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December 2, 2016

James Franklin

Indianapolis, Indiana

THE MODERATOR: Coach Franklin will open up with a statement, then we'll take questions.

COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, obviously humbled and honored to be here representing the Big Ten East and Penn State University. It's been an exciting year. The word I probably would use best to describe our team is we've persevered and we've gotten better as the season has gone on. It's something we take great pride in. What I've always taken great pride in as a coach is your team playing hard, number one, getting better each week, each day. We've done that.

Our guys are excited about the opportunity. We haven't changed our approach. We've had a great week of preparation. We talked about the Big Ten championship before the season started, never really talked about it after that. We did talk about it this season because it falls in line with kind of how we do things, which is one game at a time. At the end of this game we'll decide who the Big Ten champion is.

We're excited about the opportunity, excited about continuing our preparation tonight and tomorrow afternoon and be ready to come back in here tomorrow evening and play a great game, great opponent.

Got tremendous respect for the University of Wisconsin. Got tremendous respect for Coach Chyrst, a guy that's got a great reputation, his entire career. Then obviously Coach Alvarez, the consistency they've had there has been remarkable. I think four out of the last six years they've played in it, so we're excited and honored to play them.


Q. Coach, in your opinion has all this talk about the playoffs, how that's going to shake out, has it overshadowed the importance of this conference title game?
COACH FRANKLIN: Not for us. I think our fans and players and coaches are aware of it. But for us not really. We're really excited about being here. We're really excited about having the opportunity to play for a Big Ten championship.

After that, whatever happens, we will be very appreciative and blessed for whatever opportunity we get. But our focus is on playing well on Saturday night and preparing crazy for the next 24 hours, go out and play well, and let's see what happens.

Q. James, when you came to Penn State, where did a Big Ten title rank?
COACH FRANKLIN: Pretty important, yeah. Pretty important to be able to play Big Ten championships, those types of things. How long it was going to take us to get to one of these games, I did not have a number on it. Obviously we walked into an interesting situation, probably one of the more interesting situations in college football history.

I'm really proud of all the work that the coaches and the players and our administration did. President Barron has been awesome. Then obviously our athletic director Sandy Barbour have been great. Those two have been great and supportive.

We're in a position right now where everybody is feeling really good, everybody is excited, everybody is pulling the rope in the same direction. When you're able to do that at a place like Penn State, you have the chance to do some pretty special things.

Q. Could you refresh us on Saquon Barkley, what it was like recruiting him. I've read where he said you were really instrumental in convincing him that Penn State was going to be the right spot for him.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, he was committed to another Big Ten school before we got the job. Then we showed up and felt like he was a guy we couldn't let leave the state.

I played at a Division II school in the state called East Stroudsburg. My best wide receiver and deep threat, Dennis McWhite, was his position coach in high school. So That helped. I probably should have thrown him the ball a few more times in college. But that helped.

Obviously once we were able to kind of get to know him, his guidance counselors, his high school coach, his parents, it just made sense. It just made sense for him and his family to stay close to home. He had a chance to get a world-class education, play football and stay close to home. It made sense.

It's worked out well for us. He had a great senior year in high school and has been able to translate that into the Big Ten, is really doing well.

I'm really proud of him, as good as he's doing on the football field, he's doing just as well in the classroom. He's probably doing better in the community. He's been great when it comes to community service, how he's handled all this success that's happened so quickly for him. He's handled it better probably than any young player I've ever been around. I think that's one of the reasons we've probably had the success we've had, is I think it says a lot about your team when your best players are great guys, are great teammates.

I was fortunate in this state -- excuse me, against this opponent, in my past, I coached with the Green Bay Packers. I was the wide receivers coach. Donald Driver set the tone for my whole room. It was awesome. I talked to Donald this week. I think Saquon does that a little bit for our team. He kind of sets the tone for the whole organization. The type of teammate he is, how selfless he is, all those things are great.

