fairly aggressive goal and then you reach that goal and it's human nature to take a deep breath and feel like you've arrived. Now you can reset another goal, but I don't think it has the same type of effect.
Then I'd also make that argument if you set a goal and that goal is no longer obtainable anymore, then that has an impact, as well.
I'm a big believer in that you wake up every single morning, you maximize the day and you prepare the best you possibly can. You train. You do all the things necessary to put your program and your organization and your team in the best position to be successful. So you focus on the formula, not necessarily on the goals, because goals in a lot of ways can limit you at certain times.
Q. The pass rush has not been getting to the quarterback the last few weeks. Is there a reason that you've seen that on film and how much does the quality of the competition plays into that?
JF: I think its a lot of different things. It's losing Torrence Brown. I think [losing] Ryan Buchholz factors into that. It's the quality of competition. It's things that we can do to help the guys scheme-wise. It's continuing to develop young players through fundamentals and techniques. It's all of those factors, every single one of them. It's not one specific issue, it's not one specific concern, it's all those things.
Q. How much of a plus is it to be back at home this week and why have you been so dominant at home this season?
JF: It's great to be home. It's great to be back for homecoming. 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. To me there's things that you try to do as a program, and No. 1 is you want to create culture that allows you to build and grow over time. I think the other thing that you want to do is you want to teach your players how to be successful and how to win. I think we've done that.
And then obviously part of that is being able to -- it's funny, because it's a lot like you put these [winning games at home and winning recruiting in your home state] together. I think winning at home is something you have to do. It’s the same thing we've talked about since day one of recruiting; you have to be able to win your area. Same way with recruiting, it's the same way on the field. You've got to be able to defend your home turf on the football field in Beaver Stadium. And then you need to be able to win on the road and be able to win on the road against elite competition. It's kind of like phases. And we've worked through a number of those phases. But we still have work to do. There is no doubt. There is a home field advantage. And across the country if you look at what people's records are at home compared to on the road, there is an advantage, no doubt about it. 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. 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. No different than what we deal with being on the road.
Q. Shareef Miller has been forced to play a lot of snaps. How has he handled that?
JF: I think our model has been at its best when we're able to rotate those guys and keep them fresh. As you guys have heard me say fresh in the fourth quarter or fresh late in the season. But it is also about injury prevention. If you're playing 65 plays you have a chance of spraining an ankle or pulling a muscle or whatever it may be. So that's part of it, as well. Guys get nicked up. So now you've got a guy who's nicked up and playing 25 more plays than he probably should be. All of those things factor in, there's no doubt about it. That's why getting some of these guys back would be really helpful for us. And also training these guys to recover and be durable and help them with some of the things that we're doing, some of our other packages, that's huge for us, as well.
Q. How do you think you and your staff over these four years have done recruiting the state of New Jersey? How have the relationships of the high school coaches grown over the years?
JF: I think it's been really good. We've got a lot of respect for the state of New Jersey, from a high school play perspective, the level of football that's played, the way they're coached and how well they're developed.
You look at Penn State historically, we have a number of great players that come here that have great careers and great experiences.
So it's something that's going to continue to be very important for our program. I do think we're in pretty good shape from a relationship standpoint, and the guys that have come here have been successful academically, socially, the whole package.
Q. You mentioned chess pieces, Stevens hasn't played as much lately. Are you satisfied with how much you guys have been able to use him these last few games?
JF: I think we have plans and we have models, and we have things that we discuss game planning, and I think almost every week except for maybe one we had that package as part of the game plan. Then as the game goes on, Brent Pry is the defensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead is the offensive coordinator, they feel there are certain calls or certain personnel groups, and depending on how the game is going they're calling at that time or not. He's been great from a preparation standpoint. Like I said, more times than not we've had that package.
And now it just comes down to when we're calling it and does the situation warrant it and does it make sense.
To answer part of your question, I want to get as many guys involved in the game as possible. I think that's helpful for everybody. I talked about that in the past that all our guys have a critical role on our team. But obviously the more guys that you have that can get in the game creates for a really healthy locker room.
Q. You how has Damion Barber been doing as far as games after showing up after the rest of the class?
JF: He's doing pretty good. He's a big, strong -- he's about 270 pounds right now. I think he's got a future on the defensive line, whether it's at defensive end or defensive tackle. We'll see just how he continues to grow and develop. He's a conscientious kid. I think this has been a huge adjustment for him. Obviously losing that time in the summer, that's hard, If you don't come in the summer you have to adjust academically, athletically and socially all at ones. Whereas a lot of sports, they don't start until the spring, it gives them an opportunity to adjust academic and socially, first, and then make the adjustment to their in-season schedule. So that's one of the challenges, that's where I think the summer school philosophy that the NCAA adopted a few years back has been really helpful for all sports, but specifically football.
Q. Saquon is clearly a great talent. But he's been held under a hundred yards rushing in six of your nine games. What would you say to the people who think that the onus for that should fall on you guys, and what you're not doing, as opposed to just simply saying that other teams are loading up?
JF: I think one of the ways that we've been approaching it all year long, and I think for a good portion of the year he's been leading the country in total yards. That's how we approached it all year long. I think it made sense for us, and we've been successful that way. Once again, we can get into situations where we're going to hand the ball off just to hand the ball off to Saquon Barkley.
That's not who we are or what we want to be offensively. We're a spread RPO offensive. And if you decide to overload the box based on numbers we're going to throw. And there's a lot of offenses across the country that do it that way and are successful. This formula had worked pretty well for us for the last year. We've been winning games. We lost the last two, so obviously it's easy now to critique it. But we want to get better at running the ball. We want to get better at protecting the quarterback. We've had one of the more explosive offenses in the country in terms of yards and points in the last year. But, I get it.
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.
Q. You said Saturday night that you thought the team was too finesse. I'm curious, as to what point you thought this team arrived at “too finesse.” You said earlier it doesn't get changed overnight, but what can you do to work through this?
JF: I don't think this is something that's been the last two weeks. We've been this way, last year, when we won the Big Ten Championship and this year. We have been saying internally and externally, that we want to be a more physical team up front. 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.
Especially when you get into games like last week where the weather can make it a little bit more challenging to throw the ball the way you want to throw the ball. So this isn't something that just showed up in the last two weeks. This is something that we've been talking about: being a more physical unit up front. I think that's an area that we can improve.
And again, these things aren't just showing their ugly heads after the last two games. We've been talking about these same issues after wins, as well. But we've been able to make up for some of those things with explosive plays or leading the country in turnover ratio. We've been doing a lot of good things. And again, even the best programs in the country have areas of need or areas that they need to improve. We're no different than them.
Q. Where does Rutgers fit in on your list of rivals, and would you expect the rivalry to become maybe a little more intense as they become more intense as they become more competitive?
JF: Yeah, that's not how we approach things.
Q. Looking at Rutgers, at least on paper, they lead the Big Ten in sacks. What do you see from them offensively that allows them to keep that number low?
JF: Well, I think that's the style of offensive that they run. They're going to run the ball. They're going to play action pass. They're going to throw a quick game. I lived that world for a number about of years as an offensive coordinator when you're calling the game to help manage some of those situations. Jerry is a very experienced coach and has done a good job of that.
They do have a big physical offensive line. They're big at the running back position. Two of their best players are Miami transfers. Their running back is 235 pounds and he'll pound you. They're doing a nice job. They're doing a nice job of protecting the quarterback, [using] the quick game, moving the pocket and things like that.
I think that's kind of a big part of how they are preparing and how they're planning each week is how do we protect our quarterback and not have the sacks. In some situations live to punt. We all do that in some situations where you say, “Hey, we may run the ball now on third-and-long or we may throw a quick game on third-and-long to help our offensive line out.” You may break a tackle and pick up the first down, but worst case scenario you put your punter on the field and you kick them deep and allow your defense to go out. So I think it's a combination of all those type of things. I think they're managing those situations well.
Q. I was looking at both the AP and the coaches polls. And the AP, I think there are five two loss teams ranked ahead of you guys, and in the coaches, I think it's something like two or three. But two weeks ago you were the No. 2 team in the country. And you lose to two nationally ranked teams by only four points. What do you think should be prioritized the most when doing the rankings, especially when you're trying to delineate between the teams with the same amount of losses. And how do you take that into consideration when you're trying to schedule your games going into any year?
JF: To be honest with you, I get it, and I know this is something that media and fans talk about all the time. I'm definitely not talking about it, especially this week. We're focused on Rutgers, and if we beat Rutgers, everything else will take care of itself. From a scheduling perspective all those things are looked at. Myself, Sandy [Barbour] and Phil [Esten], we all sit down and talk about all these different philosophies.
The problem is there's no true model, because you may schedule someone right now and they are a completely different program by the time you play them.
So we're focused on playing Rutgers, not on the rankings, not on anything else. You look at preseason rankings, you look at middle of the season rankings, you look at the end of the season rankings and they don't make a whole lot of sense. They can be all over the map.
So for us we're just focused on Rutgers, and focused on Penn State and developing our players, and loving our players and coaching our players and teaching our players, having our players teach us and get better. I think the more times we keep our focus like that we'll have a program that we can all be really proud of, excited about and have a chance to be successful on Saturdays.
All that other stuff, I haven't talked to anybody yet that's figured it out. I haven't seen anybody be able to predict how the season's going to finish or how things are going to go, so I'm just going to focus on the things we can control, which is the development of our players and the development of relationships in our locker room. That's our focus.
Ricky Rahne told me last week that Sports Illustrated predicted the last two World Series champions and the MVP, which is awesome. I haven't seen anybody do it for football.
Q. You've mentioned not getting home with four, and then having to blitz and then also not being as effective as you had hoped. What have you seen from your players when you've blitzed as far as the execution and the timing when they do attack the line?
JF: I think we could play a little bit more aggressive. I think we could play a little bit more reckless. I think sometimes we go to blitz and we see the offensive fan out to pick up the blitz and we don't attack it as hard as we should attack it. I think there's some things that we can do scheme-wise. I think there's some things fundamental-wise and technique-wise, it's all those things. It's getting some of our injured players back. It's not one specific issue or one specific reason. If it was, that would be an easy solution and we would attack that. But it's a combination of all of those things.
Over the last year we've done those things fairly well. When I say last year I'm talking basically three-quarters of last season and the first half of this season. So our players haven't forgotten how to play and our coaches haven't forgotten how to coach. We played two really good opponents, and we've lost by a total of four points. We've got to find a way to come out on top of those situations more often than we are right now.
That's also saying that we've been pretty successful overall, but not as successful as we want to be or not as successful as our fans want us to be. But I can guarantee there's nobody that's working harder at it than the guys in our locker room and the coaches in our offices to solve some of these challenges and issues that we identified just like you guys did.