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PENN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 11, 2018
University Park, Pennsylvania
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, appreciate everybody coming out and covering Penn State Football. Before I kind of get started here, obviously this day, 9/11, represents a lot of things for a lot of different people in our country and obviously hits close to home.
So I didn't want to get into football without talking about, you know, this significant day in our country's history. I wanted to take a moment to mention that. I actually had a teammate from college that passed away on that day, as well and when we were able to take our team a few years back to the site, I think it was powerful and another example how college athletics and specifically football can use our platform to do other things. That was on important day in our program. I wanted to mention that.
I also wanted to mention David Williams is stepping down; the athletic director at Vanderbilt. Has been a mentor and a friend of mine. Has had a huge impact on me both personally and professionally. Just got done visiting with David here in the last hour.
David, I'll give you an example what he's meant to me and my family, obviously professionally, kind of speaks for itself but personally, both my parents have been deceased for a long time and my kids were going to school and they had grandparents day at school, and they don't have grandparents from my side and my wife's side is too far away. David and Gail both went to elementary school with my daughters or grandparents day. Kind of speaks to the type of guy he is and I'm forever grateful and thankful for David, so I did want to mention that real quick.
Getting into the Pitt game, I'm proud of how we played. I think we took a step in the right direction. Cleaned up some things. Played aggressive. Played fast. Thought we really did well at the line of scrimmage, both the defensive line and offensive line, I think getting Kevin Givens back was a significant impact in the game. You know, we won the turnover battle.
Although I thought we were sloppy and it's something we take a lot of pride in, we did win the turnover battle but we put the ball on the ground way too many times. Penalties, I thought we were able to win that. I thought we played with poise and great discipline the entire game in a highly motivated, highly anticipated game in terms of the energy and emotion on the field on Saturday. I thought our guys did a good job there.
We won the drive/start battle. I thought Blake had a significant impact in the game and we're going to need him to be that way throughout the entire year. We won the sack battle and then we didn't meet our goal in the explosive play battle on offense, but we did win the explosive battle in the game. So real positives there.
Our coaches's Players of the Game on offense was KJ Hamler and on defense was Amani Oruwariye. Amani, that's for you, brother.
And then on special teams is Blake Gillikin.
In general, positives: I thought we played with tremendous effort. We dominated the line of scrimmage we kept our poise and discipline, and I thought we played a complete game on special teams.
Then opportunities for growth, we have got to protect the football consistently on offense. On defense, we have to consistently do our jobs.
I thought that one play where they ran the fly sweep and got down the sideline; I think if we do our jobs on that play and don't let that play get going, that may got them some momentum, and I think the game is much different. We start with a three-and-out; I think if we don't give up that play early on and do our jobs, set the edge and turn the ball back inside, I think even the first half is much different than the way it played out.
We've got to be more physical and lower and consistently wrapping up in our in our tackles. There's still times when we're throwing shoulders. I think we can do a better job there. And then we have to eliminate the penalties on offense.
We took two huge plays that I'm not sure if the penalties really would have helped. I think we still get the pass play to Miles for a huge play. I think we still get the touchdown. I believe that Polk's hand -- he did put his hands on his back. It was the right call but he didn't shove him and I don't know if the guy would have made the tackle, anyway, so we have to get those things cleaned up.
Moving on to Kent State and Coach Sean Lewis who I have a lot of respect for. We did a travel camp with those guys a few years back in Chicago and got a chance to get to know him a little bit. Very, very impressed.
Obviously his background is on the offensive side of the ball. Also he's a Big Ten guy, played at the University of Wisconsin for Barry Alvarez. So he understands this conference, as well. They have 12 of 29 starters returning.
If you look at the Illinois game, they are winning 7-3 in the first quarter. They are winning 17-3 in the second quarter and then they gave up some points in the third quarter but then ended up losing 24-31 on the road to Illinois.
So again, we're playing a team that expects to come in and not only compete, but win, and then they were able to get a lot of confidence last week in playing Howard and winning 54-14.
You know, a real challenge. I think obviously Kent State offense is run by Andrew Sowder, but I think we all really, too, the head coach, it's his offense.
This is going to be a tempo offense, probably the fastest tempo team that we've seen since we've been here. Very much like Syracuse has been; very much like Baylor used to be. This will be as fast of a tempo team that we have played. They like to run the counter. They like to run the zone read. They like to run the split zone and the power play. They love the quick game and the RPO stuff and then everything runs through the quarterback.
Quarterback's a problem. Woody Barrett is a problem. Highly, highly-recruited kid. Played in the Under Armour All-American. Signs with Auburn. Transfers out to a junior college and now is starting at Kent State. He's 6-2, 236 pounds. He can run. He can throw. He's dynamic. You see guys come through blitzing and he stands in the pocket, they hit him, they bounce off, he keeps his eyes down the field, delivers the strike, with beat with you his legs. He's a problem. So we've got to be ready and prepared for him. Like everybody in the country, dual-threat quarterbacks are problematic so, we have to be ready for him.
And running back, Justin Rankin does a nice job for them, as well, 5'9, 211 points.
On defense, Tom Kaufman, kind of an interesting deal. He actually started at college at Cornell with Ricky Rahne. They were both together before he transferred out of Cornell after Ricky's freshman year. He's been a collegiate coach for now six years, defensive coordinator in Chattanooga where they hired him from, but they got background, like most of his coaching staff: Syracuse, Bowling Green, Eastern Illinois.
They are a sound, high-effort group. They are going to be another odd-front defense, very similar to what we played in week one with App State. So three-down; although they are 4-2-5 personnel, coverages, their two-high but they are going to mix in some quarters and then some cover one. They pressure over 30 percent of the time.
And the guys that we're impressed with is No. 7, their safety, Jamal Parker, who is a local kid from Pennsauken, New Jersey.
Linebacker No. 22, Jim Jones from Tallahassee, Florida, senior.
And then the defensive end, No. 58, Theo -- I don't want to mispronounce his name, 6-1, 269-pound senior from Lithonia, Georgia.
On special teams, Zac Barton runs that for him. Does a nice job. His first year there. Got 11 years of collegiate experience from Winona State to Memphis to Nebraska.
Aggressive, fast, athletic unit. We have been impressed with linebacker No. 32 on special teams, Dalton Hicks, and linebacker No. 6, Matt Bahr, who is a senior linebacker for them, as well, guys that show up on special teams.
So excited to be back at home. We're expecting another great crowd, but I'd love for us to take it to another level. I'd love for us to be able to sell the stadium out. I think that would do wonders for our program. I think it send a message nationally, as well and we're going to need them. We've been fairly successful at home, and I think the crowd has been a huge part of that.
So I'd ask everybody, all 105,000 that we're expecting on Saturday, to recruit one person and we'll try to figure out a way to get 210,000 people in this stadium. So everybody go out and recruit one person for the game, and I'll let sandy and Phil figure out how to get 210,000 people into the stadium.
Open up for questions.
Q. Can you evaluate the play of Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins to this point?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think both Juwan and DeAndre have higher standards and expectations of how they want to play. II have the utmost confidence in those guys, and I think they are both going to have huge years for us. But yeah, I think there's a few plays they would like to have back, there's no doubt about it.
I thought we made a huge step, which is critical in our offense, in the perimeter blocking game. I thought those guys really took big steps, significant steps. If you guys go back and watch the tape, there's some really good examples of us blocking on the perimeter and playing physical.
Yeah, I think both of those guys have higher standards and expectations of who they want to be.
One of the things I'm going to talk to the team about today, Juwan, one of the things I love about him is his approach. In all of his free time, he's in the facility, stretching, on the JUGS machine, getting extra lift, watching more film, constantly taking care of his body, hot tubs, cold tubs; and with that type of investment that you make, good things are going to happen.
He's got great skills and you talk about investing in your future, investing in your craft, investing in school. It's all about preparation, and Juwan, constantly, from the coaching staff and from the players, is pointed out as a guy that does that, as well as anybody.
You know, I got tremendous confidence that those guys, you're going to end up and we're going to look back at the end of the year and say, wow, what huge years these guys had. You know, I'm very, very confident that that's going to happen.
Q. Your thoughts on the linebacker play in general and specifically what you've seen from Micah Parsons early in the season?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it's about where we thought it would be. It's going to continue to grow and continue to evolve. We've got a number of guys, we've got experience there.
We've got experienced talent and we've got young talent. I think the combination of Koa Farmer and Micah Parsons at the outside linebacker position, I think that's a nice one-, two-punch that we have there. I feel like those guys got a chance to play at a very, very high level for us.
At middle linebacker, you have an interesting three-way, three-headed monster there with Jan, Ellis and Jesse and all three of them do good things and we'll continue to see those guys get reps and opportunities. It's good to see Jesse, who didn't play in week one at the linebacker position, get some reps in week two, and I think that will continue to evolve.
And then at the other outside linebacker, Cam Brown, and I see Jarvis Miller takes some steps and we were impressed when Dae'Lun got into the game. We thought he did some good things.
That group will continue to evolve and grow, and you'll see a lot of guys get an opportunity to make plays. I think at some point this season, either someone will take the job and take control of it and say it's mine because there is a gap, or, you'll see a two-headed or three-headed monster continue to kind of evolve there and grow and get better week-to-week.
Q. Given that Tommy Stevens hasn't been 100 percent, how much has that affected, if at all, how you've used the run game so far?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Hasn't really affected us a whole lot. I think game planning, I think probably some of the quarterback run stuff we've limited, but as you know we do so much of the RPO stuff that he's still getting a decent amount of carries per game to keep people honest.
That's who we are and that's who we will be. I think you guys see, we have a lot of confidence in Sean Clifford, as well, which obviously helps with that.
Obviously getting Tommy back is going to open some other things up to us, as well, in the run and passing game, because as we've used him the last couple years, we know he can factor in in a lot of different roles and wear a lot of different hats, not only as a backup quarterback but also as getting two quarterbacks on the field at the same time, use him as a running back, use him as an h-back, use him as a wide receiver. That's exciting, as well because I do think it opens another aspect of our game plan.
Q. You mentioned earlier this season in preseason about Jahan Dotson's natural feel for the game. How does he translate that to the field and how close is he to being ready to play?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Really good. We could play Jahan right now. I don't think there's any doubt in that. You'll see Jahan play this year because we've got the four games to play him, so at some point, we see it factoring in.
We had a lot of discussions this week about some guys that maybe we would use this week and get them a little bit of experience. So we'll see how that plays out, but there's a lot of confidence in Jahan and what he brings to the table. I don't think there's any doubt about that.
Q. You mentioned Amani at the beginning. On Saturday, you said he's one of those guys where the ball just finds him. Can you talk about maybe a little bit in detail what makes him so successful, and how important is he to your defense moving forward?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, he reminds me a lot, when we were at Vanderbilt, we had a guy by the name of Casey Hayward, same deal. He.
Always seemed to be around the ball; the ball liked him, and I see that with Amani. Amani is long. He's got great ball skills. He's got tremendous confidence, and he's also been in the system for a long time now, and he's developed. He's mature. He believes in himself. He believes in the system. He's got that ability to find the ball.
A lot of defensive backs aren't comfortable doing that because you want to stay connected to the wide receiver, and you know, worst-case scenario, you let the receiver catch the ball and you strip it out of his hand as soon as it hits the hands, and the guys that want to take their game to the next level, they know when and are comfortable to look back or up and find the ball and make a play on the ball, and Amani has the ability to do that, as well as, you know, any of the DBs that I've been around.
You know, I think you're going to continue to see him have a big year for us. He had a big year for us last year but obviously he's getting more opportunities and more reps right now as a starter for us, and I think he's very important to our defense.
I think whenever you've got a corner like that that can make plays, whether it's in zone coverage, whether it's in man coverage, whether it's in one-on-one situations, it breeds a lot of confidence in your defensive coordinator and your secondary coaches.
Q. About John Reid, can you tell us why he didn't play on Saturday? Will we see him soon and if this is indeed a setback injury-wise, do you sense any disappointment in him because of missing all last season?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, as you guys know, I don't get into injuries and things like that. We're hopeful that we'll have John this week.
Q. Your passing game the first couple weeks, in terms of completion percentage, yards for attempt, stuff like that, I'm guessing it's not what you want it to be, and you touched on that a little bit with the wide receivers, but in general, how do you think you can get a little more efficient in the passing game?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don't know if that's really -- when you think you had two games and one game significantly in rain the entire game; I think we threw for a good amount of yards and a good amount of touchdowns and we held our opponent to 55 yards. To think the rain, it wasn't just our defense that affected them; it was the rain, as well.
I think under the circumstances, I feel really good about where we're at.
Q. You talked earlier about Woody Barrett. He's such a big guy, physical runner, such a quick pace, what challenge does that present to the defense when they are causing substitution issues with the offense they play?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I didn't hear the last part. You're kind of breaking up.
Q. What kind of challenge does that present for the defense?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think obviously you're dealing with three dimensions: You've got the pass that you've got to stop, you've got the run that you've got to stop and then you've got the quarterback scrambles.
I think that changes how you call the game. If you've got a pro-style quarterback that's just going to stand in the pocket, you attack that and approach that very different than a guy who has got mobility and can hurt you with his legs.
The other thing I can say, being on the headset and in the meeting rooms with our defensive staff, it's frustrating because you feel good, you stop the run which is what every defensive coordinator in America wants to do and make people one-dimensional, and you're getting great coverage, but as you're getting great coverage, the defense is turning their back to cover their guy or lose sight on the quarterback; and now he steps up in the pocket because you weren't as disciplined and you should have been in your rush lanes.
And now all of a sudden that guy is running for six or eight or 12 or 20 yards, and that's challenging. Because you watch the tape and you pretty much did everything right, and the guy still has an opportunity to make big plays on you.
It definitely affects the defensive coordinator. I tell Trace and our offense all the times, I've been saying it for the last couple years, when Trace factors into games with his legs early, it opens our whole offense up, and the same thing can be said about teams and offenses that we're trying to defend.
Q. There are many instances about your team having a big second half and overcoming any issues you might have had in the first half. What are the keys for you being consistently good as a program at making half-time adjustments?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, that's part of it. I would make the argument, really, we've got to do a better job of starting out fast. We've done a much better job in the last two years of scoring on opening possessions. We've done a better job there, so I think that helps.
But then, you know, as we're trying to kind of figure out who and what they are; so based on everything we've studied, are they staying true to what we game plan based on what we saw on film, or are they trying to break all their tendencies and how they are calling the game.
So we're trying to find that out adds quickly as we possibly can to adjust how we are calling the game and how we are trying to attack them in really all three phases. I think we can do a better job of probably diagnosing those things a little bit faster, but you know, we have played really well in second halves and we've played sporadic early on.
But as we continue to play better and better competition, like we're getting with Kent State, each week, we've got to make sure that we're not, you know, starting out slow in the first quarter or second quarter, things like that. You can't do that. For us to beat the types of teams, we want to beat consistently, we have to play at a pretty high level, not only every rep, but for all four quarters.
Q. When you have a kid like Ricky Slade who struggles, how do you balance getting the messages across that you need to about fumbling, without realizing you don't want to kill his confidence as a young guy?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it's what you just said. You have to be aware of that. There's got to be a clear understanding and standard that that's not acceptable because it's preventible.
You know, I think that's -- that is critical, but also, not taking it too far. I thought our coaches and our players handle it really well in the locker room, and you know, he's going to have a great career here and he's got a very bright future.
But you know, typically that's an issue with young backs, his pass protection and holding on to the football because they are getting hit harder than they have ever gotten hit in their life and they are getting bigger, stronger guys trying to rip the ball out more than they ever had in their entire life.
I think the other thing is, you know, they are just better than everybody in high school. Going against guys that are as good or almost as good as them and the margin of error is so small, all those things matter. He'll learn from this and grow from this and be better from this experience because of how he's handled it and how our team handled it and I think how our coaches handled it.
Q. What differences did you see in Micah Parsons from week one to week two, and what are your impressions of Shaw, the Kent State running back?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, so Micah just continues to get more confident and get more comfortable. As you guys know, he hasn't really played the linebacker position, so it's still all new to him. But he does have a knack for finding the ball. He's got really good instincts from that perspective.
There's a lot of things from a fundamental standpoint that he's got to get better at, even just stance and start. He stands way too up right in there and knees more knee bend, so he can be more efficient with his movements and things like that.
But I just see him getting more confident and more comfortable with all of the responsibilities that come with playing the linebacker position.
So I think that's what I noticed, and then Joel Shaw, obviously we go way back with him, as we were recruiting Miles, him and Miles played together and were really -- on a really good high school football team, so we know kind of all about him and his background.
Got a lot of respect for him. I think him and Miles both rushed for a hundred yards last week, so you know, it will be a good challenge.
Q. Your evaluation of tight end through two weeks?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think we got to be a little bit more consistent in the running game. I think we've been better in the pass game. I think Jon Holland has done a really nice job, and I think Dalton has done a really nice job and I think Freiermuth has earned the right to get reps and has done a really good job in the run game. He's a big, strong, physical guy and he's playing like it.
I think we've got a really nice complementary package of guys there, but I do think we've got to be more complete. You know, Mike was freakishly athletic, as we all know, in the passing game. Where I don't know if any of these guys -- and it's no knock on them, because I think they all have a chance to be really good tight ends and have great careers.
But I don't know if any of them have the freak-ish physical characteristics that Mike did, but I could also make the argument, because of where they are at in their careers and where we are at as a program, that maybe they have a chance to be more complete, you know, in college.
Obviously Mike's doing great things right now in Miami and I think is going to end up being the total package, but my point to you is, at the same point where these guys are, where Mike was, I think they can be further along in the running game. So that's going to be important for us the next couple weeks to continue to see him involve there. Freiermuth is pushing those guys, and it's good. It's going to bring out the best in all of them.
Q. There's a lot of talk about how you lost a lot of offensive weapons last year with Mike Gesicki being one of them. Have defenses attacked your offense the way you expected coming into this year, and do you think that play so far of Miles Sanders will affect that going forward?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think so far, yeah, I would say people have defended us, you know, how we expected. There is a couple different philosophies that we see -- and this is a copycat business. So people see one defensive coordinator have success with a few different elements of how to defend us; shows up on tape and then people copy it.
There's about two or three pretty consistent things that we see and then no different than chess. We've got the counter-move to make some of the things that they are trying to get done more challenging.
So yeah, about what we thought. I think obviously, as Miles continues to grow in confidence and play-making ability, and the same thing at the wide receiver position, that's the last couple years, has been what's been challenging on defenses is when you have someone at each position that can hurt you, multiple guys at wide receiver, tight end, the running back, a quarterback, that makes it challenging to stop.
So as much as our scheme has caused challenges for people, the personnel has had a big part in it, as well, a big part.
Q. With John not out there against Pitt, Donovan Johnson saw a lot of time at the nickel. What have you seen out of him, especially his speed?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, he's a really talented guy. He's one of the guys last week when I came in here, I said I didn't feel like we played as fast as we're capable of playing. I think Donovan is a great example of that. He's one of our faster, more explosive athletes on our team and that first week he played cautious.
But he learned from it, he grew from it; he took coaching, and I saw him make a big jump on special teams and on defense. We're going to need him. We're going to need him to continue to grow because I think he's got a chance to be a big-time player for us.
You look, him and KJ, both out of Michigan, both out of the Detroit area, are having a significant impact for us. So that's an area that we had not traditionally got a lot of guys out of, but we expected to continue to be a great area for us.
Q. You mentioned 9/11. You guys appear to be one of the few teams that doesn't have the flag decal on the helmet, although late last year, you did. Just curious, is that something that is discussed much, and where do you weigh in on that?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, to be honest with you, if it's something that our administration brings up or if it's something that our players bring up, then we discuss it and then make decisions that we think are in Penn State's best interest.
But as you guys know, we don't change a whole lot. A lot of people change a lot of different things and uniforms and we'll do things from time to time.
But I think the most important thing that we want to do is make sure that we're thinking about those families and the lives that are lost and pay respect and also appreciate how fortunate we are to live in this country.
So I think some of those things are really nice, and we're open to those things, as well. But more than anything, it's having discussions and being thoughtful and those types of things, which I think are probably more important and more impactful.
Q. My mom heard about our Transition lens plate, and she was around when I picked the glasses out and said we should be proud to wear Transitions lenses.
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Your mom said that?
Q. Yeah. So if you're trying to recruit moms, you've got mine.
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Awesome. I'm glad Mom feels good about that. Where does Mom live?
Q. In State College.
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Awesome. Does she have Transition lenses?
Q. She does not?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Does she have glasses?
Q. She does?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, how can she endorse it to us and then she's not living it? That's kind of hypocritical. Golly. (Laughter).
Q. It is what it is. How fair of a barometer of the 2016 and 2017 seasons in terms of what you're expecting out of the offense? There's a perception, fair or not, Ricky and Trace are still here, so suddenly everything is going to be the same, but I would say two games, not a lot of data. But maybe how this offense is playing is different than that -- or are people measuring this against the wrong thing? How much are you expecting it to look like what it used to? How much are you expecting it look like what it is?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that's a good question. I would say No. 1, obviously, when you stay in-house, for a number of reasons, because Ricky has earned the opportunity and also because your quarterback has had a lot of success in that system, you don't stay in-house and then expect it to look different.
So yes, we want it to look similar. But even from year one to go into this offense to year two, it changed. And then obviously although we are staying in the same system, you've got a different personality now calling the plays with different backgrounds and things like that.
So we are going to be constantly evolving. It's no different than our program. Our core values and our core beliefs will not change. But you'll see aspects around that nucleus that evolve and grow and adapt, and have to. In this game, if you're not growing and you're not adapting and you're not evolving, you're not going to last very long.
So each week, we're going to learn. Each year, we're going to learn. And then based on our personnel, will also factor into it. When you have a guy like Mike Gesicki, there's going to be aspects of your offense that are magnified. With Mike's skill-set, that's going to be different than Freiermuth, for example.
Our system will tweak a little bit based on our personnel, based on our staff, but the core nucleus of who we are and how we operate and how we do things, will stay the same. I think a big part is you didn't really see 12 personnel a lot in the past, and you're seeing more of that right now.
Why is that? Well, because I felt like we could be better in some of our short yardage and some of our low red zone stuff. While that's great, but if you don't have the personnel to do it, why are you going to put two tight ends on the field and take one of those guys off, if your personnel doesn't demand that. So it's a combination of all those things.
Yeah, I think we look probably how I expected us to look based on all the conversations we had all off-season. One of the things I've thought Ricky has done a really nice job of is not only being involved in everything the last couple years, but also, once he did take over, he had a very clear picture in his mind and image of how he wanted to do it.
And I think that's one of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a head coach or as a coordinator, is you get into that role and then you try to be like the person that was there before you.
Like as you guys know, Billy is a really good friend of mine. We lived in the same neighborhood at the University of Maryland. We've got a very similar background. But how Billy coaches and how Billy leads is very different and I can't come in and try to be Billy.
And it's the same way with Ricky. Ricky has got a very different personality than Joe. And I want to surround myself with players and coaches that are very comfortable in their own skin and own who they are.
I think that's why you see guys like Marcus Allen, his personality, because that's who Marcus is, but also, we embrace that. You know, you see that with Ricky. You see that now with KJ Hamler. I see that with Mike Hazel. I see that with Kris Petersen, my staff.
I don't want to be surrounded by all the same personalities and all the same opinions and a bunch of yes-men. I want to be surrounded by a bunch of different people with different perspectives, diversity; diverse backgrounds, diverse perspective, diverse ideas, because that's the only way I'm going to make the best decisions for Penn State is to hear all those things and see all those things and say, okay, great, this is great, I've got all the information; now, here's the direction we're going.
And that's GAs. We talked about it this morning: Our GAs speak up more in our offense and defensive staff meetings than any place I've ever been. But when they speak up, they are bringing value. They are not just talking to talk.
So I think that's one of the challenges when you look at an organization is, is there hierarchy. Yeah, there's got to be hierarchy.
But have you created hierarchy that the GAs don't feel comfortable talking to the assistants and the assistants don't feel comfortable talking to the coordinators and the coordinators don't feel comfortable talking to the head coach. Have you really created an environment where guys will challenge me in front of the staff in a staff meeting; where guy also come into my office one-on-one and challenge me.
And I think we've done a pretty good job of creating that environment, and I think in any portion, that is critical.
Q. Different note. But you mentioned the explosive play benchmark. What was the weekly number you had in mind, or does it fluctuate from week-to-week?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think we were at -- we don't do it by play number anymore. We do it by percentage, because obviously if you get 60 plays on offense one week or on defense, or 88 plays on offense or defense one week, it won't be consistent.
So we're doing it by percentage. I think we came up with 14.06 percent on offense this week. Our goal is 16 percent or more per game, and we do the same thing in practice.
On defense, we were at 5.71 percent, and our goal is 10 or less. So we met our goal on defense. Did not meet our goal on offense.
It's funny, you watch that game and we gave up some big plays early on, but overall, the entire game, we were in pretty good shape.
Q. You mentioned playing so many linebackers until someone grabs a position. What is a benefit of doing that and also some challenges of rotating so many guys in there?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, obviously the benefit is throughout your program, you're creating depth, which is something we always want to do. We work really hard to create depth so that if you do have to make a change, whether it's because of production or whether it's because of, you know, a bump or a bruise or something like that, that next guy is ready to play. There's not a significant drop-off.
The other end of it is, yeah, the more you can get the same 11 guys on defense or the same 11 guys on offense or the same 11 guys on special teams, playing together, and building that chemistry and that cohesion, that's really important. So it's that fine line of balancing that. We've got to get our starting unit better. We also have to create depth.
And also, the starting unit, we have to make sure that we have not only the right people on the bus, but those guys are sitting in the right seats on the bus, as well. That's really important.
Q. Looked like your linebackers struggled to get off blocks. How big a concern is that moving forward?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it's interesting. It really depends. Obviously we want to get off blocks. I'll give you a perfect example: Mike Hull never got off blocks, never. We moved him to Mike linebacker and everybody says: Why are you moving him to Mike linebacker, why are you moving Mike Hull to Mike linebacker? It doesn't make sense.
Well, Mike's greatest strength was not getting off blocks. Not getting blocked in the first place. In the old deal, you take on a block you, take on half a man, you strike him, you peak over his shoulder, you disengage, go make the play.
That wasn't Mike. Mike was: Give you a little nod, slip, dip, reduce the surface area, go make the tackle and he did it over and over and over again. So I think where you have to be careful is there's a lot of ways to play the positions.
Trace McSorley as our starting quarterback, the game is going to look very different with Tommy as our starting quarterback, with Sea Clifford, because they have different elements.
And same thing at the linebacker position and same thing at every other position. You have to play to guys' strengths.
So yeah, we've got to do a better job of getting off of blocks, but we also have to do a better job of sometimes not even getting engaged in the first place.
But is Jan Johnson going to play a very different style of football than Mike Hull? No doubt about it. But that's where playing on an edge; if you run down the middle of some of these of 6-4 -- you run down the middle of Steven Gonzalez, you're doing exactly what he wants you to do if you're a linebacker.
We saw the clip that Matt Limegrover posted of C.J. Holmes finishing a block -- C.J. Thorpe, excuse me. He's going to be really mad at me, too, for saying that. C.J. Thorpe, his block during the game -- C.J., I apologize -- where's the camera?
C.J., I apologize. Thorpe. Clearly, C.J. Thorpe.
The last thing you want to do is run down the middle of C.J. Thorpe. So really, really physical guy, really, really talented guy.
So my point, playing that linebacker position, it's going to look different and Jan and Jesse and Ellis and those guys, Ellis is probably more like Mike Hull. He's a slip-up block guy, compared to those other guys, but what you can't do is go down the middle. You have to be on the edge, so now you can get off, and you're beating half a man rather than trying to go through the whole body.
Q. Sean Lewis is 31, maybe 32 now, the youngest coach in the FBS. What kind of coach were you at 31 and how have you changed? And if you could give advice to your 31-year-old self or Sean Lewis, one bit of advice what would it be?
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, first of all, I think it's awesome he's the head coach at 31 years old. I think it's great. Sometimes we get caught up in a lot of things that don't matter when we go through the hiring process.
At the end of the day, you want to hire people because they are ready and that they have the characteristics that you desire, and I think a lot of times we eliminate people for a lot of reasons, and I like kind of the direction we're going.
You see maybe non-traditional hires happening more often, not just in football, but in every aspect of life and I think that's important for a number of different reasons.
Where I was at the 31 years old, I would assume I was at the University of Maryland maybe. I think at that point in my career, I think I told you guys before, Dwight Galt came and talked to me about the importance of being a relational leader and I was coaching guys so hard at that point in my career, and I wanted everything exactly right and detailed and thorough and all the things you read that are important.
But I wasn't connecting with my players the way I need to connect with my players.
For me, that was the important kind of moment in my career, which is funny, because like Coach Galt had said, that's kind of my strength. That's kind of who I am as a person. So once that happened for me, then, you know, my career changed.
So I can't really give Coach any advice, nor do I want to before playing him, but if I was going to give myself advice, that's what it would have been, maybe a little bit earlier in my career.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports