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November 24, 2015

James Franklin

University Park, Pennsylvania

JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, appreciate everybody coming out and spending some time with us today.

In reviewing the game, number one, you've got to give credit to Michigan. Good football team, No. 12 team in the country. We had our opportunities. We had our opportunities, didn't take advantage of it. You know, talking about an experienced team that was physical, 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. Got to score touchdowns and not kick field goals in the red zone. That goes hand in hand with my initial statement of being able to run the ball and be physical.

We went with some run-pass checks where we were going to run the ball on a specific look or throw the ball on a specific look. They gave us the look to run the ball, and we weren't able to do that. Need to be much more aggressive there and find a way to score touchdowns.

Special teams, we have to eliminate the negative plays, the turnovers and big returns. We've got to eliminate those things. That has to happen. You take those two things out, then I think we're doing some decent things. But those two things are dramatic, have a dramatic impact in the game. And then defensively we've got to get off the field on 3rd down.

I think if you look at 3rd down specifically, that's the area that at times this year has really put us in some tough positions. We work like crazy on 1st and 2nd down to get long 3rd down situations and then don't get off the field in ideal 3rd down situations. So that's an area that we definitely have to improve.

But we had some opportunities. We had some opportunities against a good football team. I just read the other day, tomorrow they are honoring 44 seniors in their last game of the year at their stadium, so you're talking about a veteran team and a good football team, but we didn't take advantage of opportunities.

Michigan State, got another really good opportunity, you could make an argument maybe the top program in the conference right now, No. 6 team in the country on the road, a team that finds a way to win. You look at their Michigan win this year, you look at their Ohio State win on the road, you know, they've got a culture of winning that they've established now. Again, they have talent on offense, defense and special teams and at each level, and they play smart. They play smart, and they play sound football.

Tremendous opportunity for us. Looking forward -- I've never been there, so looking forward to the opportunity to go check it out. They have 13 seniors starting for them, eight juniors, and then they also have two on special teams. So 20 juniors and seniors starting for them doing some really good things. An experienced football team, a talented football team, so it should be a tremendous challenge.

But I know our guys are fired up about it. We had a good practice Sunday, and then we did some community service. There's a lot of positives right now in our program. You've got to look for them, but there's a lot of positives in the program. Our guys are doing great in the classroom. They're representing themselves in the community really well. We were able to go visit some people and make a difference in people's lives. We talked about that on Sunday about Thanksgiving and the opportunity to be appreciative of the things you have and also give back to your community and people on campus and things like that, and we did that on Monday. I think we had almost 60 members of our football team at different areas in our community, and our guys are doing a great job there.

So really proud of them. 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, and open it up to questions.

Q. Looking back, you scored eight touchdowns in 11 trips to the red zone in your previous three games, and I was wondering the problems you had there against Michigan, did they go beyond the offensive line and tight ends not being physical enough?
JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, I think it's probably -- that's probably the biggest point. I would say there's been games where we've matched up pretty well, and we've been able to be balanced and be successful there, and then there's been games where we haven't matched up real well and haven't been balanced, and it's thrown things out of whack.

We had an opportunity to hit a fade to Geno that we didn't hit, and we've hit them the last couple weeks. We left the ball off the field. You know, they were physical up front, like I said, and were knocking some of our linemen. It wasn't the same guy all the time, but it would be one guy one play and another one another play. That was the biggest difference. If you look, to me, our season, the games that our D-line has had an advantage over their O-line or the games that our O-line has been able to battle and be scrappy with the opposing D-lines, we've been successful. The games that have been out of whack, we've struggled. You know, that's something that we've been talking about for two years, and we're headed in the right direction but not as quickly as everybody would like, including me.

Q. James, what went into your decision to pull Paris Palmer at left tackle and replace him with Andrew Nelson against Michigan, and is that going to be a permanent move with Andrew, and also your thoughts on protecting Christian Hackenberg better against Michigan State?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we were rotating some things around, like I said. We've had some challenges on the O-line. I wouldn't say it necessarily was just Paris, but just trying to move some parts around to try to get the best guys on the field and create better match-ups. Sometimes it's not necessarily about one specific guy or some team, but it may be about a match-up and moving a different part around or a different portion of our offensive line around to try to create a better match-up.

Trying to get us the best chance to win, and we thought making some changes and moving some people around may help us with that.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Austin Johnson. Before the season Sean Spencer was talking about how he was anxious to see how Austin would handle sort of a leadership role this year. He's obviously one of your best players on the field, but have you noticed him being more vocal and a guy others look up to this year?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think so. 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. I have a great relationship with his family. I see his mom almost before every single game going to the stadium. He's just a guy that's kind of taking the whole Penn State experience and done really, really well with it.

Yeah, I think he's had a bigger role, as you guys have heard me say before. I think we've got four seniors starting for us, so those underclassmen have to have bigger roles when it comes to leadership, and he's one of them.

Q. You mentioned earlier that Michigan State has established a culture of winning there. How long does that take to happen for a coach, and where do you think you're at at Penn State regarding that process?
JAMES FRANKLIN: It depends. I can't speak on Michigan State. I think if you look across the country, there's some programs that have won and won and won year after year after year, no matter what the circumstances have been. I think it takes a number of years.

I think we have had it historically obviously over the long haul, there's no doubt about it, but I think it takes some time. I think for us, obviously we're just coming out of some of the challenges that we've been through, that have had an effect, there's no doubt about it, but it takes some time. It takes some time in terms of creating your identity on offense, defense and special teams, and when I say your identity, I'm talking about the program's identity, and then also getting all the pieces of the puzzle meshing well together. That's the coaches, that's the players, that's the depth from freshman, sophomore, junior, senior classes and the older guys teaching the young guys what it takes to be successful academically and athletically and socially, the whole package. It's all those things because you can't be successful in one area and not the others. You've got to do it in every area, and I think that's my focus right now is that we are doing it in a number of areas, but we have to make sure that we're doing it in every area, every area.

Q. You mentioned the special teams breakdowns. How about some reasoning, at least from your point of view, on why the continual problems, especially with the coverage and the return games?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, to be honest with you, we do this a lot. A lot of times the answers are the same. We've had problems at punting. You look, we're rugby punting all the time now. We don't really kick for great distance, but it reduces return opportunities, so that's what we've been doing. We've been punting for about a 37-yard average. It's hard to swing field position that way.

You see people are able to punt around 40, which is what you want, and then every once in a while you bang one and get a punt that really swings field position.

And then kickoff, we've been inconsistent. The one week we weren't planning on dribble kicking once and we dribble kicked every single time during the game and talked about it on the sideline and tried to coach and correct it on the sideline and weren't able to get it fixed. This past Saturday we were kicking to about the 10-yard line with no hang time.

Those things are going to create stress on everybody, so we've got to get those things solved through the development of the guys that we have and then continue to recruit for the future. But we're putting too much stress on our offense, defense and the other guys on the coverage units with our kick locations and our hang time and our distance.

Q. In your postgame remarks on Saturday, one of the things you said was we're burning too many time-outs because we're not getting the play call in and we're going to have some conversation about that. What was the tenor of the conversations like, and why does that continue to be a problem, wasting time-outs that way?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it goes back to we need to do a better job coaching, number one. Number two, we've got some young players that are making some mistakes, so we look out there on 3rd down and maybe we're not aligned correctly on defense and we're going to give up a big play, and trying to decide does it make sense to burn a time-out right now and give us a better chance to get off the field, or let it go. Or we signal a play in and it doesn't go in correctly or the personnel group may be wrong, a young guy is supposed to come off the field and doesn't come off the field. There's a number of reasons right now that got to get cleaned up, and I'm not pleased with it whatsoever. Haven't really had this issue for five years that I've been together with this staff, but I've made it very, very clear that those things are going to change moving forward.

I take a lot of pride in that, and it's an area that we as a coaching staff have got to do a better job of, and that starts with me.

Q. Michigan State is playing for an awful lot on Saturday, and they're kind of playing for everything. Do you worry about the motivation of your own team when the tangible stuff that you're playing for is much less than the other side? And do you talk to the kids about wanting to be a spoiler? Is that part of the picture at all?
JAMES FRANKLIN: No, we're playing for a lot. We're playing for a lot on Saturday. We've got a chance to win eight games in the regular season. 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. We played for a lot on Saturday. A lot of people live and die Penn State football, and it's very, very important to them, so trust me, my staff and our players feel like we're playing for a lot on Saturday and feel like that every single Saturday.

Q. There's a lot of talk about tackling during and after the last game and all season, really. When you watch film after a game and evaluate something like tackling, how do you go about judging that?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it's a combination of both. We're playing talented teams with talented people, and if you're not in the right position, don't have the right leverage, they're going to make you miss. The other thing is making sure that all other 10 guys are running to the ball, so if the guy does make you miss -- sometimes missing a tackle isn't the end of the world. You can't miss the tackle and be in the wrong leverage. That can't happen. You've got to have the right leverage and make the tackle, and if you miss the tackle you've got to have the right leverage so your teammates can have your back and run to the ball.

If you lose -- if you're the contain player and you lose your leverage and you're inside, now your teammates can't help you because now the ball is going down the sideline. Those are the things that we've got to get cleaned up.

And then the other thing is we're banged up. We're banged up right now this week probably more so than we've been in a long time. That's shown up as the season has gone on, but probably more so this week than really in the year and a half we've been here.

Q. By all accounts, Michigan State played a remarkable game on defense. Having watched a lot of film on them now, what jumps out the most when you watch their defense from the game against Ohio State?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think they're playing really the way they've been playing for the last couple years. They're big and physical and long on the defensive line. They are really, really long, 6'5", 6'6", 6'4", big, physical, guys, juniors and seniors, playmakers, guys that have been making plays there for multiple years. 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.

Q. You mentioned the short kickoffs. Was there something behind that with Joey because earlier in the year he had been doing a better job, and he's kind of thrown himself into some very physical situations, looks like he's gotten bumped up from it. Is there a level of discretion he's got to use there when you depend on him so much as a kickoff guy?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think if you look, Sam Ficken has done that in the past. You really want it as a last line of defense. We're not a team that keeps the kicker back. We're always going to get the kicker down there. A lot of times not to make the tackle but make the guy reset his feet to try to avoid him and then somebody else to make the tackle. Having that presence down there is important.

The best thing that we can do is kick the ball for better hang time, kick the ball for better distance, and then with the areas of the field that we want to kick, so now the tackles can be made by those other 10 guys. That's the thing I think that's going to help us the most. We're going to do some things this week, I think, to help those guys with that, as well. But that's been our biggest challenge.

And then tackling, those guys go through the tackle circuit every single week, as well. Again, you don't want to be dependent on your kicker making those tackles, so we've got to do one of the two options. We've got to either kick it better so the other guys can cover the field, or he's going to have to put a neck roll on.

Q. Do you feel you're still seeking an offensive identity, particularly in the red zone, some bread-and-butter situations that you guys can go to that you're more comfortable with? And also I had a question about the defensive time-out that I think you were kind of referencing. The crowd was kind of getting in the game. You guys had taken the lead. Was that one specific area that you didn't want the time-out?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Correct, yeah. Your first question was again?

Q. About an offensive identity.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don't know, that's hard to say. I think overall, yeah, there's no doubt that I think we would be further along in terms of an offensive identity. I don't know if that would go hand-in-hand with the red zone because we had been one of the better red zone teams in the conference, so I don't know if those two points go hand-in-hand, but I think overall more of an offensive identity, yeah, established at this point.

Again, I think it goes back to the things that we talked about early on. We have got to be more physical up front at tight end and offensive line for any offensive system. That's got to happen.

Q. You said about a month and a half ago the hardest part of your job was about expectations and managing current expectations versus future. I'm just curious, of all the places you've been, is anything like this, where you are now, in terms of expectations and the amount of maybe some piling on people do? I know you were with the Packers so I can imagine it was big there, but of all the college places you've been, does anyplace compare to Penn State in terms of expectations?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I'm not sure. I think it's magnified because of our situation. I do. I think that's probably the difference. I think places I've been are passionate, as well. Do they have as many people with the alumni, the number of alumni that we have? Probably not. But I think it's a combination of those things. I think it's a combination of our expectation at Penn State is very high, and our players and our coaches, we embrace that. I think it's one of the things I probably love the most about Penn State.

Where I think it's probably the biggest challenge is based on what we're working through and where we're at. I think that's the thing that maybe makes it the most challenging.

Q. You mentioned the program building aspect taking a little bit longer than what you had hoped when you got the job here, I guess. Are there any ways you can maybe reset your own expectations? Do you do that, and are there strategies you can take to maybe speed that up, and how much does on-field success maybe help that and speed that up where you can show that as an example?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I would say to be honest with you, we're about on schedule to be honest with you in a lot of ways. When I say hope, we could win nine games or ten games and I'd still hope that we were further ahead. You're always going to feel that way.

But I think in a lot of ways, in a lot of aspects, we're on schedule. We have a lot of work to do, and we have got to get better. Yeah, is there quick fixes? No doubt about it. That first year we could have went out and signed 15 junior college players. This year could have went out and signed 15 junior college players. But I don't think myself or the administration or our fans really want to do it that way. We want to do it for the long haul. Once you start doing that, then it's almost you have to commit to continuing to do that because your turnover happens every year or two.

And like I've said from day one, we want to build this thing the right way for the long haul, and when you do that, it takes some time. There needs to be a little bit of patience. I think for the most part, people understand that.

I get some unbelievable emails, which the people that are sending them to me, please keep sending them, because we get some really, really positive emails. Every time our guys go out and do things in the community, I get great emails. Even after challenging games, I got an email the other day that said, I had to wait 24 hours because I was emotional after the loss, but after 24 hours I get it and I see what's going on, and we appreciate everything that the guys are doing and the coaches are doing.

I go do the Quarterback Club luncheon every single week. That's worked into a real positive. It gives me an opportunity to interact with a fan base that's been following our program for a very long time. They're able to make comments to me. I'm able to make comments to them. They ask questions.

So in a lot of ways I think we're making tremendous progress. It doesn't show up always the way everybody wants it to see, in the win-loss column or on the scoreboard, but that's coming. I feel very, very confident in that.

And for the most part, that's why I sleep pretty well. There's a couple nights, Saturday nights I don't always sleep so well, lay there and look at the ceiling with a thousand things going through my mind, walk into my daughters' rooms and kiss them on the head and come back into the office and stare at film for 17 hours.

But the progress is there. Sometimes you've just got to take a step away and look at it.

Q. You've talked about establishing the physical identity on the offensive line. What's been the struggle this year that's prevented that? Has it been injuries, the different line combinations, communication? What has been the roadblock there?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it's a number of things. It's Audrey's favorite discussion point is you've got Paris, who's 297 pounds and still looks like a power forward, where I think a year from now he's going to be 315 pounds, and that matters.

You look at our league, pretty much everybody has a defensive end that's 280 pounds to 300. They've got one D-end who's a big, physical guy. They've got another D-end who's more of a pass rusher. I'm looking at Michigan State's offensive line this week; I think they're 295, 325, 325, 315 and 325, I think. They're massive human beings, and we're still kind of working towards that.

Size isn't everything. Experience isn't everything. But those two things together help. They help.

You know, as you know, we've got some guys that we've moved over from the other side of the ball, and I think they've done extremely well, but that's a change.

I mentioned before the year that we have more depth than we've had in the past, but I don't know if we still have more game depth at this time, and we're working towards that. Our second-time guys are Noah Beh, who when we signed him was a 238-point offensive tackle out of Scranton who was committed when we got the job, and he's done a great job, but he's not ready to be a true backup yet in the Big Ten and step on the field.

I've mentioned to you guys before that you're going to have the exception from time to time, a young kid that gets on the field, but when you've got it rolling, your O-line and D-line is redshirt sophomores, redshirt juniors and redshirt seniors in the two-deep that are rotating in and playing at a high level. Are they the exceptions? No doubt about it. No doubt about it.

So I've mentioned this before, that that's a position that it's hard to solve it overnight. You look at our D-line, why is our D-line playing at a high level? Because we have depth and experience at that position.

We're getting there. We had a discussion as a staff the other day. You watch our guys in practice in one-on-ones against our D-line in some of the competitive periods that we go against our defense from the beginning of the year to now or from last year to now, it's dramatically improved. But again, not as much as we would all hope. You'd like it to be a little bit faster.

We just finished a nutrition bar. The administration helped with that. That's been huge. So hopefully we'll put on two pounds this week on average across the O-line and you'll see a significant difference on Saturday with the yogurts and the smoothies. I hope that'll be the difference.

Q. When you self-scout as a program, how do you draw the line between this is as good as we can be in this area regardless of what we do, and this is something we can be better at and we have the ability to do whatever it is to improve that area?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that's a good question. I don't think you ever say we're as good as we can be at any position or in any scenario. You're always striving for more. You win a National Championship, you get drafted in the first round, you always need to be striving for more.

But I do think you look at your situation. We went into this season, we ranked positions on offense and ranked positions on defense. We knew the defensive line had a chance to be pretty darned good. We knew that. We knew the offensive line and the tight ends was going to be an area for growth for us. So yeah, you're not going to self-scout and compare your D-line with where your O-line, it's based on where you're at.

And those things are constantly being evaluated. There's no doubt about it.

But yeah, you're basing it on what you think you're working with, and to be getting back to our comment with Noah Beh, Noah Beh has made tremendous progress in the past year. Is it enough to be ready to play on Saturday? No. But he's going to be at great player here at some point. Is it this Saturday? No.

Q. A lot of people when they look at this offense, they kind of see the numbers, they see the overall rankings and that's what they go off of because they don't see the progress behind the scenes. Do you think on your staff you have the right guys for this offense to make it work?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Let me say this: I am just aware of our challenges, and more so than anybody else that's looking at it. I know on offense we have some challenges that we need to get cleaned up. I know on defense we've got some challenges we need to get cleaned up. I know on special teams we've got some challenges we need to get cleaned up. I know there's academic work that we need to improve on that you guys aren't aware of. There's a lot of areas, and there is nobody that's taking a harder, more detailed look than me.

But besides that, right now, our focus is on doing everything we possibly can to prepare for Michigan State. Any other discussions, any other conversations, I don't see how they help us get ready to beat Michigan State. But I want to make sure that you and your fans and everybody are aware, I can identify and I can see the problems and the challenges that we have just like everybody else can, and we're addressing them every single day. We're addressing them every single day.

But right now our focus is on getting ready for Michigan State and making sure that everything that talk about and everything we do gives our players the best chance to go out and be successful Saturday.

Q. A lot of these conversations that we're having with you right now, it feels like we had very similar conversations with you at the beginning of the year about the same phases of the ball and improvements across the board. What's been the biggest road block in improving those phases since we're having the same conversations?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think we have improved. Again, you look at our conference record, it's better right now. You look at some of the things we've been able to do on offense, defense, and special teams. You look at times we've done some nice things, so I think we have improved. We have more wins right now than we did at this time last year, so there is progress being made.

Is it to the degree that everybody wants it to be, including myself? No. No, it's not. Is it the pace that everybody wants it to be? No, it's not. But there is progress being made.

Our O-line has improved from the beginning of the year. Our O-line has improved from last year.

So I would make the argument that we have, but those conversations, like I said in the beginning of the year, was not going to be solved overnight, and there are options out there. There are options out there that you could go to. We've chose not to go those routes as we talked about before with signing a bunch of junior college players, because I don't think that's the right thing to do for Penn State long-term.

Q. (No microphone.)
JAMES FRANKLIN: Right, but that's kind of what I had mentioned before. There's a difference between going out and filling a specific hole or going out and signing five or 10 or 12 junior college players, and now you get into a situation where you almost have to do that every year because the turnover happens so much in your program. So yeah, we're going to look at junior college from time to time, but we're going to build this program with high school prospects, and high school prospects when they're 17, 18 years old takes time. It takes time, especially at those positions to develop them. Because the further you are away from the ball, typically the earlier you can play. The closer you are to the ball, when it is a strength and size and maturity aspect of the game, there's a big difference between being 18 years old and being 21, 22 years old.

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