Q. James, you talked about the team getting better each week as the season went on. Everybody at this time of year looks at résumés from beginning to end. How much better do you think you are since that Michigan game and what are the strides you've taken since that game?
COACH FRANKLIN: When you say "résumé," résumé for the Big Ten championship game? Not sure what you're referring to.

Q. The team's whole résumé, the entire season.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I'm not sure about résumés, what résumés have to do with the Big Ten championship game. That's our complete focus right now, is Wisconsin, playing well on Saturday against Wisconsin.

Q. You beat Ohio State head-to-head. If you listen to the pundits and you look at the College Football Playoffs rankings, they're still ranked ahead of you. What message do you say to your team about not looking ahead past tomorrow night? What would you say to them Sunday if you win and you're left out?
COACH FRANKLIN: Once again, I know you guys got to ask all these questions, but our message is consistent. The same things I talk to my players about is the same thing I'm going to talk to you guys about because they read all this, see all this.

The only thing that exists for us is Wisconsin and the Big Ten championship game. If we take care of our business and play the way we're capable of playing, we'll be happy with the result.

After the game, whatever people tell us that we'll have an opportunity to do after that, we'll be excited about it, we'll be appreciative for that opportunity.

Again, I'm not going to sit here and make a case for us. Our focus is going to be on Wisconsin and this tremendous opportunity, this tremendous opponent that we have in Wisconsin.

Q. James, you put a lot of emphasis on the senior shares, the night before a game getting up and telling their story. Who will do that tonight? What did Donald Driver have to say to you, any advice?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, two things. Ladonis I think is the player, we always have a player and a coach, I think Ladonis is speaking tonight from a player's perspective. From a coach perspective or administrator perspective it's Michael Luis Hazel is the other guy speaking.

From a Donald Driver perspective, Donald is the man. He's the man. He's done a great job obviously building relationships. People think very highly of him across the country, but specifically in the state of Wisconsin.

He kind of responded back to me. I said, Who are you rooting for on Saturday?

He didn't really answer my question. So I kind of went back at him again. He still didn't really answer my question. He told me how proud he is of me, how happy he is for me and my family, kind of let it go.

We kind of both laughed. That was kind of the end of it.

Donald is awesome. I've been trying to get him to State College for a while. We'll see how this plays out.

The relationship aspect is important to me throughout my whole coaching career. Having guys like Donald Driver from the Packers, actually I think we have seven former Vanderbilt players that are flying in for the game, coming to the game, Tim Corbin, the baseball coach of Vanderbilt, is coming, Danny O'Brien from Maryland was at my house last night, driving back from winning a Grey Cup in Canada on the way back to North Carolina.

All those relationships are really, really important to me. That's what I'm hoping to build here at Penn State for the long haul is have guys that come back and want to be part of our success. To me that's what makes college football so special.

Q. When you took over this program a couple years ago, we were all there, the mood around campus and in the community was reflective, a little subdued at the time. What is the most satisfying aspect for you now to see the buzz around campus and the community, how people are feeling so upbeat about Penn State football again?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think a couple things. I'm a big believer, I know I'm biased, but I believe the game of football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else. It really has a huge impact on campuses, a huge impact on communities, states.

It's wonderful to see, it really is. The other night we got done watching tape, leaving the building around 11:30, and one of our ops people told us we had people camping out for tickets for this game. They started camping out Saturday right after the game. I think some people were out there almost 33 hours. It was cold. So there were 150 tents when I got out there 11:30 at night.

I went up to the first tent right outside the door, right outside the ticket office, wanted to go in there and thank them for their support, tell them to make sure they had enough blankets so they could stay warm and not get sick, and told them this was no excuse to miss class.

The first tent I woke them up. I went down, took pictures, had a lot of fun, let people know how much we appreciate their support.

Our players went the next morning, a lot of different sports teams, delivering breakfast sandwiches, donuts. It's a special place, there's no doubt about it.

I don't get out very often. During the week I get into the office usually fairly early. I don't get out for lunch. I get in early and stay late. So I don't see that a whole lot.

I started a thing about seven or eight weeks ago on the way back from my press conference, I would go to the Union and get a Jamba Juice, one of these green vegetable ones that was a way for me to rationalize all the bad things I ate during the week. That would be my only interaction with people on campus.

So our players talk about it. It's been fun. It's been nice. But our guys also understand, you know, you're careful. You don't listen to the criticism, and you don't listen to the pats on the back and the positivity as well. You try to stay as level as you possibly can, appreciate all your hard work, all your sacrifices you made, but try to stay as level as you possibly can.

Q. James, your offensive line has persevered this season despite all the injuries. What kind of challenges do you feel the Wisconsin defense front seven will present for it?
COACH FRANKLIN: A lot. You look at the better teams in this conference, you look at the better teams across the country. You guys have heard me say this for two years. The game of football is won up front, on the offensive line and defensive line. We came into this year feeling better about our O-line by far than we had in three years.

When I got the job, for some of the people that maybe haven't covered us in the past, we had nine scholarship offensive linemen in the program total. Most programs will have anywhere between 15 and 17.

We're back to a healthy situation, although we're still young. But then we've had a lot of injuries. We've lost three offensive tackles, have moved guys all around. I think Coach Limegrover has done a great job. I think the players have done a great job of embracing this opportunity. It seemed like whenever we had an injury or a challenge, a new guy came in and would step up to the plate.

I think obviously the other thing that happened is having a tailback like Saquon Barkley helps. Having receivers that can create separation and make big plays down the field helps. Most importantly, having a quarterback with mobility that when an offensive lineman does get beat, he does have a chance to kind of save the day and cover the mistake up by scrambling or extending a play.

Now the offensive linemen can learn from that without maybe losing confidence because he didn't give up a negative-yardage play, a sack. I think that's been really beneficial for our entire team.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FRANKLIN: Like I said, I think it's going to be a real challenge. They're built up front on the O-line. They're massive, 6'6" across the board, one tackle is 6'7", tight end 6'6". That's who they are. They're going to grind you out on offense and defense. They lead the country in time of possession. Defensively their front seven is how they're built. I think the linebackers are the strength. Although their secondary has 21 interceptions and leads the country.

It's going to be a challenge. Saquon Barkley I think is going to keep 'em honest. He's had one of these years around the offensive line where, you know, he kind of pounds and struggles and fights and scratches and crawls for any yards he can get. Then usually at some point during the game, usually at a critical time, he breaks a big one for us.

Their game plan is going to be similar to what we saw the last four or five games of the year. People are going to try to overload us in the box. They're going to blitz and twist the front to cause challenges with our offensive line, eliminate Saquon from beating them. They're going to play the secondary probably off and soft and going to say, We're not going to let Saquon run the ball and we're not going to give up explosive plays. Because those have been the two secrets to our success on offense; big plays in the passing game and Saquon Barkley being able to make plays as well. I don't see that formula changing against us.

Q. Saquon is 100% ready to go for tomorrow night?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yes, sir. He's been drinking a lot of milk all week and orange juice and vitamin C. We flew in Mr. Miyagi, hit him on the ankle with the hands.

Honestly, I know a lot of times coaches get up and say that and it's a smoke screen. But he's practiced all week long. He looks great.

Q. You talk about the noise around the program. I imagine that's only ramped up since the Ohio State game. How do your guys do a good job of tuning out?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think really good. I think they've embraced that. I think I drive our local media a little bit crazy sometimes because I won't get off topic. But, you know, I think that's been really, really important. Our consistency in our message, in our approach. That's everybody. That's administrative assistants, the coaches, the doctors, the trainers, the players, that's everybody. We're all singing the same song, the same tune. We believe in our process. I think that's a big reason why we've been able to play somewhat consistent and get better throughout the season.

Our players have really bought into it. I think if you look at our guys, how they've answered questions, it's been consistent with how the coaches have answered questions.

This week has been very consistent with that. To be honest with you, I know this probably sounds a little bit crazy, but you wouldn't know, if you came to our practices the last five weeks, you wouldn't know any difference between this practice and the five weeks before, except for the fact that we've been playing Wisconsin's fight song and jump around at every practice. That's really the only change in the things that we've done this week compared to last week.

Q. Not unlike Wisconsin, a lot of people didn't necessarily think three months ago that Penn State would be here. At what point did you know or think that you could do these kinds of things this season before the season or during the season?
COACH FRANKLIN: I had Wisconsin versus Penn State on my grease board in August. No, I didn't.

To be honest, I never really kind of thought like that. Again, we just took it one game at a time, approached practice one day at a time, tried to get better every single day.

The only time that it probably came into my mind and came into our players' minds is when we were playing Michigan State, and we hadn't done anything exciting during the game. I was standing on the sideline talking to Trace before we took the field. The stadium stood up and erupted because Ohio State just beat Michigan. Trace looked at me on the sideline, said, What's going on?

I said, I assume that Ohio State just won.

I never really kind of thought about it or looked at it until after that game was over. Michigan State is a tremendous opponent. They played people really well the last three to four weeks of the season. We knew it was going to be a challenge.

After that game ended, we knew we were going to have a chance to represent the East in the game is probably the first time it hit that we were going to be doing it.

To be honest with you, until today, seeing this trophy, which is really cool sitting here, it probably still hadn't kind of hit home yet.

Q. Coach, against Ohio State special teams were key in that game. How key do you think they will be tomorrow night against Wisconsin?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think in these types of games, they're always key. Everybody has talked about our offense and our defense this year, but probably the area I think we've improved as much as anything is on special teams. Compared to the last two years and really from the beginning of the season, I think that's a big reason why we are where we are today. I think Charles Huff, our special teams coordinator, Yaz, our special teams captain, long snapper, Blake Gillikin, Tyler, those guys have been awesome all year long. Then the other 10 guys rallying around them have been really good.

I think it's going to be a big factor in the game. I think it's been a difference maker for us all year long. We believe in it. I've been a lot of places and worked for a lot of coaches. Sometimes you sit there and say that sometimes special teams are just as important as offense and defense, but your practice structure does not say that. The type of players you're playing on special teams does not say that. You're not reinforcing that message.

For us, we spend a lot of time in practice and meetings and watching films and things like that. Scholarships, all those types of things on the importance of special teams. I think it's going to have a huge factor in the game.

Q. James, did you have much rapport with Coach Chyrst? Did you run into him in recruiting, particularly when he was at Pitt when you guys crossed over there?
COACH FRANKLIN: Not a lot. Obviously I've known Coach Chyrst. Our paths have crossed. We have people in common in the industry. I'd see him in a high school from time to time when he was at Pitt.

The time that kind of jumps out in my mind the most was I think last year when he was at Wisconsin.

We've never worked together. We've never gone out to dinner or anything like that. But I've known of him for a long time, got tremendous respect. Comes from a football family. Kind of the two interesting stories, his story is a little bit more interesting than mine. The fact that he's from there, grew up there, played there, his dad coached there. It's an awesome story for him.

Then obviously my story growing up in the state of Pennsylvania, having an opportunity to come back home, that doesn't happen very often. So for two coaches to be able to come back home and represent their home states is I think pretty cool, pretty special.

Q. You and Saquon both said after winning your respective individual awards last week that it was kind of like a team award. Do you see an award like Saquon's a recognition of how much the offense has done this year?
COACH FRANKLIN: You're talking about the Player of the Year award?

Q. Yes.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yes, I know he was excited. Most of these awards I try to get to the guy before the award comes out to let him know. He's trying not to smile, he's such a humble guy. I know it meant a lot to him.

What we talk a lot in our program is with team success comes individual recognition. I think Saquon would be the first one to tell you that he didn't win that award, we won that award, the whole team, the offensive line, the defense for getting the ball back and creating turnovers, the quarterback being mobile, the run-pass option, the passing game, the special teams. Everything has played a part in it. Our fans in the stadium, 107,000 going crazy, us feeding off their energy, all those things. It's all of us together.

Although sometimes people are going to get recognized individually, we make a big deal out of all these individual recognitions. They're truly team awards, in what I would consider the greatest team sport of them all.

Q. Coach, I wanted to ask you about the difference in the state of the program at Penn State compared to when you got to Vanderbilt, what the differences were with the numbers, Vanderbilt's history versus Penn State. What were the differences between those two programs when you were starting out at each program?
COACH FRANKLIN: I'm happy to set up an interview with you after the season to discuss that. Right now I'd prefer to talk about Penn State and Wisconsin and this game.

I've been asked really for a while to compare the SEC to the Big Ten, being a head coach in both those conferences, to make comparisons. I'd be happy to set up an interview after the season about that. I'd prefer to talk about Wisconsin. I hope that's appropriate, but I prefer to talk about Wisconsin or Penn State right now.

Q. James, you talked about whatever happens after Saturday happens. What would a win tomorrow mean for Penn State, even if it's not followed with a playoff berth like it would usually be?
COACH FRANKLIN: Big Ten championships are huge. We talk to our players. The way I understand it, our stadium, they put the years on the stadium wall of the Big Ten championship seasons. So to be a part of something like that...

Lettermen are huge at Penn State. We have usually between 60 and 70 lettermen come back to games. We're one of the few programs in the country, they have sideline passes for life. For our last game against Michigan State, I think we had like 260 lettermen there to support us, which was great.

It would mean a lot to those lettermen. It would mean a lot to our players. It would mean a lot to our community. Big Ten championships are hard to get. Championships in general are hard to get.

Me and Mike Hazel, our director of football operations, talk about it all the time. I don't care what level, I don't care where you're at, I don't care what sport, championships are hard to get.

I would make the argument right now, you could make a really good argument that the Big Ten, specifically the Big Ten East, may be the best conference in all of college football right now. That's no disrespect to any of the other conferences all over the country. They're great. But I think we got a pretty good thing going right now in our conference.

To have the chance to play for the Big Ten championship is a tremendous honor on its own. To find a way to win this game, to be able to take this bad boy back to State College, it would be awesome.

Q. Paul Chryst has a rep for being a really brilliant play caller. I'm sure you've faced a lot of good ones like that in the league. When you analyze Wisconsin's offense, do you notice things like that with him?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, they do a great job. They do a really, really good job. They're sound, well-coached. They've been that way for a long time. They kind of have a formula at Wisconsin. It never changes. I think that kind of started with Coach Alvarez.

Coach Chyrst obviously growing up around this, then went on, had his own career, was able to come back home. He fits the model and does a great job.

They have a very diverse running game, do a lot of different things. It starts with their O-line and tight ends. Obviously the runningback is special. Juwan Johnson, one of our wide receivers, went to the same high school as him in New Jersey. They have a 235-pound back who makes plays. Like I say, they have a really diverse running game.

When you're able to impose your will in the running game on people, be able to do different things in terms of giving different looks like formation or different plays, whether it's power or whether it's lead, a lot of different things that they try to do, counter as well, then be able to play-action off of it, people are getting frustrated trying to put an extra guy in the box, be overly aggressive to stop the run, it creates one-on-one situations on the perimeter, creates chunk plays for them.

The other thing they've done a nice job that a lot of people are doing is the fly sweep. That's been another thing they've been able to do to create chunk plays. We struggled with that play early in the season. We've worked on it every single week and have gotten better. Everybody's tried to do it against us since then. We've done a pretty good job defending it. We're going to need to be ready to do that again on Saturday, we're going to see it again.

It's a diverse running game. That starts up front with their offensive line, tight end, a big, powerful back. Play-action pass off of it to complement that running game. Then the fly sweeps. They're the things we're going to need to be ready for.

You're exactly right, Coach Chyrst has been doing this for a long time. Very successful at what he does and how he does it.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Franklin. Good luck tomorrow.

COACH FRANKLIN: Thank you, guys. Really appreciate it.

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