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James Franklin | Head Coach
I want to start by thanking the Fiesta Bowl and PlayStation. It's been a really good week. I want to thank the administration and (Penn State Athletic Director) Sandy Barbour and President Barron allowing us to get out here and really enjoy a whole week. Traveling for a West Coast game, we always think it's important to get out here get adjusted to the time difference, have a full week where the players, early in the week, can have time to enjoy themselves and kind of experience what Arizona has to offer and what the Fiesta Bowl has to offer, and that's been excellent.
We've gotten a lot of good work in as well. I want to thank the media that's followed us all year, our local beat writers as well as national people that have followed us all year. Really appreciate you guys being here.
Also the people that came from Erie to cover us, you're welcome. Erie, Pennsylvania has 53 inches of snow right now. So the beat writer from Erie is happy with us.
It's been a really good week. Our players have handled things the right way. We always talk about when we leave this bowl, that all the people from the Fiesta Bowl and from PlayStation and from the hotel and the practice site, we should leave everybody with a really favorable impression about Penn State and the type of people we have. And I've been proud of how our guys have handled everything.
We talk about bowl games being present. What I mean by that is when they're going out with their buddies at night and enjoying the town, I want them to enjoy themselves. When we're playing kick ball with kids from a local charity event, I want them to enjoy that. And when we're in meetings and we're at practice let's be locked and loaded on that. Our guys have handled all those things really well.
We had a dinner last night with our staff and our administration with Washington staff and Washington's administration. That was excellent as well.
So I've been part of a lot of different bowls all over the country. This is my first time at the Fiesta Bowl and we just have had a fantastic experience. So thank you very much. And we're looking forward to playing an exciting game against the University of Washington and a head coach and a staff that I have tremendous respect for.
I've known (Washington) Coach [Chris] Petersen for a number of years now, and one of my guys just got hired as their offensive coordinator in Bush Hamdan. And Bush is someone that I think very highly of. Bush played for Coach Petersen at Boise. I've heard nothing but great things about him. My interactions have been excellent as well.
Q. Can you describe what you see on film from the Washington run defense and especially Vita Vea?
JF: Yeah, I think that's the biggest challenge. I think they're a lot like us in a lot of ways. They're really sound in what they do. They're not overly complicated, which I think, to be honest with you, that's what the best defenses do and the best offenses do. They get good at something and do it well.
I think the biggest difference for them is the defensive line. When you've got a projected first-round draft choice at nose at 6-5 and 340 pounds, and then the three technique is 6-3, 325 pounds. And those two guys, they don't rotate the D line a whole lot. Those guys play a number of reps and they kind of make it go for them.
They're excellent against the run and they're skillful in the secondary. And, again, I think what you want to do defensively and offensively is you want to play a scheme that allows your players to play fast and allows your players to play confident and do just enough defensively to give offenses pause when they're trying to game plan and trying to figure out what you're doing. And I think that's what they do such a good job of is that balance of having enough in your package that it keeps you honest and not predictable. But allows your players to play fast.
And that's what I see. You don't have the success that Coach Petersen has had without focusing on fundamentals, focusing on techniques and having sound schemes that allow your guys to go out and play and play fast. So I've been very, very impressed with them. But I think the two D tackles is what makes them go.
Q. Along the same lines of the defensive line, stopping the run, how has their ability to stop the run affected the way they prepare to stop the pass? If they can stack more guys in the box or don't have to stack more guys in the box, what does that do for your passing game?
JF: I think like anything, they're able to get you off schedule. So most people on first and second down are going to try to mix the run in there and try to create advantageous third-down situations. But because they're so stout against the run, now it puts them in a great position in passing situations, especially on third down, because you're facing a lot of third-and-longs.
Another good thing they do is they do a really good job on the perimeter in terms of perimeter runs. Because what you say is you've got those two big D tackles in there and it's going to be challenging to run inside there, so now you better run the ball on the perimeter. But they do a good job of defeating blocks. They do a good job whether they're bringing secondary pressure or whether they're playing what we call trap coverage where the corner will play inside shade, and if he sees run, he's going to aggressively attack it, knowing that he's got help over the top with safety and things like that.
So they do a really good job of complementing their D tackles and how they're able to stop interior runs with what they do on the perimeter to stop perimeter runs as well.
So the combination of all of those things, getting you off schedule, I think, is the most important thing that they do. And it's funny because earlier in the year I read an article about their defense, and I think the other thing that probably makes them go is their nickel. And I read an article earlier in the year that I had sent to our coaches both offensively and defensively about their nickel and how this year they're playing with a 5-8 nickel, who's a dynamic football player for them. But last year they were playing with a 6-3 nickel. They're a 4-2-5 defense overall, which is really kind of who we have been in our past.
Coming to Penn State obviously and LBU (Linebacker U), people don't really want to hear that you're going to take a linebacker off the field and play with five DBs, but that's really kind of who we have been in our history and our past and they've done a really good job with it and playing to the strengths of who that guy is.
But it's interesting, last year having a guy who is 6-3 playing that position compared to this year with a guy who is 5-8. I think they just put their best playmaker and the guy with the highest football IQ at that position. So a combination of those two things I think has really helped them this year.
Q. A lot of similarities between these two teams from the records, your path to get here, playmakers on both sides of the ball. Do you kind of look at Washington sometimes and sort of see a mirror image of yourselves even though there's some slightly different styles?
JF: Yeah, I think there is a lot of similarities. I think both offense, defense and special teams for both teams have an impact. Obviously one of our biggest concerns going into this game is their punt return guy.
You're talking about a guy that owns the NCAA record for returns for touchdowns. Nine is a lot. So that's scary. But you're looking at a team that is disciplined. We're both very disciplined teams when it comes to penalties. Very few penalties for both teams.
We typically have the advantage there. We don't. I think they're ranked 9th; we're 14th or something in that ballpark.
You're talking about both teams that can win on special teams, can win on offense, can win on defense.
Both teams don't do a whole lot. We try to get good at what we do, whether it's the run game and RPOs on offense or whether on defense it's the coverages we run, the fronts, the pressures, things like that.
There's a lot of similarities. You're looking at two programs that typically don't beat themselves. I think I learned that a long time ago -- before you have to worry about beating other people, you can't beat yourself. And 75 percent of college football teams will beat themselves.
You're looking at two teams that protect the football. Their quarterback throws for an unbelievably high percentage, last year was a guy that was in the Heisman conversation. A very, very talented guy there as well.
But both teams protect the football. Both teams don't have a whole lot of penalties. Both teams have explosive tailbacks that can make big plays.
So it's interesting. You're talking about both programs got great history and tradition as well. So I do think it's an exciting game.
I said last night at the dinner, (Washington) Coach (Chris) Petersen was talking about wives and how he's got great wives on his staff. And I was mentioning our situation is a little bit different. My wife, if you guys don't know this, she went to Washington State. So she's a Coug.
So when we found out we were playing Washington in this game, she made it very clear to me, win this game or me and the kids are gone. (Laughter).
It's an exciting game, there's no doubt about it. And two great programs. And I got so much respect for Coach Petersen and what he's been able to do in his career.
And I think it's going to be a fantastic game. We had a fantastic game last year. And we're hoping that this one ends a little bit different.
Q. We get 45 minutes with the guys. You brought the whole team. What are the instructions that you give them on a day like today? And we only have limited time, any recommendations on someone we should spend a couple of minutes with that you know that's pretty interesting?
I think that's what makes football so exciting. You've got 125 guys from so many different backgrounds and so many different perspectives, and I think the easy thing for you guys to do is to go talk to Saquon Barkley. I think Saquon Barkley has been interviewed enough.
There's so many more stories on this team, different perspectives, different backgrounds. To me, probably the most valuable guys in our program are the guys that you don't know anything about. The guys that make the program run, the guys that allow us to practice the way we want to practice, the guys that sacrifice so much with their name not being in the newspaper, with them not scoring touchdowns. But we talk all the time about every single person in our program has a significant role that impacts this team.
And there's so many stories like that. So I would challenge you guys to venture out and talk to some guys that you haven't talked to before.
I'm not telling you how to do your jobs, but we've read enough stories about Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley. And there's so many other great stories on our team. And it's the walk-on. It's the freshman. It's the fifth-year senior that hasn't played, that toughed it out, the guys that came in here under very challenging times and saw it through.
And even when we do that, we talk about the guys that have made so many plays to get this program back to where we want it to be. But there's so many more stories out there and I think that's where I feel blessed and feel fortunate that I get to know these guys on such a deep level and I've learned so much from them.
And the guys that follow us closely, guys like DaeSean Hamilton and his relationship with his brother. And that's the stuff that makes college football so great.
You've got so many kids from so many different backgrounds and perspectives. You put them in the locker room. I think most of you guys know how we do the locker room. It's different than most locker rooms where most people sit by position.
So all the quarterbacks sit here and all the O line and D linemen sit in different sections. We don't do that. We change it every year. A kicker is going to sit next to a D lineman who is going to sit next to a wide receiver who is going to sit next to a tight end, because when you sit next to guys at a locker you get to know them very, very well. Sometimes too well.
And I think that's one of the things that's so special about our sport. We also break our entire locker room up racially. So the whole locker room is broke up like that. So guys are forced to get to know each other on a very, very deep level.
And again I think that's what's special about college athletics and that's what's special about football, bringing so many different people together from so many different backgrounds to learn from each other. That's why these bowl trips are important.
We've got a large percentage of our players who have never been to Arizona before. So it's fulfilling. And I know at the end of the day it's about winning. We gotta win. But we take so much pride in educating and graduating our players. I think we have 23 players with 26 different degrees that are going to be playing in this game. I'm fortunate and blessed to coach and hang out with these guys daily.
Q. What's your impression been of Ricky Rahne as he's taken over the offense in bowl prep? And what went with the decision to staying in-house with promoting him up the ladder?
JF: I'm a big believer of promoting from within, whether it's people already in your organization or people that you've worked with before. Sometimes you have to go outside and we're ready and prepared to do that. But when you got really smart, talented people that have been loyal and in it for the right reasons, I think it makes a lot of sense.
And Ricky has been with me since he was a graduate assistant and we were at Kansas State. I was the offensive coordinator. Ricky was the graduate assistant. We had a guy on defense, the defense graduate assistant was Scott Frost. Raheem Morris was the defensive coordinator, ended up being the head coach of the Tampa Buccaneers, is now with the Atlanta Falcons, and I was the offensive coordinator.
And Ricky has kind of grinded and worked his way up as a quarterback at Cornell, a very successful one, and very intelligent and very sharp.
A lot of it went into the fact that I really didn't want to change offenses again. I think that's, again, where you can have some consistency in your program. You got veteran quarterbacks. You've got a veteran offense that knows our scheme.
So for us to continue to grow and evolve rather than bringing in a new offensive coordinator -- if you're going to go out and hire what people would consider a high-powered coordinator from somewhere else, you can't expect them to come in and run your system. You've got to hire them to come in and run what they've been successful doing.
For us that was an option. Or the option was to stay in-house and allow this team to continue to grow. And Ricky's done a great job of it. The quarterbacks in our room were a big part of that. Ricky recruited every single quarterback in our room. He recruited those guys.
So I think a lot of it had to do with what Trace McSorley felt good about, what Tommy Stevens felt good about. Talking to the players, it's been a really smooth transition for the most part.
When I talked to Ricky about this, I want Ricky to be Ricky. Don't try to come in and be someone else. Be authentic, be you and the offense will evolve, no different than it did between year one and year two, it will evolve again this year.
But it really had a lot to do with that, the consistency we wanted, we wanted to continue to grow and we wanted to make sure that our players had an opportunity to continue building on the system that we've had a lot of success running.