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PENN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 20, 2016
University Park, Pennsylvania
JAMES FRANKLIN: Appreciate everybody being here. First of all, I want to apologize for not having the depth chart out on Monday. I saw some tweets that you guys sent out with some blank depth charts which is always fun and appreciated. But the reason we did that is I didn't want to put out a depth chart that wasn't going to really align with what was going to show up on the field on Saturday. I didn't think that was the right thing to do for you. I didn't think it was the right thing to do for us.
So we waited until we got some more medical information so it would be a little more up to date and a little more accurate. So if that put you in a tough spot, I apologize, but that was the reason why we did it that way.
Feel terrible for Nyeem Wartman-White. He will be out for the season, which is obviously significant. I feel for Nyeem because he's had two years in a row now where he's missed the season and has worked really, really hard and has had an unbelievable attitude from a leadership standpoint as well. So that's always difficult, obviously, in a position where we are already thin as it is.
So obviously we're here to support Nyeem every step of the way, but I wanted to make you guys aware of that. That's one of the pieces of information that we just weren't ready because some doctors appointments and medical evaluations that needed to happen. So, Audrey, I see your blank depth chart there, so you can fill that in now.
Temple review offensively, continue to create explosive plays, which I think is going to be really, really important for us moving forward. The way people are defending us, some of the style of defense that we're going to see in this league and across the country, that's going to be really important.
We've got to hold on to the ball and be more ball secure. That's something that's going to be very important to us, something we've done a fairly good job of in the past. And we need to make sure that we get back to doing that.
Defensively, I couldn't be more proud of Brandon Smith. A young man that joined the program as a walk-on. Has worked to get better every single day. He's been an unbelievable teammate, an unbelievable student. Just really engrained in the fabric of everything we do. I'm just really, really proud of him. He had only played three plays total in his career, three plays total. I think he's been here four years and he's played three defensive snaps.
He played 57 plays on Saturday. He had eight tackles had a .5 tackle for loss, two quarterback pressures, one pass break-up, and really just played well. So I'm really proud of him. He's a great example of you never know in life when opportunity is going to knock professionally, personally, whatever it may be and you be ready when the time comes and he did that. And not only did he do that, but I think the confidence he displayed and how he played and called the defense I think helped our whole defense. Because losing Nyeem was a little concern there not having Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell, our three starting linebackers out. His leadership and his seniority was instrumental. So couldn't be more proud of him and excited.
We've got to be consistently gap sound. I think we did a better job of that each week. And we need to continue to do that fighting to make sure defensive linemen and linebackers that we are gap sound. And special teams we have to eliminate the penalties. We're doing some better things. I don't think there is any doubt about that on special teams, but we've got to eliminate the penalties. Guys that are trying to create big plays by blocking extremely well for John Reid and other guys and they're just getting a little too handsy. So we've got to do a better job there.
Coaching staff, players of the week on offense was wide receiver Chris Godwin, on defense was Brandon Smith and Parker Cothren, and on special teams was Tyler Davis.
So some information on Michigan. Tim Drevno their offensive coordinator does a good job. They want to establish the run. They're a big, physical team. They want to establish the run with their offensive line. I think they're very skilled at the tight end position and at the receiver position, very skilled there. They want to run the ball. They want to play-action pass. They're obviously averaging a bunch of points a game, I think over 50 points.
Defensively, Don Brown, who me and Don worked together. I've known Don for a long time and think Don's a very, very good coach. Not only have I coached with Don but coached against Don multiple times. Big, strong, talented defense that he's taken over. Very, very talented in the front, I think very talented in the secondary.
Must be able to handle their pressure and movements. They're a big pressure, big movement team. And on special teams, Jay Harbaugh, lots of play making ability. Their units, obviously Jabrill Peppers has a big impact on that. Jabrill was a highly recruited guy out of high school, track athlete. Everybody was aware of him. This year he really jumps out on tape. Jumps out on tape how physical he is and how fast he is on defense, and then his playmaking ability on special teams and sometimes on offense as well. So impressed with those guys.
So that's a few pieces of information I wanted to give you guys. But more than happy to open it up to questions now.
Q. How does Michigan's speed on defense compare to your first three opponents? Do you have to be aware of where Peppers is on every play on defense?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, yeah, I think you do have to be aware of where Peppers is. You've pretty much got a good idea where he's going to play. The way we look at it, they really play with three safeties and they list him as an outside linebacker and nickel. But the way we look at it, they play with three safeties in a lot of ways and he's one of those guys.
Yeah, I think their speed is a factor, but the biggest thing is how big and strong they are. We have 12 seniors on our team. They have 13 seniors on the two deep on defense, and 13 seniors on the two deep on offense. They're just a big, strong, physical, mature team, and then they do have some speed aspects.
Jabrill does that for them on defense, special teams and offense. Their receivers do that as well as their tight end Butt. So it's a challenge, there's no doubt about it.
Q. James, you've mentioned Michigan's passing game. I wanted to ask you about the challenge, the physical challenge they present, the tight end and those two wideouts, and what it's going to mean for your safeties and your corners? They made an awful lot of plays against you those three guys in last year's game. And just the challenge that they present for your safeties and your corners and even your linebackers?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it really starts with stopping the run. What happens is when people are able to have success running the ball, you start to overcompensate to stop the run and people get out of position. And then they're put in conflict in play-action pass, whether it's safeties or what we call trap corners where they run support with corners in the cover two style defense or whether it's linebackers. Those guys are put in conflicts.
So being able to stop the run and being physical across the defensive line and gap sound and things like that is going to be really, really important, because if they can establish the run and play-action pass you, they're really difficult to defend. And obviously when they have play makers like their two wideouts, big, long, athletic guys as well as their tight end who is a very gifted route runner and receiver, that causes some real challenges for you.
So the biggest thing we'd like to do is make them one dimensional. They have a new quarterback who is starting for them. He's not a young player. He's been in the system now a couple of years. I think he's a junior. So you'd like to make him one dimensional and force him to drop back and throw the ball.
Q. As far as Nyeem goes, how has his attitude been? He talked this summer when this happened last year not being a guy that wanted to sulk. He wanted to be involved and around the team. Have there been any conversation about exploring a sixth year for him?
JAMES FRANKLIN: The first thing with Nyeem is obviously he handled the setback last year really well. This year we were still kind of working through his physical and mental confidence, and it was growing and growing each week. Then on Saturday, to be honest with you, myself, the doctors and really Nyeem, we thought at first that he was more or less kind of scared that something had happened, but it really didn't. Then he hopped up and actually felt good and kind of jogged around and we thought he was okay. But it didn't play out that way, obviously. So he's got another setback in front of him.
I know Brandon Bell, I went into the doctor's office with him, and Brandon was there with him as well. He was an unbelievable support for Nyeem and coaches as well, and the doctors and trainers. So we'll just see how this whole thing plays out.
Most importantly we want to get him healthy. He's already graduated, which is awesome, so we'll see what the future holds.
Q. In mentioning turnovers earlier, I wanted to ask you, how do you approach making turnovers, like turnover prevention a focus without turning it into a stressor or something that lingers in your guys' minds.
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think you're exactly right. You've got to make the point and show the evidence, you've got to drill it every single day which is all the things that we do. For us this year it's fumbles and we've been pretty good with that in the past. We do a ball security drill which really deals with how to carry the football and how to protect the football every single day in circuits. We'll continue to do that. We'll continue to show them all the statistical evidence that shows the importance of controlling the football.
Then obviously as quarterbacks making decisions with where to go with the football and then receiver's mentality when the ball is in the air, nobody comes down with it but us. It's all those things.
So we'll keep talking about it and stressing it like we always do. But you're exactly right. You can't go too far in either extreme with anything in life or it won't have the type of affect you want it to.
Q. James, we've heard a lot about Koa Farmer's athletic ability, his potential. We've seen him some. But where's he at in his development? How can he help you more defensively? What kind of player can he be?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I don't know if you've seen the most recent depth chart that's come out, but he's listed at linebacker so he's going to create some opportunities for us as well. Sam linebacker with Manny, Manny Bowen, both those guys at the field linebacker position.
He was predominantly an offensive player in high school. We think his best position long-term is an outside linebacker. He's a guy that's had to fight to keep his weight down. At one point I think he was as high as 227 playing the safety. I think now he's around 222, somewhere in that range. But genetics are telling him one thing. And I think obviously playing running back in high school and defensive back and safety, that's where he was most comfortable.
So, you know, it's a transition that we think is going to happen. He did it a little bit since he's been here. The linebacker position, especially being out in space. Not necessarily in the box. The problem is when you play 22 personnel people or 12 personnel or 21 personnel people, they're going to get in heavy sets and try to pound you. That linebacker is no longer to the field. That linebacker is no longer in space covering the receiver, he's in the box, which is a completely different world being a space linebacker compared to a box linebacker. So that's some of the things that he needs to continue to grow at.
I know he's excited about the opportunity. But he does, he has a lot of potential. But there is a transformation that has to happen from going in and being basically a running back in high school to a defensive player. Some guys pick those things up faster than others.
Q. Michigan's defense has allowed opponents only four conversions out of 38 chances and your third down conversion rate right now is 27%. Can you put a finger on why your conversion rate is so low? Is there more concern about it this week because Michigan is so effective at stopping opponents on third down?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, a couple things. Yeah, they're very good on third down. I think a lot of it is because they're really good on first and second down, which is the complete opposite of us. If you look, again, with analytics and things like that, really your first downs should not come on third down. They should come on first and second down. We're doing a much better job of that. We've improved dramatically in that area.
Now the next phase is obviously to be better on third down, we need to do a better job of that. We've also been pretty good on fourth down. So that's an area of emphasis for us. That's a focus point for us, getting to manageable third downs when we don't pick up a first down on first and second down. We've still got to get into a manageable third down situation, be more efficient. That's a focus point for us.
But I think really first and second down kind of tells the story for both teams. Tells the story for their defense. Tells the story for our offense.
Q. It seems there's a trend in football where guys are about to cross the goal line and they drop the ball sort of as a celebratory thing or something. Your guys don't do that, and I wonder what you would do if one of your guys did that? And what is your general approach to the idea of celebration that might hurt the team?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you don't want to do anything that hurts the team. We look at those things as selfish things. You should be celebrating with your teammates. I think you guys probably see me throughout the game talking to players, not screaming at players, but talking with players when maybe I feel like they're bringing a little too much attention to themselves and not with their teammates. And that's somewhat common in today's day and age. Just talking to our guys about celebrating with their teammates.
The other thing is when I see examples like that, as you've heard me say before, we show it to them. It's funny that you bring that up, because we showed it in the team meeting today at Clemson. One of the examples that you're talking about, I don't know if everybody that's here today or listening saw South Carolina State versus Clemson is another example.
Not only was it scoring, he caught the kickoff return in the end zone, flipped it to the official, and just ran out and thought the play was over, and the play wasn't over. Clemson ran down and recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown. You see the official kind of back away like, don't give it to me. But the whistle hadn't been blown and he didn't take a knee.
You have guys like you're talking about that just when they're about to cross the end zone, they relax and drop the ball. Now that we have cameras right on the goal line, that makes it even easier to see some of those things. I think it's probably happened more often than in years past, but the technology didn't maybe show it.
So whenever, I think, guys make mistakes that can be a negative impact on our team, or guys that do things that maybe are embarrassing to themselves or negative toward themselves. We try to show them examples of that so maybe we can learn from other people's mistakes and not have to make them ourselves. Constantly showing them.
I think we told you we showed some NFL clips the other day, two-minute situations when receivers got out of bounds and receivers didn't get in bounds in the positive consequences and negative consequences to those decisions.
So we're constantly trying to use examples like that within the Big Ten nationally and even in the NFL to teach football lessons and teach life lessons.
Q. Connor McGovern played a little more at guard for you guys last week. What are you seeing on film from him that you really like? And how much progress have you seen from him at the start of camp last month until now?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think that's the biggest difference with him compared to some other guys. There's a lot of excitement about Gellerstedt and Will Fries and Michal Menet in our program. You know, McGovern came in, obviously graduated early. Him and Gellerstedt were just a little further ahead, mentally as well as physically. He's over 310 pounds now, got a lot of reps during spring ball, has gotten a lot of reps during camp.
So we've been able to get him a number of reps each game, and that number, I think is going to continue to grow. He's a big, physical, talented guy who is athletic, very coachable. So we're pleased. We're pleased with how Derek Dowrey is playing, but Connor McGovern has shown that he deserves a few reps.
We also feel like keeping Derek Dowrey fresh for four quarters and allowing Connor to get in there and get some reps. But he's just a young guy with a lot of potential, and the only way to build on that potential is getting him some experience.
Q. I was just wondering with the injuries at linebacker, how, I guess, have those younger guys really stepped up in this time and how have they been handling the situation of being, I guess, more thrust into the spotlight?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think Manny's handled it well. Manny's doing more and more good things for us. Cooper's done some nice things. The thing that Cooper's been able to do is play multiple positions as well, which helps. He can play the Mike position, he can play the Will position, which is our two box linebackers. So that helps.
We'd like to create more flexibility with Manny as well because that would allow us to be able to kind of move parts around and get our best guys on the field if Koa continues to develop the way we'd like him to. That allows us also to be able to move Manny around and also be able to move Cooper around.
So now we're in a situation where it's not just about what positions they understand. It's also about getting the best three guys on the field. So that will be an interesting -- it will be interesting to see how this plays out this week.
Brandon Smith, obviously, has gained a lot of confidence individually and also the confidence of our coaching staff. But we want to create some flexibility with those guys as well.
Q. Michigan has scored a lot of points and their offense has been potent. What have you seen from them on film that makes them so difficult? And what is your defense going to have to do to slow it down?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, some of the stuff that we kind of visited on earlier was they're big and physical on the offensive line. They really are. They're experienced. I think what makes them difficult to defend is the combination of the big, fast wideouts that they have. Chesson and Darboh have been really, really good, and Butt as well. Those guys are big-time players that decided to come back this year and make a big impact for them and they have.
So between the offensive line, the tight end and the receivers, I think the tight end receivers are special. And then they work in the tailbacks, they have big, physical tailbacks as well. And obviously Jabrill Peppers, being able to work him in, whether it's fly sweeps, running back or wildcat quarterback, it's a nice combination of big, physical, experienced players and then speed to be explosive and make big plays.
And it's the combination of what I said earlier about being able to get the running game going and putting your safeties and linebackers in conflict with play-action pass.
Q. Obviously the ball security, the fumbles have not gone unnoticed by you and your staff and the players but what kind of emphasis this week, and what specifically are the ball security drills you guys run through in practices, has the emphasis increased, and to follow up on Mark's question, without causing any added pressure in that situation?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think again, what I've already stated is we'll do ball security drills every single day. We do that basically, we do five-minute blocks and that's a period where we go from station to station. So, you know, it could be as simple as the monkey roll drill that people have been doing since the beginning of time where the natural reaction is when you go to the ground, as you take the ball away from your body to support yourself and you can't do that. Or really just running and tapping with one hand, whether it's running through a gauntlet of players that are trying to strip it out, whether receivers catching the ball and returning, whether it's tucking the ball on the outside.
So we've got between six and nine drills that we do, and we typically have three stations. Coach Moorhead watches those stations and then the position coaches put them on and kind of rotate their guys through it.
So typically during that period I take a certain amount of periods that I go with the defense and write all my shell. We're typically doing a pursuit drill or tackling drill, and rotate. Typically I'm on the defense filed doing that.
But it's a circuit that we do. We've done it since I became a head coach and been pretty good when it comes to ball security. But, again, it's something that we're going to focus on as a fundamental every single day. Again, our process should not change week to week unless we're not doing something that's appropriate, and then we make changes and we learn and we adjust.
But I think the biggest thing is fundamentals and techniques and having an awareness of how important the ball is.
Q. You guys are going to put together some long drives against Temple, I think one was ten plays and the other one was nine plays. With their ability to put up points, averaging 53 a game. How important is tempo for you this week in your offense as a weapon?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think maybe if you were playing a tempo team, then maybe that becomes a bit more of a factor. They're not. A lot of their points have been defensive scores and have been special teams scores. Colorado had one punt blocked. They had another punt where they blocked it into the butt of one of their personal protectors, which basically essentially is a block, and then I think they had a kick return or punt return for a touchdown.
So they had three non-offensive touchdowns. They've been like that so far this season. They've had home-field advantage. I think they've had eight home games this year. You know, but they've been able to score points not just on offense, but on defense and on special teams. So I don't know if the tempo aspect is really that much more important this week than any other week.
I think the important thing is possessions. We've got to make sure that we are capitalizing on each one of our possessions on offense, and then on special teams we can't allow them to get points either through blocked kicks or big returns. Which is going to be a challenge.
I remember last year I think we were playing Rutgers and their return man the week before we had played them had two returns for touchdowns. I think when we played Maryland, I think Likely was one of the better return men in the country at the time.
So we've been in a situation like this before, and we've got to make sure we do a great job of that. With Joe Julius having an awareness of this and understanding the importance of touchbacks or kicks that are going to pin him in the corner of the end zone or with punting with Blake Gillikin making sure he he's getting hang time and he's pinning people as close to the sidelines as possible, all of those things will be important.
Q. Brandon Smith was named co-defensive Scout Team Player of the Year last year. I'm just wondering if you could highlight his efforts on that unit and why he earned that distinction and how he did so?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it's a pretty good correlation, if you look year-in and year-out, guys go on and have significant impacts to the following season. It's his approach. His approach has been really consistent since he's been here.
There was a time, I don't know if people remember when he was playing fullback, and linebacker, and fullback and back to linebacker, and really anything we've asked him to do, he's worked really, really hard at it. I think Carl Nassib has been a great example of our players of a guy that really took advantage of his opportunity nutrition-wise, sleep-wise, workouts, practice, how he approached all those things. And Brandon's one of those guys as well.
Brandon's a guy I don't think you could look back and remember a day where he had a bad day in the facility where he hasn't practiced well on the field. He's been about his business every single day, and with that, he's been able to maximize his potential.
So it's been pretty cool to see him. I sent him a text this morning just about how proud I am of him and how appreciative I am of him. So it's great. It's great to see. He's got all of those characteristics. He's very mature. He's got a very good football IQ. He's got tremendous instincts. He's one of those guys in practice where you get frustrated with him on scout team because you'll be trying to do a play-action pass, you're trying to do a fake with a reverse or something like that, and he'd be there.
You thought sometimes you get frustrated because you thought he was cheating the drill, but he's reading his keys. He's one of those guys. He's just more athletic than I think people give him credit for. He's big and strong and purposeful with everything he does, and he's very driven.
Q. I wanted to ask you about gap integrity. We've talked about it a couple of times. You've got a lot of athletic defensive ends and some athletic defensive tackles. It seems like at times you like to attack and penetrate in the back field on the way to the football. How do you maintain gap integrity while also attacking?
JAMES FRANKLIN: That's a good question, but it's two different points. We've been hit on some plays where we've gotten really far up the field, created some seams where the running back more times than not, it's been the quarterback on scrambles where you just get lanes from depth. Guys being on different levels, if that makes sense. That's a different conversation than gap integrity. Gap integrity, we're talking about a guy that's responsible for the B-gap and doesn't get into the B-gap. He's in the A-gap or in the C-gap. You're talking about a guy that has the B-gap responsibility, and now you have the tackle and the guard on the backside scoop block, a combination block to get him out of the B-gap, and we're not fighting hard enough to stay in the B-gap.
So sometimes it's interesting, you may not be in the B-gap, but you may have an offensive lineman or tight end in between you and your gap, and you may not be in your gap, but if you can press that offensive player back into your gap, you're still getting the same thing done. If that makes sense.
So the space is a different issue, because now if you get on different levels and you have a really athletic quarterback, you may be gap sound, but there is space, and now it becomes an athletic deal. Is your linebacker athletic enough to tackle the quarterback or the running back on a draw play in space? That's a little bit of a different discussion than gap accountability.
And sometimes with young players, we haven't been as consistent when it comes to gap accountability. We were much better last week than we were the week before. Does that answer your question?
Q. (No microphone)?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, again, we want them to be aggressive. And if you're responsible for the B-gap and you can get penetration, we want that to happen, because now penetration can disrupt pullers, say the offense is running a power play, and the guard on the back side is trying to pull and you've got penetration in the opposite B-gap, the guard's not going to be able to get through. So those things are positives.
We don't want guys two-gapping. We don't want guys two-gapping and just sitting on a guy and ditching at the last minute trying to make the tackle. We want to penetrate. But the important thing is penetrating in your gap and then forcing that runner. If he's going to run, he must run through the A-gap, and the A-gap is the Mike linebacker's responsibility, or the B-gap is the Will linebacker's responsibility or whatever it is. Now it comes down to being able to make that tackle consistently.
So, yeah, we want to penetrate. If we were an Oki front or an odd front defense with a true nose with three defensive linemen on the field, a lot of those defenses, they're two-gapped where they're going to have a big, physical nose that's just going to knock the center back and then ditch to either A-gap or whatever it may be. Or he may be responsible for one of the gaps and the linebacker will have the other gap. We want to penetrate. We want to be disruptive. We want our defensive line to do that. But we can't get washed out of our gap is really the most important thing.
Q. Now that you've got a chance to go back and watch it, how do you think Miles Sanders and Andre Robinson graded out. Also, do you have to take any precautions with Saquon? I know we talked in the spring to limit him to keep him fresh. Do you have to monitor at all in season what you do with him practice-wise?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, when we were talking about that in the spring, we were talking about that in the summer, that was getting to the season. Now we're in the season. It's not like we do live work. We're not doing any live work during practice getting ready for the game. We're not doing that. So, no.
There is a part that you just have to look at total rep count, and that's where I think miles really did some nice things. He put the ball on the ground, which you can't do. But up to that point, he did a really, really nice job. He showed that he can make people miss. He showed he's explosive, so that was great.
I thought Andre came in and brought a different element, a physical guy, big, strong, power guy, and he's kind of Mr. Consistent. So very pleased.
And then Mark, Mark has a role for us as well. Quickness, make you miss, those types of things. So I think that's what you're going to see. You're going to see Saquon tap out and those guys come in and replace him. I think you're going to see a series or half where you'll get those guys in as well. And typically what we've been doing say the first drive, Saquon's in there, and he's tapping for Andre in the first drive. So now the second drive when he taps, he's tapping for Miles or Mark or whatever it may be.
Then if you go a drive where maybe it's a quick touch and maybe we score on the second play and nobody got an opportunity to tap, then we wouldn't go to the next guy. That guy would stay as the tap guy for the next drive that type of deal. So that's usually discussions that we have during the week and finalize either Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.
Q. Saquon had told us last week after the Pitt game after his fumble, he stayed awake just watching that play over and over again. I'm curious, how much of a perfectionist is Saquon and how does that spill over to the field?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think most of our guys are like that. They want to do really well to help the team. They also understand if they make a mistake it's not just -- it doesn't just impact them. It impacts their teammates. And they want to do well.
So I don't think there is anything wrong with if you make a mistake in the game and do something that you would like to do better in the future, you study that. You study the tape. You study what you did, you study the scheme. You study the fundamentals and techniques of what you did and what you can learn from that situation. That's what life is about. It's about going through some difficult situations or being put into a situation where you're challenged and then how are you going to learn from that challenge and grow from that challenge?
The hard part in the business world, the hard part in life, the hard part in school, the hard part in coaching is guys that don't learn from their mistakes. So I think the fact that he went back and watched that play over and over again or is replaying that play in his head over and over again, I think that's fine. As long as, like most things, it doesn't go to an extreme. He learns from it, he makes the corrections and moves forward, and that's what we have to help him do as well.
Q. When Saquon went down --
JAMES FRANKLIN: I love how this started as like you guys refusing to say hi to me when I first got here. And now it's like these really nice pleasantries back and forth. It's been nice.
Q. Thank you. No, thank you. When Saquon went down, the next four drives you guys got two touchdowns, the red zone fumble and two touchdowns. That was probably not your best effort or what would have happened last year when your best player goes down. What do you think that says about the progress you've made over the past 12 months and the fact that you've got more than one weapon to rely offensively?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Bringing up a positive point for me to comment on. I love it. Thank you. I appreciate it. That's awesome. Yeah, I think it does. I think it speaks volumes about the direction that we're headed. You're exactly right. In the past if we had one of our better players not playing well or not make a play or having to go down for a couple series and being out of the game, that we had a hard time overcoming that.
Running back is a good position right now where we have created depth there and talent, and there's a lot of guys that can go in and run the offense and make plays that we can be successful with. You're starting to see that about the offensive line. I'm really starting to get excited about the offensive line.
We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were the last two years when it comes to pass protections. We still need to get more physical and nastier in the run game. But I see that. I look at Mike Gesicki going in and making big plays. He's an older, more mature player now. Even Jonathan Holland got in the game. Pancoast got in the game. Not only got in the game, but was able to get the job done. So, yeah, we're starting to create more depth.
You've heard me talk about it, and you guys have written about that we're a young football team. But we're starting to develop depth which we hadn't had. So that's exciting. We've got to keep growing, we've got to keep working, we've got to keep developing. We've got to keep staying positive. But I think that's a really good example, and it's a good example for our team. I think it's a good example for the fans and alumni, and, again, I was kidding around, but I do appreciate your question.
Q. You mentioned your experience coaching with and against Don Brown over the years. I'm wondering, jumping into the film this week, the primary differences you see with his defense at Michigan versus what you dealt with a year ago when they had D.J. Durkin that spot?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, Don was the defensive coordinator at Boston College when we played them in the bowl game. Don was the defensive coordinator at UCONN when I played him at my previous school. Then obviously we were both together at the University of Maryland for a number of years.
So got a lot of respect for him. I think he's been doing it for over 35 years. He's been a head coach as well as a coordinator that's had a lot of success. They're doing less at Michigan than what he did at Boston College. I think it's a combination of things. I think instead of him just running the package that he's been running forever and that he ran at Boston College. I think he shows up at Michigan, they were pretty successful already in what they were doing. I think he's taken some of those aspects of what they were doing the year before and blended it with some of the stuff that he believes in and has been doing as well. And I think he also feels like they have the size and depth and talent that maybe they don't have to do as much as what he did at Boston College, if that makes sense.
So doing a really, really good job. But it is a little bit different than what he's done in the past. Probably more similar to what they've done at Michigan. And it still falls kind of the same family. That's why he was hired there because I think they have similar philosophies and similar beliefs, but you can feel a little bit more of what they did at Michigan in the past in their package compared to just Don's pure scheme that he's been running before that. It's a blend.
Q. All this talk about gaps. What do you say to your guys and how do you overcome that gap and experience, those numbers you're talking about with Michigan and a guy like Brandon? How do you bridge that gap?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it's a couple things. Number one, it's your approach and it's your attitude. We've got an unbelievable opportunity to go on the road into a great venue, another historical program and do something special.
But, yeah, experience does factor in. That's where talking football, explaining situational football, showing them examples on video of things that we're doing well in practice and things that we need to do better, things that they are watching, whether it's "Monday Night Football" in the NFL or whether it's other college games, trying to speed up that maturation process as much as possible.
Because you look at their tight end, Butt, and you look at their wide receivers, those guys are different players now than they were two years ago based on their experience. So we're trying to speed up that maturation process as much as we possibly can.
I think the other thing on offense is the explosive plays, because the more explosive plays you can have, you don't need to be right for a 16-play drive or 14-play drive. I think that helps. Same thing on defense, if you can find a way, to protect the ball on the offense and create turnovers on defense, that is a huge momentum swinger in the game and creates more opportunities. Same thing, if you look statistically at giving up big plays on special teams, blocked punts and things like that, it's hard to win if you do those things, so eliminating those things.
So I think it's talking football, it's teaching football, it's building confidence. It's us going into that stadium expecting to win with that mentality. And I think we have a number of players that feel that way. What we have to do is increase that number between now and Saturday.
So you're always going to have a portion of the guys that believe whoever we play, whether it's the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers or Philadelphia Eagles, that we're going to beat them if we play. Then there is that group the offense that you need to convince, and then you have the young players who are still trying to figure it all out. And what you're still trying to do is move as many guys as you possibly can into that category so you can go into that game on Saturday confident, excited for the opportunity. To me, this is why you come to Penn State to play in these types of games.
Q. In the past you've talked about your appreciation for Tyler Yazujian, and in the game where special teams is such a factor, especially against Michigan, what's he bring to the table? Why is he so valuable?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I hope that we don't mention his name for the rest of the season, because that's usually a good thing. I hope the next time we talk about him is at the award banquet at the end of the season. Because if you're a long snapper, the only time anyone gives you any attention is usually when something bad happens. I try to make sure he knows how much we appreciate him.
It's funny, Tyler Davis, for example, the other day I went up to him and apologized. I don't know if I mentioned this or not, Yaz kind of falls into the same category. It's getting to the point where I don't say anything to them after we make a field goal because it's just the expectation. I felt bad. I went up to him and said I apologize. It's actually a positive. I just take for granted that you're going to make the field goal and you're going to snap it perfectly and we're going to get ready for kickoff.
But he's been unbelievable. He's an ambassador for our program in every sense of the word.
We do a guest coach program that I think you've heard me talk about where professors come and spend the weekend with us, and get around our guys and get around our program and it's amazing. Yaz is one of the guys that it seems like all the Professors know and have a lot of respect for. He's one of these guys that I think is going to be unbelievably successful when his career is completely over.
But I think he's got a chance to play for a long time. But he's a great role model. We very easily could have named him captain. He basically is the captain of the specialists. He kind of runs that unit.
In college football you don't necessarily have a kicking coach, so those guys spend a lot of time, to be honest with you, coaching themselves during practice. In the NFL you have someone assigned to those guys. So he's kind of the big brother and father of the group, so he keeps those guys running through practice.
But he's awesome. He's the kind of guy that I would be more than happy to have babysit my kids or to tutor my kids in school one day. He's awesome. I couldn't be more proud of him.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports