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PENN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 29, 2016
University Park, Pennsylvania
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening comment from coach.
COACH FRANKLIN: Appreciate everybody being here and coming out. First of all, I kind of want to poke fun at you guys, the conference call we had this week. Your names got mutilated in that conference call, the Big Ten. I don't know if you saw that, all these different things. I don't know if you guys picked up on that. I thought that was pretty fun.
Looking forward to seeing a big contingent obviously this week in Indianapolis. Should be fun. Should be exciting.
Kind of talk about Michigan State a little bit before we move on. Obviously great team win. The thing I'm probably most proud of is this team's focus overall, their focus, their discipline, and our chemistry.
Our discipline is improving. I think we had one penalty in the game. We had a game a few weeks ago where that spiked up a little bit, questions about that. I thought that was great. Then just little things, little things that I notice as a coach doing this a long time.
Kickoff coverage. Joe Julius is kicking a lot of balls out of the end zone. What happens on some teams is when that happens, guys stop running down the field. They run, they start jogging around the 15 yard line, jog off the field. Examples of all 11 of our guys every single play running through the end zone. Those little signs of discipline I'm really pleased with right now. So that's been a real positive.
Offensively obviously scored 45 points and had over 460 yards offense, 386 rushing yards, 13 explosive plays. How we calculate it, no turnovers, which has been really significant for us here as of late. Then 35 points in the second half.
Defensively I think probably the key to the game was the four early trips to the red zone that were held to all field goals. No explosive runs. Our goal each week is to hold our opponent to 3.3 yards or less per rush. We've done it. 1.8 Purdue, 1.2 Iowa, 2.7 Indiana, 1.2 Rutgers, then 2.6 from Michigan State. Michigan State had been running the ball really well as of late.
Special teams played really consistent the entire game, played physical, used really good techniques and fundamentals. That has really turned into a strength of ours. There's a report out there, one of the analytics companies, S & P Report, a total offense or total defense, but specific to special teams.
I think we're ranked as high as 12th now in the country in total special teams, which is something I think has really helped us, drive start average, field position, making big plays.
I'm really proud of Coach Huff as well as our specialists with Yaz, with Tyler, then with Gillikin, obviously that group, the leaders of that group, then Von Walker, special teams captain, have been awesome.
Coaching staff players of week was Trace McSorley on offense, Brandon Bell and Marcus Allen shared it on defense, and then on special teams Blake Gillikin. Both Trace and Brandon Bell got some other national awards and stuff like that out there.
This week, game against Wisconsin and Coach Chyrst. Coach Chyrst has done a really, really good job. Really good guy. I've known him for a number of years, not really well, but know him and have watched him from a distance. He's done a great job.
Coach Alvarez has been part of that Wisconsin program for such a long time. The amount of consistency they've had there is unbelievable. They've I think been a part of the Big Ten championship game for four out of the last six years. We've never been in it. There's an advantage that they have there from an experience standpoint.
What I would say about these guys is when you think in your mind or at least when I think in my mind of what a traditional Big Ten team is, that's who these guys are.
On offense, they're big, strong, physical. They're 6'6" across the board at every offensive lineman, except I think their left tackle is 6'7". Their tight end is 6'6". Their running back is 235 pounds. They run for power, they play-action pass, take shots down the field. They lead the country in time of possession, which typically defenses now start to get antsy and they get overall aggressive, that's where your susceptible to big plays in the passing game.
Then offensively, same thing. It affects how offenses are because they're worried about how many possessions they're going to get, start to change how they call the game as well. That does have a big effect. They've done a really, really good job.
Joe Rudolph who is a PA guy, Belle Vernon, PA, offensive coordinator has done a nice job. But Coach Chyrst has input there.
Defensively Coach Wilcox has had a lot of experience at an early age in his career, kind of has been all over the country. Has done a nice job.
You look at them statistically on defense, they're really good. Front seven is great. Linebacking unit is their strength, as well as their secondary. I think they're leading the nation in interceptions. Goes hand-in-hand with the pressure they're able to get on the quarterback.
Special teams, Chris Haering is their special teams coordinator. They do a good job.
The thing that really jumps out is they are solid and consistent in all phases on special teams. One of the things that they do on punt return is they line up, they screen move, they shift their fronts. They've gotten so many people to jump off-sides by real fast screen jumping or moving, moving the guys down the line of scrimmage, have caused everybody to jump off-sides. There's been some games it's happened multiple times.
I think it's illegal. Technically by the rule they're not shifting, stemming their front to run their punt return. They're doing it clearly to gain a penalty. Right after they do it, their whole special teams go crazy. You can see that's clearly what they're trying to do. We'll be prepared for that, working on that all week long with our punt team.
But it's going to be a great challenge. I know our guys are excited. We really kind of are looking at this, although we're the home team, we're looking at it as an away game. I think our guys are a little bit surprised at that. Some of them look at it as a bowl game.
Not everybody is able to travel and dress, limitations there. We're not going, like, three days early. It's an away game for us the way we look at it in terms of our approach. It's going to be a night game. We've had a lot of those, how we handle those in our approach, our planning, our organization.
But our guys are excited, they're focused. We're not going to treat it as anything different. We're not going to change how we go through our weekly game plan. We'll probably cut back a little bit this week, but we've been doing that every week. Besides that we want to make sure our guys are fresh, prepared and ready to go on Saturday.
I know that was a little bit long. I will shut up now and take questions.
Q. James, is there anything new about Saquon Barkley's status since you talked with us Sunday? Have you noticed any change in the focus of the players on the task at hand even though there are higher stakes this week?
COACH FRANKLIN: No. Like I said, there were things about the Big Ten championship game they really didn't understand. We had to kind of cover those things and get them addressed on Sunday. Besides that, it's our normal approach.
It's kind of hard for me to answer that because we only had Sunday, then Monday was off. This will be the first time we really spend a lot of time with them today. I'll have a better feel for that after today's practice. I know that's not the answer you guys want, but that's the best answer I can give you right now.
Saquon, as you guys know, whether there was something to report or not, I (indiscernible) report it. I think he's already told people he feels great. He looked great on Sunday when I saw him. So we're anticipating him playing and playing well on Saturday.
Q. James, I want your thoughts on the importance of the matchup between Wisconsin's secondary and your receivers. Also, in your mind why have you become so dangerous as a deep passing team? You've been able to exploit teams down the field and become very dangerous with the passing game.
COACH FRANKLIN: I think a couple things. I think you're exactly right. That matchup is going to be interesting in the game. They lead the nation in interceptions. We lead the nation I think in explosive plays in the passing game. That will be an interesting matchup.
They are talented in the secondary. They're experienced in the secondary, no doubt. I think we are talented at receiver and tight end. We are experienced at receiver and tight end. That will be a really interesting matchup in this game.
I think the explosive plays come from Trace's mobility, when he is able to step up in the pocket and extend plays. He's also one of those quarterbacks that when he steps up in the pocket, even when he's kind of on the run, he's eyes are downfield. That puts your underneath coverage and defense in conflict. Are they going to step up and stop Trace from running? When you do that, that creates really good throwing lanes. Or are you going to drop back and get really soft and try to help the underneath coverage on deeper routes and be susceptible to the quarterback being able to run on you?
The other thing is, as good as defensive backs are all over the country, and specifically in the Big Ten, if the offensive line can protect, then the quarterback can extend, I don't care who you are, I think playing defensive back may be one of the most difficult positions in all of sports. You're basically doing everything that most people do backwards. It's all reactionary. I think playing offensive tackle and corner are probably two of the most difficult positions.
If you can buy time and extend plays and force people to cover longer than is normal, it's really challenging. So I think that's where a lot of our big plays have come from.
Q. How do you feel the transition has gone at tackle for Ryan Bates so far? How challenging is that to move out to left tackle in the middle of season for a redshirt freshman?
COACH FRANKLIN: Really good. I think that's probably one of the bigger stories of our season, of this year. We have always thought, trust me, we got into a discussion with the staff the other day, Josh Gattis brought this up a long time ago, we've all kind of seen it and discussed it. We always thought Bates was a really, really talented guy. There's some aspects of his body type that you'd say he's probably more fit for center or guard. But his feet and his athleticism and his comfort in space make him really good at tackle.
You'd love a little bit more length. But his feet are just so good. You really see it if you go back and watch plays of whatever he pulls. When that guy pulls and runs, he is a really, really good athlete. Then you see the same thing now with him on the edge playing left tackle.
His play at left tackle, as well as Chasz Wright's play at right tackle has really, really helped us. Connor McGovern having experience, playing tackle all spring, kind of helps us as well.
I think Matt Limegrover and our offensive line and the perseverance and the flexibility and the next-man-in mentality is probably one of the bigger stories of our team this year, that and obviously linebacker and Coach Pry, obviously Coach Moorhead.
Q. Denny Douds said one of the pieces of advice he gave you about coaching was to do it right.
COACH FRANKLIN: I'm having a hard time hearing you.
Q. Denny Douds said one of the pieces of advice he gave you about coaching was to do it right. What else have you taken from Denny into your coaching career that you can apply so far, maybe that you can apply to Saturday's game?
COACH FRANKLIN: That's funny. I think back years ago when I started in this profession, I might have told you guys this story before. I went to Kutztown for six months. I got done at Kutztown. I accepted a position to be the quarterback and offensive coordinator in Roskilde, Denmark. I did that. My contract ran till the end of the season. They never had a whole lot of success. We ended up making it to the national championship game. I agreed to start my graduate assistant position. I think I told you this story before.
I actually flew back from Denmark at the end of the season, went to school for a week at East Stroudsburg, flew back to Denmark for the weekend, we won the national championship, then flew back and was at school on Monday. That's why I have no sympathy or excuses for our players missing class.
I lived with Denny and his wife Judy, thinking back, a month, maybe two months. They were awesome. I remember sitting there at night, we'd go out on the back patio. We'd talk. I was kind of a young coach, trying to figure it out, what direction I wanted to go, really what I wanted to do. Talking about his background.
He had opportunities to leave. Was very successful early on in his tenure there, had opportunities to leave. I think as we all know, he's going into year 51 I think it is.
I think you're exactly right. He's a guy that did it right. He's a guy that had a lot of consistency on his staff, consistency in his message. Denny had a book, kind of a coaching manual similar to what I had, and he was probably more consistent than even I try to be. I mean, literally the first Thursday of training camp, he had his page. That's what he was going to say. By the time you were a senior, you could recite the meeting. You knew exactly the entire year.
I think that's really why they've been able to sustain it at a pretty high level for so long. There's consistency in his message, consistency in his beliefs, consistency on his staff. That's something that's really kind of hit home with me.
He's also kind of a guy that kind of was really appreciative. We talked about the opportunities here, how you perceive things in life. I'll never forget at camp, at East Stroudsburg, we had three-a-days at camp. I'm not trying to get them in trouble. I can't imagine that was legal. My entire college career, three-a-days. We'd practice in the morning, mist, dew, wet. Gnats everywhere. Gnats in your nose and mouth. We practiced in the afternoon. Then special teams practice at night.
We didn't have the facilities that we have here. The first practice, you'd be soaking wet. By the time the second practice came, none of your equipment would be dry. You'd be pulling on all this wet equipment. Go out there, Denny would go, It's a hundred dollar day in the Poconos. People are paying big money to come here and you guys are here for free.
As a player, This guy...
His positivity, his consistency, his care for people, the importance that he felt, academics, athletics, how they complement each other, the educational process in high school and the college campus, those kind of things stuck with me forever, they really have.
Denny is a mentor. Denny is a good friend. Judy as well. All those people.
That was a long answer. But Denny and East Stroudsburg had a huge impact on me and always will.
Q. James, your three main backup tailbacks, can you pinpoint something that they've improved the most on? Is it tough during a game when Saquon isn't in there to divy up the playing time, know what to do that?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think managing that in general is challenging. It's challenging on Coach Huff. It's challenging on those guys. They're all really good players. They all want to play more. They all want to make an impact. I think they've handled it pretty well. For the most part they get it.
Andre has said about eight words since he's been here. Saquon gets really angry because it seems like whenever Andre goes in, the plays are blocked really well. He kind of runs through the line, into the secondary without anybody touching him. I think Saquon actually thinks the offensive line likes Andre more. I don't know what that deal is, but they kid around with each other on that.
Andre has been really, really productive in the opportunities he's got. I think he's a great example of if you work hard, keep a great attitude, you maximize the opportunities you get, whatever they are.
Mark Allen has done that here of late. The Rutgers game, things like that. He's kind of an emotional fireball on our team. He has a lot of energy, a lot of natural leadership skills. Comes from a winning program in DeMatha. They've done a great job there with him. He came in understanding what it takes to be successful and how to win.
Then obviously whenever you're able to get a guy like Miles Sanders, who is a really talented guy, it was obvious the first day he showed up on campus.
I think Coach Huff has done a really, really good job of setting the tone in that room, team first, the importance of the ball being the program, protecting that thing. When you're carrying the ball, you're carrying the program. That's something we talk about all the time.
But, yeah, I think for the most part it's a tough situation when you got a guy like Saquon Barkley to keep everybody involved, positive. I think for the most part that's been managed well.
Q. James, after the game you addressed the crowd on Saturday and mentioned that your guys had overachieved. When they were 2-2, do you feel they were underachieving? How did you see that arc of achievement grow as the season went on?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think all good teams across the country overachieve. That's what you're trying to do. You're trying to maximize the opportunities you get, trying to maximize the talent you have. You do that with great chemistry, relationships, trust and love for one another. You've heard me say those things before. You prepare like crazy, so when opportunities come you can take advantage of them.
I think good teams all over the country, that's what you're striving to do. You're striving to be greater than the sum of your parts. That's all of us, coaches, players, trainers, doctors, everybody.
So I think we're right about where we want to be. I think obviously you'd always like a little bit more. You'd always like to be a little bit better. You like to learn from your mistakes and grow from them.
I don't second guess anything. I don't look back and say, I wish we did this, could have done that. I think all those experiences, the last three years, including this year, have led us to where we are now. We wouldn't be the same type of team without the highs and the lows. I wouldn't be the same person, the players wouldn't have the same experiences. You learn from all those things.
I think all good teams in the country, that's what you're striving to do, is overachieve.
Q. You've talked a lot this year about how opposing defenses have played you kind of crowding the box, crowding the line of scrimmage, man coverage. It seems like you've kind of proven you have a way to deal with that now. Do you suspect as you go forward here teams might change their approach a little bit, particularly because, for example, Wisconsin is so good against the run anyway?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think actually we saw that last week. I mean, last week they widened the DNs, they rushed them up the field to try to stop the perimeter running game, they crossed the two inside linebackers a bunch in what we call cross dogs, bullets, whatever you want to call it.
To be honest with you, they played the defensive backs soft. We're going to let you throw the underneath stuff all day long. You're not going to get the chunk plays because you're getting them on everybody. We're going to make it difficult for you guys to run the ball on us.
That's an area we still got to improve. I think I told you guys, we had 13 linemen travel last week, eight were freshmen. Late in the season, we're growing, getting more mature, but it still is what it is.
Yeah, I think we've seen those plans. I think it goes back to what I said before. When Trace is able to be mobile and he's going to be able to hold onto the ball that long and still be a threat to either run or throw it down the field, and we have big, physical wide receivers that go up and get the ball, and Trace has the ability to put it in spots where they're going to come down with it, that's hard to defend.
Then I think the other thing we do is we're not playing in a phone booth. That was one of the big reasons I made the change that I made, is because I felt like we had really good talent at wide receiver, depth. I thought Mike Gesicki had a chance to have a breakout year for us. The talent we have at runningback, the mobility we have at quarterback, a still developing offensive line. It doesn't make sense to play in tight quarters.
I love how some of those teams play across the country, Stanford, people across the country that get big and knock people around in tight quarters.
You have two ways of creating space. You spread people out on the field and create lanes and opportunities inside, or you can condense everybody down in tight pack formations. You're creating space on the perimeter, you try to create space for people by moving people man against man.
We thought this was the right thing to do to take advantage of the personnel we had and thought it was a great opportunity for both, for Coach Moorhead and for Penn State.
I think that's probably the biggest difference. But we've seen changes. I think everybody goes in and says, We're not going to give up big plays against Penn State. We're not going to allow Saquon Barkley. That's the game plan every week.
Q. Two days ago you mentioned doing the analysis of the championship game with FOX last year. Did you end up taking away anything tangible from that experience, the atmosphere or anything else, that you'll impart on the players this week?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I took a bunch of notes that whole weekend while it was going on, before it started, after the game was over when I came back. I talked to our staff about some of those things, talked to our administrative people about traveling, the hotel, venue, all those things.
Yeah, just being in there, seeing what it was like, what the environment was like, how different teams approached it. You find out teams that have played in that game before, what they did, what their plan it was.
For example, a little small thing. Michigan State last year did a walk-through in the stadium. Iowa did not. We don't typically walk through at away stadiums. Are we going to do that or not now we're playing in the championship game? As you guys know, I like routine.
I want to hear what other people had done, what the hotels were like, all these types of things. Whenever we go on an away game, our administrative staff, Jemal Griffin, Kevin Threlkel, Mike Hazel, they handle that organization for us.
Me actually being there on the sidelines helped me kind of understand what the environment was going to be like, what the venue was like, the atmosphere. I think two years before that I did the same thing for the very same reason. A few days or maybe a week before I took this job, I did the national championship game, not because I have interest in maybe getting into broadcasting in the future, but to experience that.
Standing on the sidelines at the national championship game, doing the coverage on TV before the game, that was going to give me an opportunity to see something and be a part of something that I had not experienced yet, and to learn from it and grow from it.
All these things are opportunities to learn and grow so that when the time comes, you have some background, some experiences, some feel for what it will be like.
Q. James, in your first four games, the defense allowed 131 points. The last eight games, it's only been 142 total. What does it say about the perseverance of Brent Pry and the defensive coaches, plus the players to get through all those injuries to succeed the way they have?
COACH FRANKLIN: Again, I think I mentioned to you guys, I don't know if I've ever seen anything like it, the amount of injuries we had at the linebacker position. Not just ankles or things like that or hamstrings where a guy is out for a week or so. We had guys out for a significant amount of time.
They never blinked. They never panicked. They never pointed the finger. They never made excuses. They just kept training guys, getting guys ready to play. Our players saw that in our coaches, in Coach Pry, the confidence that he had, his leadership, his command, his demand for guys to play up to our standards. I mean, it's remarkable.
I've been saying for three years that Brent Pry did not get enough credit. I've been saying really for six years that Brent Pry did not get enough credit for the type of defense that we've played. That's why when the opportunity came, as you guys all saw, it did not take very long. We had our plan and we moved forward. He's been awesome.
As you guys know, Brent's family and my family, we go back a long ways. His father, I get a text from him every single week. He was my offensive coordinator in college. I've known Brent for a long time. Not only is he a good coach, but he's a good man. We're fortunate. I can say that about all our guys. We got a great staff. I think we've got the best staff in the country. I'm biased, I know that. A lot of coaches feel that way. But these guys are good coaches, good people, good men, good fathers. We are blessed to have them. I am blessed to have these guys here. I love going to work with them every day.
Q. You don't want to join the media contingent yet?
COACH FRANKLIN: No. I respect what you guys do, but no thank you.
Q. You said before, Sunday Dunkin Donuts with your daughters. Obviously this town is excited. I know you don't get out of the building too often. What has been the most memorable moment for you since Saturday night dealing with the fans?
COACH FRANKLIN: I don't know if you guys have ever been out in this town on a Sunday morning after a game around 8:15. Yeah, not a whole lot going on. A great time to go to Dunkin Donuts. There's about four people there. You walk in, you walk out. They know exactly what my girls are going to order. Shola gets a blueberry and a twist, Addy gets a strawberry frosted and a twist. We bring two twists home to mom. Bring a dozen to the guys. It's in and out, it's awesome.
I would say last night or two nights ago, I guess it was Sunday night, excuse me, I think we got done watching film, it was around 11:00, 11:30. On my way home I went over, because I think Chris or Michael Hazel said to me there's about 150 tents out there. I went out there and walked to the very front of the line, wanted to thank them for coming out.
This guy and this girl were asleep. I woke them up, which I felt bad about. Kind of walked through thanking everybody. I've worked a lot of different places. I've never seen anything like that.
I also was concerned because it was cold. I told them to stay warm, don't get sick. The other thing is, there's no excuse not to go to class tomorrow, make sure you're at class.
It was really cool. Great to get a chance to interact with them, let them know how much we appreciate them. I think that's one of the things that makes this place special, the support we get from our students as well as the community.
Our players followed up next morning with breakfast for them, breakfast sandwiches and donuts and stuff like that. It's a special place, no doubt about it.
I don't deal with it a whole lot because I come to the office early. I've struggled with that a little bit this year because I am a morning person, and Joe is a night person, Moorhead. What I was trying to do early in the season was I was trying to stay with them at night and then still come in, where I come in earlier than everybody else. That wasn't jibing. I come in a half hour later in the morning, stay with the offense. Joe works better at night.
I don't get out a whole lot. I think two weeks ago I went and had lunch with my daughters at school. That's really it. I bring lunch in usually during the day. I don't get out a whole lot. I go to my radio show. That's about the most excitement I have for the week, that and the quarterback club. I used to go out to dinner on Thursday nights with my wife, kind of date night. We have our radio show Thursday night, then put the girls to bed. I sit in a corner by myself, watch the Thursday night game of the week. My wife is in there watching some type of reality TV show, Lives or Women of some town. That's really about the excitement that we have.
Q. Four years ago some unfortunate things happened to this program in Indianapolis. Now you're going back there to play probably the biggest game this program has had since the sanctions. Do you see any irony in that? Also talk about how this program has come so far so fast given the circumstances.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, to be honest with you, I just want to talk about the game this week. I don't want to get into all those things. I think what I will say, and I mean this with all due respect to everybody, for a long time we've been talking at Penn State about what it was, with great respect of what Penn State was in the '80s with the national championships, all the wonderful things, graduation rates. I grew up with that, hearing about it. Coming here I've heard about that. I think it's special.
Probably the first time in a long time people are talking about what Penn State is. That is in alliance with our history, traditions and past. That's one of the things I talk to the team about in the locker room. It's funny, I used to hear players all the time talk about, We want to get this program back to what Penn State was. Most of them weren't born then.
I do think it's significant that we're at a time in our history where people are talking about what we are, what we currently are, what Penn State is. I think that's great.
Again, we're just focused on Wisconsin. We're blessed and appreciative to represent the Big Ten East and play in this game. It's going to be a great experience, great for our fans. Our guys are excited, are going to prepare like crazy all week long, then go represent the white and blue the best we can to make all the Penn Staters all around the world, all the lettermen, really proud, not only of how we played all year, but how we're going to compete on Saturday.
That's really the significance of it. That's what it is. That's what I want to talk about.
Q. The field goal against Ohio State has been a big play for you guys. Can you use that as a coachable moment to tell these guys how important the details are? Seems like those types of plays are where those things come into play more so than others.
COACH FRANKLIN: I think that play's easy to talk about. I would go back to what I said in the beginning. It's the kickoff coverage that no one notices that Joe kicks four yards out of the end zone, and all 11 guys run through the end zone with pride and with enthusiasm and with attention to detail.
That play you're exactly right. Obviously it's going to be a memorable play. But that's easy to point out. I don't need to point that out. They get that. It's the other things. It's how they stretch. It's how they run through the end zone on kickoff. It's how they show up to meetings with their iPad to take notes or their notebook to take notes. It's showing up to class and not being on the list, so we can spend our time developing these guys as men and as football players and creating championship habits in football and in life, not baby-sitting on whether they're going to class or not making the right choices. It's all those disciplines.
A lot of things I've been talking to you guys about for three years, the examples of community service, the GPA, the grades, all that discipline. I was really hopeful that that discipline off the field would translate on the field.
I think you're exactly right. But I would actually say it's easy for people to focus on that play. I think what's more important is the plays that go unnoticed by people or the walk-on who hasn't played but sets a great example in the locker room or Saturday nights, going to class, in meetings, just bringing positive energy to the team. It's those things that have really allowed us to have some success this year, that no one notices.
Q. In terms of preparation, how are you handling Wisconsin's quarterback situation with their starter questionable?
COACH FRANKLIN: He's going to play.
Q. Are you looking at both quarterbacks?
COACH FRANKLIN: They've been playing both quarterbacks all year long. It really doesn't factor in. He's going to play. I mean, I got a lot of friends in the Malvern area. I'm from Pennsylvania. He's from Pennsylvania. He's playing in this game. I still got friends from my time with the Green Bay Packers. I got informants and spies everywhere. He's playing.
Actually, that's a good story. In my basement I have a cheese head from when I was with the Packers. Just didn't feel right this week in the basement. I put it into a closet, put it away.
Q. One of the things you said Saturday night to the crowd was that this was just the beginning. Can you elaborate on that a little bit, sort of frame what this game means to the now and the picture you're painting here.
COACH FRANKLIN: It was just the beginning of the next week. That was the end of that game, and this was just the beginning of the next week of preparation is really what I meant. It probably was misinterpreted. Just the beginning of our normal process of enjoying it for an hour or two, and start on Sunday with preparing for Wisconsin.
Obviously we found out that we would have an opportunity to represent the Big Ten East in the Big Ten championship. It was the beginning of the next week of preparation for our next opponent.
Q. Corey Clement is a lead back. They have two other backs that get a lot of carries. What is the challenge in preparing for three backs? Do they all bring similar things to the table or have different skill sets?
COACH FRANKLIN: It has to start with Clement. That's their guy. The other guys are complementary pieces to him, in my opinion.
Again, I think it starts up front, like I always say. It's their offensive line versus our defensive line, being able to get negative-yardage plays which we struggled to early last week. Once we started doing that, negative-yardage plays, or zero gains, to get them off schedule.
What you can't allow this type of offense to do is ball control, eat up the clock, just grind you down with three- and four-yard plays down the field.
It helps with their inexperience at the quarterback position, playing two guys, and one of them is a young player, where they're not putting a whole lot of pressure on him. When he does throw, he throws in advantageous situations with free access, soft throws, or overcompensating to stop their offensive line and a big power back that gets great throwing situations one-on-one in the perimeter with not a whole lot of people in his face.
We have done a great job all year long with our defensive line kind of as the game has gone on. Just like we talk about starting fast on offense, we have to start fast on defense.
One of the things that could have helped us on Saturday on offense, it goes hand-in-hand, our offense not going three-and-out puts our defense in a tough spot. But then our defense has got to get three-and-outs to help themselves and also put our offense in a better situation. All those things go hand-in-hand.
Typically, I don't mean necessarily us, but it goes hand-in-hand. Your special teams have an impact on defense and offense. Your defense has an impact on offense. For you to have one of the better offenses in the country, you almost have to have a really good defense because the defense is going to get the ball back and provide more opportunities for the offense. That's the reality of it.
That's where statistics can be deceiving. A lot of times the guy that leads the conference in tackles is on the team that the defense is on the field a whole lot. All these things are complementary. They kind of affect one another.
Q. If there's a travel limitation, how do you go about figuring out who is going to go? You have some injured veterans who have done a lot for this program, but you talked about a learning experience even for you.
COACH FRANKLIN: I guess the best way to describe it is, we can take everybody, but we can only have a certain number of guys on the sidelines is really how it works. You get a total number that's between your staff and your players. There just comes a point where you got to cut that off.
We'll travel a little bit more than we normally do, the normal 70 we're allowed. It will be a little bit more than that. That's what you're doing. You're going to travel, have that discussion with staff, which we already have. There's going to be some guys that aren't going to play that you typically would not travel to an away game that we are going to travel because the coaches and the team feel like they're going to bring value from a leadership perspective.
Then there's going to be some young guys that you typically rotate. What we try to do with the young players, we try to rotate them. If there's a young offensive lineman who is redshirting, we'd like for him to travel at least once so he knows what to expect next year. You try to rotate with all those guys.
What you're trying to do is some of those young players, you're trying to add them to the roster, the travel roster, so they can gain this experience, which is a little bit more unique obviously.
Q. You alluded to negative-yardage plays. Watt and Deal, they generate a lot of sacks. How concerned are you about them? What can an offense do to neutralize those guys?
COACH FRANKLIN: I have no doubt that's their strength. Their secondary is leading the country in interceptions. I think it's their linebackers. We talked to other coaches that have played them. Those guys are really, really good. They're productive. They play with great energy.
I think the biggest thing about them is with their linebackers leadership. Not only do they make negative-yardage plays, they're one of these defenses, they're never out of position, they're always in position, they're sound. You watch the tape. It's not like they do anything that just overwhelms you. It's not like last year we had AJ who could overwhelm people at times. It's not like they're doing anything to overwhelm you from a scheme standpoint, but they're just always in position.
They tackle well. They don't give up a whole lot of big plays. They make you earn every yard on the field. Like I said, in my mind, you guys have been covering Penn State and the Big Ten a lot longer than I have in detail, but in my mind when I kind of imagine what a Big Ten team traditionally has been like, it's when you watch them on tape, that's how I envision it.
Obviously we go into each week saying that these are the guys that we need to be aware of, these are kind of the game-wreckers that have shown they can take over a game and be a problem for people, we better know where these guys are on every play, and in the run game we better be double-teaming and working to those guys, or in the pass game, we have to have somebody assigned to them in protection. Those guys are it.
Q. Chris has 25% of the receptions this year, which is the lowest in the last five years for the leading receiver. How important has Trace's distribution been this year? How key is that against a team that's been pretty good at stopping chunk plays?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's really important. I think it's a combination of a number of things. I think it's Trace doing a really good job of not keying in on one guy and saying, I'm throwing it to this guy. He's going to go through his progressions. I think it's also Trace's confidence that we have so many guys that can make plays.
I think it's also the fact that guys that were young players in the past, in backup roles, that weren't necessarily ready for prime time, we're comfortable now putting those guys in the game. Instead of the last couple years where Chris Godwin never came off the field. You remember DaeSean Hamilton played a couple games with one leg, like hobbling around. We weren't comfortable taking those guys off the field.
Now we have some young players that have really built everybody's confidence. They have confidence in themselves, and the players and coaches have confidence in them. It allows us to keep those guys a little bit more fresh.
Chris is probably the one guy that plays the most reps. We typically put him in a tap situation, until he taps his helmet and needs a blow, where other guys are more of a rotation.
I think that helps you. Whenever anybody can say, We can't just say we're going to go into this game stopping this guy, we're not like that. We have a lot of guys that can hurt you in a lot of different ways, not only guys that can make the tough catch, but guys that can be explosive.
I think there's, YAC yards, I think we can do a better job of catching the ball underneath breaking tackles and making people miss at the tight end position as well as wide receiver. Again, we're leading the nation in explosive passes. We're having some success, obviously.
Q. How much do you think this offensive system has aided or sped up Trace's development as a quarterback, considering how engaged he's had to be specifically with the communication from the sidelines before every snap?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don't know if I necessarily would say that. I think it just goes back to what I've said before. It's fit. Joe has done a great job. I love working with Joe. He's got a really creative system. He's a really smart guy. He knows how to work hard but also have fun doing it, which I think is a really, really valuable trait to learn. We talk about that with our players all the time. You're going to do the work anyway, might as well have fun while you're doing it.
Also the fact that we're at 85 scholarships. The offensive line, our numbers are better, our size and strength is better. The runningbacks that we've talked about, the wide receivers that we have, the mobility at the quarterback position. It's a good fit and it's good timing.
I brought Joe in because I thought his system would fit the personnel that we have. He's done a really good job of taking advantage of the personnel that we have here. It's been a really nice marriage. It really has.
All the things that me and Joe talked in that hotel until about 3:00 in the morning at the National Football Foundation in New York, all the things we talked about, things that he showed me and sold me on, stuff I had already done my research on ahead of time, stuff that I told him was here in place, why I thought it made sense for both parties, it's been really good.
I think Trace, obviously his skill sets and his strengths fit well with what we're trying to do on offense. I don't know if I would say that this quarterback is more engaged than any other quarterback I've been around. They have to be. Whether you're in the huddle or you're getting the call from the sideline, the communication still has to occur.
I know huddles are a bad word around here now, but I think quarterbacks always have to be really engaged in running the show. I think Trace has done a really, really good job of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH FRANKLIN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports