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PENN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 3, 2019
University Park, Pennsylvania
JAMES FRANKLIN: Hey, guys. How we doing? Appreciate everybody coming out. I'll do a quick review of the Idaho game and then get into some of the Buffalo stuff and then open it up to questions.
You know, I'd start by saying I thought our players of the week on offense were K.J. Hamler and Mike Miranda. I thought both those guys played extremely well for a number of different reasons. Defensively Yetur Gross-Matos and John Reid, and then on special teams Jordan Stout and Jonathan Sutherland.
Some notes offensively, the positives, we hit our explosive play goal. We were at 18 percent, which was great. We had tremendous balance with over 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing, which is really good. We're very pleased with the last couple drives of the game. You're talking about 14 plays, 10 plays and seven plays ending with touchdowns.
Let me also kind of hit on that, too. I thought it was really valuable, obviously, but also really special for guys like Nick Eury to not only be able to get in a game but be able to play and run the offense and have a chance to score a touchdown. You know, I know there's a lot of different discussions about scoring and these types of games and things like that, but it's my belief that you get the backups in the game and you allow them to play. I think they deserve that opportunity. It was great for Levis to get those opportunities. But a guy like Nick Eury scoring a touchdown, that's something he'll take with him the rest of his life, and he's earned that. Really happy for that.
Opportunities for growth. Obviously we've got to be better on 3rd down, there's no doubt about it. Although offensively we didn't put the ball on the ground, the ball was in jeopardy a few times. We just didn't have it as high and tight as I would like to see. So we've got to be better there.
Defensively, I thought for our first game, probably the best first game execution we've had since we've been here. We got some things we've got to get cleaned up. Some of our signals and our check-with-mes in terms of getting all 11 guys when the offense checks and we want to check, we've got to make sure we're getting all those things communicated. I thought our effort and I thought our tackling was good for an early-season game, and I thought our young guys performed really well on the defensive side of the ball.
On special teams, we already talked about owning the ball. We put the ball on the ground twice, lost one of them, which put our defense in a tough spot. And then we just had some personnel issues from defense to special teams, whether it's punt return or whatever it may be. We just weren't as clean as we needed to be with substitutions.
There was a lot of substitutions on Saturday, especially as we got into third-team and fourth-team guys on the field, so we've got to be cleaner there. There's no doubt about it.
Getting into Buffalo, got a lot of respect for Coach Leipold. He's a guy I've gotten to know really well. You look at his record at Wisconsin Whitewater, it's ridiculous. I think he's done a great job at Buffalo. Just a really good guy that we've gotten fairly close over the last couple years. Returning 15 starters.
I do think they're a program that's an interesting program to look at when it comes to the transfer portal. I think they lost five returning all-conference players, so challenging. We've had some discussions about that in the off-season.
But returning 15 starters, six on offense, six on defense, and three at the specialist positions. They're 1-0, beat Robert Morris this past week, and we're also talking about a team that won 10 games last year and were getting votes in the top-25 polls, so obviously they've done a great job. I thought last year they did some really fantastic things.
He's got a core group of guys, kind of like I do, that have been with him for a long time. His offensive coordinator was with him at Wisconsin Whitewater. Coach Kotelnicki has done a really good job. You look at their numbers last year, they broke all types of records for the University of Buffalo. They're a 12 and 11 personnel team for the most part. They're going to run inside zone, they're going to run the stretch play, the counter Y. Last week they did not throw the ball much, only 10 times, but you look at what they did last year, obviously with a veteran quarterback, they did some really good things in the passing game.
So we're not really sure, did they do that because it was the first game and they didn't feel like they needed to, did they not do that because they had a first-year redshirt freshman starting quarterback and they just did not want to put too much on his plate? That's what you're not sure of, and these early season games can be challenging like that.
You know, you look at who we're impressed with, we're impressed with their offensive line. They are physical. On the O-line and really at tight end, as well. But their left tackle No. 67, their left guard No. 72, their right guard No. 65, and their right tackle No. 73, I'm not going to list out last names because some of them are difficult to pronounce, and I don't want to disrespect any of those guys. But we love how they play on film. They are tough, physical, and play hard, and I think the tight ends complement them, as well.
Defensively, same thing, another core guy that came with him from Wisconsin Whitewater, Coach Borland, does a really good job. They're a base 4-3 team. I would say they're more of a fundamental team. They're going to do what they do, and they do it well. They're a quarters team. Their safeties are really, really aggressive downhill guys. Their linebackers do a great job in the box. They're going to play mainly quarters, variations of quarter. They will play some fire zone 33, as well. We like their D-end No. 50, we like their Will linebacker No. 20, and their free safety No. 9, Joey Banks.
Obviously this team -- I didn't mention their running back. He obviously had a great year for them. There's actually five guys, including No. 20, the Will linebacker and the running back, there's five guys on this team that Cam Sullivan-Brown went to high school with in Maryland that we're familiar with, as well, through the recruiting process.
And then their special teams coordinator, Coach Onatolu, I hope I'm saying that right. They've got three starters returning. The punter, who's also the holder a little bit like Blake Gillikin is for us, and then their long snapper, as well.
I thought we had a great crowd last week. I want to thank all the fans and everybody for coming out. Tremendous opening game for us and crowd and support and environment, which is special, and we do not take for granted. We know how blessed we are to have the type of support that we do. But we're going to need that plus more this week. I'd love to see this game sold out, be a great environment, a great opportunity to get out with your family and enjoy college football and enjoy Happy Valley. Hopefully we'll have a great crowd for Buffalo this week. I'll open it up to questions.
Q. In mid-August after one of your practices, you said your offensive line is still a work in progress. What have you seen from that group since then in terms of execution, attitude, and what has and can C.J. Thorpe bring to that group?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I didn't hear the last part, I'm sorry.
Q. I said what has and can C.J. Thorpe bring to that group?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yep, great point. So first of all, I think Will Fries is playing with a lot of confidence right now. For about the second half of last year, he had a nagging injury that was problematic for him, but I think he's playing at a high level right now with a lot of confidence. Des Holmes is a guy that we're really excited about that's starting to come on for us, so that gives us two guys there as well as Caedan Wallace, who we plan on playing all year long, young, exciting player.
C.J. Thorpe, as you guys know, we moved him over to defensive line last year for depth. We're in a different situation now. But he brings an edge. You know, you saw a few glimpses of that on Saturday. Extremely physical in the running game, plays with a nastiness, played with an attitude that we need. I think Mike Miranda, as you saw, was our player of the week, playing so many different positions for us. We like that combination.
Michael Menet has played a lot of football here, very, very experienced. Mike can also back up at center. I think between Mike and Will, those two guys obviously have played a lot of football for us, have great leadership with those two, and then Gonzalez. You know, Gonzalez, as well, I know is excited about his senior year. He's the one senior that we do have, and I know he's excited about playing this year and playing at a high level.
And then again, Mike allows us to keep those guys fresh. Rasheed Walker we think has got a very bright future, very talented, very athletic, and then again, Des.
So I just think as a group, we probably have more guys that we think are ready to compete at this level that we can put in games with two guys like Des and Mike Miranda that create depth and a rotation for us, which I think is going to be valuable. So we're going to continue building. I thought we played well, you know, on Saturday, and we need to do that again this Saturday and then be able to go into the rest of the season with that group feeling confident and playing at a high level.
Q. What stood out to you about Jonathan Sutherland's group since he arrived, and what are maybe some of the traits that made him a choice for captain by so many in the program?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think you guys, as you continue to get to know him over these next couple years, you're going to love him. He is a kid that is very serious about his craft and how he goes about his business. That's in the weight room, that's with study hall, that's with school. That's obviously with the game of football and his practice habits. I've been talking about him inside Lasch building with our team as a guy that's got great habits and really does everything right. I mean, you go down the weight room in between classes, he's down there stretching. You go down there in between classes and he's off to the side on the JUGS machine or he's doing what Alvin -- Alvin has got a group called supple line, which is stretching and things like that. He's that guy that's going to always do the little extras, watching tape, watching video, asking questions. Every play for him is the Super Bowl. I mean, that's just kind of how he is. Got two great parents that are involved, a kid out of Canada. That area has become really good for us, and we want to continue to grow there.
But he's just been phenomenal, and he's one of those guys, there's no question in anybody's mind that he's earned everybody's respect in the program, players, coaches, trainers, doctors, academic staff, because it's just kind of how he goes about his business. Very mature approach. So I'm a big fan of his.
Q. What did your off-season study turn up regarding the disparity last season between fumbles forced and recovered, and in what ways did you address that different in practice, because that's something you had mentioned -- Tariq with the scoop-and-score on like an incomplete pass, and that seemed to be one of the issues you were talking about.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think one of the things that we saw on defense is obviously the best way to create turnovers is make sure that you're going for them consistently, and I think in the passing game, that's always been emphasized, but I think in the run game sometimes we're not taking enough shots at the ball, whether we're trying to punch it out or strip it out or putting our hat on the ball or whatever it may be, and you look not only with us but other programs. Obviously the more times you take shots with the ball, the more chances that you have of getting an out, and we probably haven't done enough of that.
It's also a fine line in practice, especially when the offense is going against the defense, because when you try to strip the ball out like that, we want that on the offensive side of the ball for ball security purposes, but not when you get to the point where you sling a guy to the ground or something like that. But defensively I think it was very clear and obvious that we need to take more shots at the ball.
Offensively it's really just the fundamentals of making sure that the ball is in the outside arm, that the ball is high and tight, and that you're not switching the ball. We saw that last night on television, that you're not switching the ball. And then we try to use examples, like I'm going to talk about that game last night, it's 14-all going into halftime, and they get a turnover right before the half that results in points and the game starts to swing from there.
I just -- I try to emphasize it and show the impact of turnovers as much as I possibly can. But offensively it hasn't changed a whole lot. Defensively it's about our ability and our willingness to go after the ball as much as we possibly can.
Q. Your running backs, you have "ors" next to all of them on the depth chart. Can you describe a little bit more how close they all are in the competition? Is it difficult at all to manage that as a coach right now?
JAMES FRANKLIN: No, I actually think the opposite. We probably could have listed five. I thought that run that Eury had was phenomenal on Saturday. It was a really good run. But no, I think it's quite the opposite when you have five running backs all score a touchdown and a couple with multiple. There's a lot of people that are getting opportunities and are getting opportunities to make an impact in the game, and I think that creates a healthy position, and I think that creates a healthy locker room.
I think as the season goes on, there's going to be weeks that it's going to get tricky and there's going to be a guy that gets hot that you go with, but obviously whenever we can play multiple backs and they all have success and all score touchdowns -- I don't know if I've ever been a part of that before, five running backs, five separate running backs all scoring a touchdown. Pretty special. So at this point, I think it's working extremely well, but obviously it's very early in the season.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Lamont Wade. Obviously he was in the transfer portal after last season and came back. I just wondered if you could characterize the nature of the conversations you had with him and his parents and how you addressed maybe getting some more playing time this season.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, to be honest with you, not a whole lot different. Those conversations don't really change. Whenever guys want to come and meet with me or their parents want to come and meet with me, you're just as up front and as transparent and honest as you can possibly be. I'm not a big believer in making promises in the recruiting process or making promises with players because that can create some tough situations and dynamics. You know, we're going to play the guys that earn it, and Lamont has earned it. I think one of the things I've mentioned before is a lot of times when you get transfers like Jordan Stout who's doing a great job for us and a lot of people will say, oh, he needed a fresh start somewhere. Well, it may just be the fact that he's a year older and has matured, and I think that's the thing with Lamont. I think we would all recognize and all agree with, that both the positives and the adversity that you go through in life, they make you who you are, and Lamont right now, the success that he's having and the confidence that he's playing with and the confidence that our coaching staff has in him is a byproduct of everything that he's been through over the last three years, the recruiting process, the early opportunities that he got, the early opportunities that he didn't get, the adversity, maybe some of the pressure that he was putting on himself, the expectations -- external expectations. I think all those things happen for a reason, and I think he's in a great place right now.
Obviously we're happy that he's here, and the one thing that I probably talked about during that process more than anything is the Penn State degree, which is the most powerful thing and the most important thing, and I think a lot of times that's my probably only issue with this whole transfer portal is the NCAA in my opinion and college athletics used to be academics driven, and for us to think that any of these decisions are anything more than football decisions I don't think is accurate.
I think most of these decisions are being driven by football, where the college athletics that I grew up with was driven based on academics. And don't get me wrong, the athletic experience was very, very important, as well, but it was in that order, and what I'm seeing right now is a little bit of a shift. That's to me somewhat concerning.
Q. Damion Barber I don't think played last week. He wasn't on the report. Can you tell us why he didn't play, and will he be ready to go this week?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, he'll play this week. He didn't play last week. He was suspended for a violation of team rules.
Q. You mentioned the celebration after Nick Eury's touchdown last week, and he got a lot of attention on social media after the game for the touchdown run. What does he do behind the scenes that makes him so easy for his teammates to root for?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, he's just a guy that comes to work every single day. He's got a huge smile on his face. He's very appreciative and goes out and gets his team better every single day by the way he practices, whether that's in drills, whether that's on our developmental squad, whether that's for the defense, whether that's for the offense. I don't know when it was, but there was a camp a few years ago where we had some injuries, and literally we wouldn't have been able to have camp without Nick Eury. He took like every rep in practice. We built water breaks in for him because he was the only one going.
So again, he's just one of those guys, how he's been academically, how he's been socially, the type of teammate he's been. He's just been phenomenal. So I think everybody recognizes when you get guys like that and maybe their name is not in the newspaper, they're not getting playing time or so on and so forth, when those guys are able to have some success and get in the game, it means a lot.
You see a guy like Saquon Barkley, I'll give him a shout-out, these are the guys that you're going to remember. I think obviously it's easy to remember the star players and the impact that they had, but I think on a team, in a brotherhood within our building and within our locker room, it's those guys that I think ultimately earn the most respect because it is all about the team, it is all about the university, it is all about the program, it is all about their teammates, because the reality is some of these guys may go four and five years and never see the field and never get that type of positive affirmation.
I think it's wonderful. And again, I think that goes back to this last game, allowing those guys to get in the game and actually play.
I know we had some discussions as a staff, me and Kris had some discussions and things like that, you look at the score, and no one I would say necessarily likes to see that in college football, but I will tell you I also believe very strongly that those guys deserve the ability to get in the game and play. They should be able to go in and play, and that's what they were able to do, and that's why the locker room and the team reacted the way they did to him.
Q. I don't know what broadcaster it was, but somebody said on one of the national games that most college football coaches would like to see joint practices or some type of preseason scrimmage like they do in the NFL. What's your opinion on that? Would you be in favor of either one of those things, and are they feasible?
JAMES FRANKLIN: No, I don't think they're really feasible. It's funny that you say that, but then what's the NFL trying to do right now with the preseason? There's all kinds of conversations about getting rid of the preseason.
But I do think that where the discussion comes is I get it from a fan perspective, everybody wants to see Penn State versus the Philadelphia Eagles every single week. I get that. But there's also a reason that you see some of these types of games being scheduled and played, because you do need some time to kind of work out some of the issues.
There's also been some big games that we've all seen early in the season the last couple years, and they haven't gone as clean or played as well as people would have liked. Well, again, that goes back to in high school you've got scrimmages, in the NFL you've got preseason games, and we don't have that. So it's a fine line between all of those things.
You know, I think I had mentioned, you talk about maybe scrimmages with local teams in your state. I could see where that may make sense because it keeps the expenses down and things like that. But again, just like the NFL, you do those things and you have some injuries, then that's going to go out the window, too.
I think where we have to be careful is we want the model to be perfect, and it's never going to be perfect. We've got a pretty good system now, and we should be trying to refine it and get better every single year, but I think we've got to be careful making some massive changes because, again, remember, the season used to be 10 games, then 11 games, then 12 games, and now with the playoffs and everything else, I think you're up to almost an NFL season.
We've just got to be careful with all these things that we wish for. It's never going to be perfect, but college football is pretty darned good, and a great example of that is our stadium, Beaver Stadium, with 104,000 for an opening game. You look at TV ratings and things like that, it's funny, there was arguments a few years ago about shortening the game. I'm like, why? The game is more popular than it's ever been. So some pretty good things going on.
Q. I wonder how aware were you at the time of what the '94 team was doing here, because I know you were still playing? And also, can you kind of have an appreciation for what it takes to go undefeated in an SEC or a Big Ten? I have to imagine being in these conferences for a decade you have an appreciation for that.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, very much so. I think in '94, obviously, I had an awareness of what was going on. And the types of things that we had at that time, what they were able to do on this scale was obviously very, very impressive. Obviously like you're saying now, after being a head coach in the SEC and being a head coach in the Big Ten and to be able to do what they did is very impressive. It's also interesting because there's a lot of discussions about National Championships, and I think we've got some pretty good arguments over our history about National Championships.
I'm not sure how that necessarily works. Some people can decide their National Championships and put it up and others can't, but I think we've got some pretty good arguments.
But yeah, I think what the '94 team did and the fact that they're coming back this weekend, I think it's important, because the '90s does not seem that long ago to me, but to our players it does, and I think also for our players, part of their education is not only what they learn in the classroom at Penn State and this community and through their football experience, but also the historical impact of Penn State football, and they're a part of that now.
Those guys, getting to know those players as mentors, a lot of those guys come back not only from the '94 team but obviously from a number of years to our golf outing we have in the summer and now to our career night that we have and things like that, guys have been very involved, which is great. But you talk about some great role models, you talk about some great mentors to our players, I'm hoping all those guys are going to come to practice on Friday. Usually guys when they come will come out and spend some time with us, and I hope they do that. I hope they come by Lasch. It's their building, not mine, and I want them to come by and see all the cool things we're doing to pay respect to our history and our traditions in a very clean and classy but modern way.
Q. What's the most athletic thing you've ever seen or heard Jayson Oweh do since he's been here?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I will tell you, probably running the 40 and beating Micah. Micah won't like to hear that and he'll have something to say to me at the team meeting today when I see him, but yeah, I think -- everybody knew he was fast, but I don't think anybody thought he was that fast. You know, him and Micah were always competing, and I think early on Micah was getting him pretty good, but I think Jayson just kept kind of developing. So that would probably be it. That and then obviously from a football perspective, his get-off, his ability to trigger off the ball and get three steps up the field is an impressive thing to watch, especially when you take it into consideration that he's 6'4", he's 260-plus pounds. It's the combination that makes it so impressive, I think. But not like there's one specific play like the Saquon play in the Lion's Den or something like that. It's more just his freakish athletic numbers.
Q. I forgot to mention last week you didn't stay with the camp beard.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, it got itchy. I try to do it every summer, and I can't do it, and then I get ingrown hairs, and it's a mess. I'm not as cool as you.
Q. You talked about Buffalo a little bit ago as far as from a program standpoint with a lot of transfer portal things that happened with them this off-season. Having grown a program yourself, what are the challenges of keeping a program going forward at that level every year where you have such attrition?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think those jobs have gotten harder. I really do. Those jobs I think were -- have always been tough jobs, but I think they've gotten tougher. The old days of building a program and recruiting kids and developing them and redshirting them, you look at basketball, some of the teams that are making the Sweet 16, a lot of them are what? They're the older teams that they've been able to develop over time, and that's where you would see a MAC team or someone like that be able to go through a similar process and have a chance to compete and compete at the highest level.
And again, I don't -- I think that's gotten harder to do for what we just got done talking about.
It should not be happening, but it is. People are recruiting from other colleges now. Whether they're doing it directly or indirectly, it's happening, and it's not really what's supposed to be happening, and it's not -- I don't think it's the right thing for college football. I don't think it's the right thing for college athletics. But I also kind of see both sides to a degree. But I do think those jobs have gotten more challenging because of it.
Q. I'm just curious from a recruiting perspective, is there an advantage to having a night game early in the year to have kids in and showcase that in September?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think the night games are good for a lot of different reasons, what you said. Obviously it's always a great environment. It allows people to get here and enjoy the day and then get into the stadium, and it's like a party in there. I also think our players being able to play in Beaver Stadium under the lights, those types of things, is valuable. So yeah, I think there's a lot of positives that come from it, from a tailgating perspective, from a recruiting perspective, for the atmosphere in the stadium.
Again, during training camp we took our guys in practice at night as well as during the day in Beaver Stadium because it's different. So yeah, I think there's a lot of advantages to it. You may be in a situation where guys are playing Friday night games and they're able to get here a lot easier. Some guys are playing Saturday afternoon games and they're still able to get here. Sometimes you may have an SAT or an ACT, it allows them to do that and still be able to get to a game. It just opens up some more opportunities.
Q. Brent is a Buffalo grad, so maybe it's an appropriate time to say, what's he meant to your success back through Vandy and the way he just stepped in seamlessly when Shoop left?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, he's been phenomenal. It was funny, we were talking just the other day, he's got a bunch of Buffalo buddies that are all hitting him up for tickets, and obviously they're not getting any, because although they love Brent, they'd be here to support Buffalo. He's got one buddy, but he knows where his loyalty lies. Yeah, Brent has been really kind of from the very beginning -- I think as you guys know, Brent's dad was my offensive coordinator in college. We go way back. His first year coaching was my last year playing. When I got the Vanderbilt job, he was one of the first people that I called. And he's just been phenomenal.
I consider him not only a colleague but a personal friend, a professional friend, a personal friend. I love Monday nights. We have family dinners over in Pollock. I love seeing his wife. I love seeing his son. I love seeing his daughters. You know, it's phenomenal. His wife and my wife have a close relationship. So it's been great.
I think sometimes I think you have to be careful in business mixing friends and business, personal and professional together, but when you can do it and it works, there's probably nothing better, and he's been great. He's a guy that I think because not only has he had a career that has kind of spanned three conferences and coaches and people and ups and downs and twists and turns like we all have, I think he appreciates being at Penn State. I know I appreciate him.
He's also a guy that I can go in and run things by and get his perspective. I also think it's like recruiting a coach's kid as a player; there's things that Brent has been learning about football his whole life that he didn't even know he was learning at the time overhearing conversations with his mom and dad, conversations that his dad had with him even before he decided to get into the profession. He was picking up on things.
He's just been a phenomenal asset to our program and to our university. And Brent is family. Brent is family to me in a lot of different ways. That's his mom, that's his dad, that's his wife, that's his kids, that's all of it. And then on top of it, he happens to be one of the best if not the best defensive coordinators in college football.
Q. After being able to go through with Brandon Smith, what did you take away from what he did both on defense and special teams, and what do you think he can kind of learn from that?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I don't think there's any question that he can run and hit, obviously. You saw it on high school tape. We've seen it here in training camp. We've seen it in practice, we've seen it in games and all of it. Obviously he hasn't gotten to the point where the game has slowed down for him, and he's a hundred percent confident pre-snap so that post-snap he can play as fast and as aggressive as he wants to and we need him to. But there's no doubt he flashes. He flashes some exciting things.
So I think as he continues to gain confidence and get comfortable with his responsibilities and also what the offense is trying to do in terms of trying to put him in binds, in terms of his reads and trying to get his eyes dirty in terms of what he's looking at, I think as those things continue to clear up for him and he gets more comfortable and more confident, I think he's got a very bright future. There's not too many 6'4", 240-pound linebackers that can run and hit with the instincts that he has.
Q. There were some targeting situations Saturday. What's the discussion with the official? That must be a hard play to administer. I'm just wondering how you guys are -- have you altered what you're teaching and what feedback are you getting from the officials, as well?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we've altered I think over the years. I think everybody has said, you'd better tackle from the chest down. Anything above that you're putting yourself in jeopardy. That's where a guy like Cam Brown who's so tall, he's got to be careful. He's got to get down.
With the officials, there's not a whole lot to discuss because they're looking at it and the replay booth is looking at it, and you can have some discussions with them, but for the most part, like for example, the one that happened with GT where GT really saved himself because he kept his head up. You drop your head, you're putting yourself in jeopardy, and I think you guys know, we talked a few years ago, there comes a point where when you're trying to get your pads down to match the runner's pads, there points a point you can't keep your head up. It's just physically impossible to do. But besides that, you'd better.
We try to stress that as much as we possibly can. That's on offense, that's on defense, that's all of it because it happens in blocking, as well. Obviously you want to avoid any of the triggers where you're launching or leading with the head, and then obviously if it's anything with the crown of the head -- I don't think anybody is teaching that because not only is that dangerous for the person that's getting hit, that's dangerous for the person doing the hitting.
I feel pretty strongly that college football coaches and high school football coaches are all -- and down to little league, are doing a pretty good job of teaching that.
Q. Sean got a lot of attention post-game, deservedly so, but curious what stood out to you about Will Levis.
JAMES FRANKLIN: He needs to get down. I mean, he's trying to show everybody like how big and strong he is. I'm like, get down. He's 6'4", he's 235 pounds, he's standing there like fighting the entire team. We get it. You've been with Deej. Get down. We think he's got a very bright future. He's big, he's strong, he's got a strong arm, he can run, he's smart. We love him, and we're very excited about him, but he's also got to understand, okay, I get it. You only get so many reps and you want to maximize those reps, but part of maximizing those reps is knowing how to manage the game and knowing how to manage yourself, get all the yards you can and then get down and protect yourself.
So I think that was the big thing that jumped out to me. But he's gotten valuable reps in practice during that whole competition. Hopefully we'll continue to be able to get him some time throughout games. But we're very pleased and excited. It was obviously a tremendous opportunity for him and for us to get him in the game, and once again, let him get in the game and play, not just hand the ball off every single play because that's not helping his development. So I thought that was good.
Q. I wanted to ask you actually about your freshman quarterbacks. What have you seen from them since January, and how is the competition kind of going for that No. 3 spot?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, it's still early, and it's hard to say. They don't get enough reps, as you can imagine, because you need to make sure that the No. 1 and the No. 2 are getting enough, but they get some every single day, every single practice, every single period they get some reps, and they'll continue to do that.
Some of the stuff I think is hard with Michael because Michael is such a dynamic guy pulling it down that you don't really get to see that, although I think he's got the ability to make plays and so does Ta'Quan. But they're both doing well. What we're doing right now is we're rotating those guys to scout team -- excuse me, the developmental squad, so one guy will go one period or one day, and then the other guy will get to stay up with the varsity getting ready to go and getting prepared for the game, but we're rotating, because the other thing is our defense needs somebody over there as well as Rumery to give them a really good look and get him prepared for Saturdays too. Kind of balancing those two things right now seems to be going really well.
Q. When you're talking about improving 3rd down, every coach in America talks about staying on schedule. Do you have an optimal 3rd down on schedule number --
JAMES FRANKLIN: 38 percent.
Q. Well, in terms of distance, and does that change depending on what you think your strengths are?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I think the reality is you want to get most of your 1st downs on first or 2nd down and never be on 3rd down. You want to limit your 3rd downs as much as you possibly can. And then I think obviously you want to be in 3rd and 6 or less as much as you possibly can be. What I would characterize as manageable 3rd downs. I'd prefer them all to be 3rd and 1 to 2.
But I think the biggest thing is making sure that you're getting as many of your 1st downs as you possibly can on 1st down or 2nd down, and then on 3rd down for us to be the team we want to be, we need to be right around 50 percent. That will put us at one of the top 3rd down units in the country. It'll create more scoring opportunities for us. It'll keep our defense off the field and keep those guys fresh.
So there's just so many byproducts that come from it that allow us to be successful. At this point in terms of our identity, I think that's still evolving to see not only as an offense on normal downs but on 3rd down who are we, what's going to be the best way we're going to be able to stay on the field on 3rd down, whether that's running the ball, whether that's RPOs, whether that's quick game, whether that's pure drop-back, what is that, and obviously as the season goes, that's going to get more and more important.
Q. You mentioned earlier, talking about Sutherland, the recruiting in Canada and how you still want to continue to do that. With the guys you have now from there or as you continue going forward, do you talk about with them the ability to adjust from a different style, and how do those kind of differences in the play in Canada and here matter in the recruiting process?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Not a whole lot. To be honest there's a good percentage of the Canadian kids that are playing U.S. style football. There's some that are playing Canadian style. And then a lot of them are actually playing U.S. games where they're traveling across to play a couple early-season games that in some ways are like scrimmages for them because it doesn't go against their records in their conferences and things like that.
It's not that big of a change in my mind and really hasn't been over my career. Obviously in the U.S., football and sports in general is pretty serious, but yeah, I think those guys transition extremely well, and right now we've got a pretty good track record if you look at all of our players from Canada, not only how they're playing but how well their playing and also how good they're doing in school. It's a combination of all of it. Jesse Luketa, his mom was at the facility last night with us before she headed out of town. Those guys are doing great.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports