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December 3, 2016

James Franklin

Mike Gesicki

Grant Haley

Indianapolis, Indiana

Penn State - 38, Wisconsin - 31

THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Franklin to make an opening statement then we'll go to questions for Mike and Grant and then follow up with questions for Coach.

COACH FRANKLIN: Well, first of all, I want to take a moment just to thank the entire Nittany Nation that traveled from all over the country and really supported us all year long.

We had a lot of confidence at home, with packed houses. I think I really believe that the Minnesota game was kind of the turning point for us, Irvin Charles made a huge play and kind of us going from that point on, and we never really looked back.

I don't like the fact that we don't get started as quickly as I think we can, but I do like the fact that I'm able to come in at halftime and say to our guys that we're a second-half team.

I think the last eight games of the year we averaged 27 points in the second half and only gave up six. So after telling the guys that and talking to the guys in the locker room, I felt like we left the locker room really confident.

We've been in that situation a number of times and handled it well. And like I've said to the players: These guys, they believe in each other. I think they believe in us. We've got great chemistry. We've got really good relationships. We care about one another in the locker room.

When you have that you can do a lot of really, really good things. I'm proud of our guys. Obviously Trace did a bunch of good things and Mike and Grant played really well and the offensive line battled in the second half.

We didn't start out really good I think on either front. I thought their O line was able to kind of dictate the first half. Their D line was able to dictate the first half. And then we were able to get some of our young guys settled down.

And from that point on really made some plays. We thought we were going to have to make plays on the perimeter, and we were able to do that.

I thought special teams we were solid all night long. We've been that way all year. And I'm proud of these guys and thankful for our fans, thankful for President Barron and the support he's given us the whole way, him and Molly. Best president in the country. And Sandy Barbour stood up for us and for me at a point when we needed her to.

And I can't thank her enough, her leadership, her belief in us and specifically her belief in me.

So I'll stop talking, but very, very appreciative of this opportunity and appreciative to represent the Big Ten East, and now the conference championship. Thanks to these guys up here and the rest of the guys in the locker room.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Mike and Grant.

Q. Down 28-7, guys, when you're on the sideline, I know Coach stays upbeat, was there more heads down than usual considering the deficit? How many guys did you have to pick up, if any? What was it like for the players on the sidelines at that point?
MIKE GESICKI: No. With the coaches that we have in this program, they have taught us never to put your head down, never to give up, trust in what we're doing.

I don't know if it's great for us, but we honestly do believe we're a second-half team. So to get that touchdown before halftime, we went into halftime like we were winning the game. Like we knew that we were going to come out in the second half and make some adjustments and then go out and play the way we did in the second half.

It all worked out for us. So there was no heads down. There was no doubting. We were just you get this opportunity once, once every season. Sometimes you don't get it again. So we took advantage of it.

GRANT HALEY: Like he said, the chemistry on this team, the guys look to the left and right and each man is going to have each other's back. No one will have their head down. We're a team that's battled the whole year.

And no matter what the score was, no matter what was going on, we don't let circumstances dictate what's going to happen. So this team, I have the utmost faith in them, these coaches. It was just a great atmosphere and just great to go out there and win.

Q. Grant, what did you see on the fourth down play for Wisconsin, and where were you at with regards to the play?
GRANT HALEY: You know, they ran the ball pretty well tonight. But it was an opportunity where -- there was an opportunity where they were going to run a counter. They ran it earlier in the game and they kind of split it for a touchdown.

And I saw them set the edge. So I just got triggered really well, and Marcus, wrapped him up and Marcus finished off the play. Just a great team effort right there.

Q. Mike, you guys fell behind earlier in the season by 21 points to Pittsburgh. This defense is one of the top defenses in the country. How did you not lose that faith and belief in yourselves?
MIKE GESICKI: Like I said, our coaches have instilled a lot of confidence in us all season long. And it's been contagious throughout the entire sideline.

One of the things that I said walking down the sideline, I said: Guys, it's just like Pitt but we're going to finish this thing off. And that's exactly what happened.

We've grown a lot and we've really improved. And I think that we showed that tonight.

Q. Grant, you and Marcus have been a part of two of the biggest plays of this season between the fourth down stop and the blocked field goal. Why do you think you guys are able to put yourselves in those positions in key moments to make those plays?
GRANT HALEY: I don't think it's just us two. I think it's the whole 11 guys out there on the field, even coaches in the box and the scout team. They gave us great looks all week.

It's just something that our coaches prepare for us. And when the time -- when it's time to step up, I feel like any person on our defense or offense is going to step up, and it just happens to be the situation that Marcus and I have been in two great situations. But I think our coaches, you know, they just game plan for these opportunities for the outcome to be successful.

Q. Last year I know the media was on you a little bit, social media, with some drops. And even earlier in the year when we interviewed you, you had a comment in the locker room. I could see it was bugging you a little bit. But you come from where you were personally, from where the team was last year and the beginning of this year, how appreciative are you and how do you feel as a program from where you were to where you are on a night like tonight, a very special night?
MIKE GESICKI: There's been a lot of ups and downs and adversity you have to go through. But I actually met with Coach in the offseason. He gave me a bunch of quotes, and one was "If there's no struggle, there's no progress."

I think that goes along not only with myself but with this team. Since I've been here, there's obviously been some downs and some struggles and some adversity, but without that you can't grow and you can't improve.

So I wouldn't change anything that's happened in the past. I think that it's made our team and myself better because of it. And this Big Ten Championship kind of speaks volumes to all that adversity and how we've handled it and how we've grown from it.

Q. Grant, they ran for 160-something yards in the first half and had less than half of that the rest of the way. What changed at halftime?
GRANT HALEY: You know, we just really looked at what they were doing. They weren't running that many plays. It was the same play as the counter power, just something that we really fit our gaps and be accountable for each other.

And we just came out in the second half. And I think we just had a jolt. And if we got that first three and out, and then the offense going down to score, it's just the energy. We just had the energy going into the second half. And I think that was what led us to success.

Q. Mike, everybody on the receiving corps seemed to make a bunch of spectacular catches. What do you say about the catches that you guys all made tonight, it was just Trace McSorley had the ball there and you went up there and got it?
MIKE GESICKI: Starts with the play calling. Coach Moorhead did a great job all season long to put us in position to be successful, and it moves down towards the offensive line giving Trace McSorley a chance to go back and give him time to make plays with his arm. When the ball is up in the air, Coach Moorhead said in the offensive meeting last night it's not a 50/50 ball, it's a 100/0 ball. When that ball is in the air, it's our ball. We have to make a play on it. And it didn't matter if it was DaeSean, who I'm so happy for. I'm so happy for my man. He's been through a lot this season. For him to go out there and play the way he did tonight, very happy for him. Saeed went out there and made a bunch of huge plays like he always has in big games. Chris is just like Chris has always been. And I think everybody was making plays.

And it was a great night for us.

Q. Mike and Grant, right now, does it matter to you what your destination is going to be when you find out tomorrow?

GRANT HALEY: No, it doesn't.

Q. Tell me why.
GRANT HALEY: Just being with this group of guys, for another game, they're special. It doesn't matter where it's going to be. Whatever the committee wants to do, that's up to them. But just going out there and battling with these guys, that's what the special thing is about this team.

MIKE GESICKI: All season long, especially towards the end of the season, we've just been talking about controlling the controllables. And that's all that we can do. Doesn't matter where they put us.

It's just another opportunity, like Coach always says, to keep this family together for an extended period of time and it's another game for us. And we're going to be appreciative of any opportunity that we get.

Q. However, though, you guys are Big Ten champs. What is your message to the committee? Because you obviously want to be in the College Football Playoffs. What would you say to them if you had 30 seconds to tell them why you deserve to be in?
MIKE GESICKI: It's up to you guys. Make a selection.

GRANT HALEY: It's up to you guys, make a selection.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.

Q. James, could you discuss the feeling of achievement you have, what you've gone through this season, and to reach this moment tonight?
COACH FRANKLIN: You know, it's hard for me to think about it as just this season. It's been a challenging three years. I've learned a lot about myself. Learned a lot about my family.

I've learned a lot about this community and the men in that locker room, the coaches, the players, the doctors, the trainers, everybody.

So for me it's not just the season. It's all the hard work and all the positive steps that we've been taking for three years. It didn't always seem that way maybe to others, but we felt that way. It wasn't easy. Those steps weren't downhill. Those steps were up Mount Nittany. And that's kind of how I look at it.

I look at it as everything. I look at it as the lettermen rallying behind us. I look at the fans supporting us. I look at President Barron and Molly being awesome. I look at what Sandy did earlier in the year for us. I look at different players stepping up at different times.

There's so many things that factor into it. It's hard for me to say just this season. It's been a journey. It really has. And we've still got a long ways to go.

That's the exciting thing. I think depending on which metrics you look at, I think we're the sixth youngest team in the country. So that's exciting.

This is a foundation. And the fortunate thing is we get to continue building on that foundation this year. So I'm just a very appreciative guy. I'm a very blessed guy.

I know how thankful I am. Not only to be at Penn State but most importantly to have my wife Fumi down there and my sister J and my childhood friend from elementary school Kevin Ginsburg (phonetic) and my home girl Shola Franklin here and Addy back at the hotel, probably been knocked out for four hours. So I'm thankful for all those things.

Q. James, what changed from the time it was 28-7, and can you describe how valuable Trace McSorley was to your team tonight?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think in the first half the game went exactly the way they wanted it to go. Their O line was having their way with our D line. Their D line was giving our O line fits.

And some of our young guys on that O line were struggling. So we were trying to get those guys calmed down.

I don't want to keep saying that we're a second-half team, but I'll tell you this, it's valuable when you're able to go in there. I think the last eight games of the year we averaged 27 points in the second half and only gave up six on average throughout all those eight games.

So to be able to say that to our guys in the locker room, we were fortunate to only be down 28-14, really were. Went for it a couple times on fourth down because I didn't feel like we were having a lot of success stopping them, whether it was a short field or a long field, it didn't really matter to them, because they were just getting ahead on the sticks on first down.

It was always second and five, second and four, which, against that offense, you can't be. So tried to be aggressive and go for it on fourth down. Didn't work either time. Our defense stepped up. We didn't really lose a whole lot the one time we did that.

That was huge going into locker room at halftime only down by 14 and obviously to come out and make some big plays in the second half and the confidence and the environment and the momentum just swung in the stadium in our direction. And Trace has been dynamic all year long. I'm really proud of him, you know, his attitude, his demeanor, the type of teammate he is, the type of leader he is.

Obviously he made plays tonight. But the wideouts made plays for him. The wideouts made unbelievable plays for him, the tight ends made unbelievable plays for him. His mobility helped the O line, were able to get those guys to settle down. We said, look, we felt really confident about our wide receiver to DB matchups and tight end to DB matchups, but we just needed to strain, strain a little bit longer in protection and give us some time, and we'd have a chance to do some good things.

Q. Saquon really had to battle through it early in the beginning there, still ripped off some big runs. What did he mean to you guys tonight?
COACH FRANKLIN: You know, first of all, I want to credit Coach Limegrover on our offensive line for battling. Because we lost a lot of guys to injury. It's been a three-year battle for us. And it wasn't always pretty. But I also think that's a credit to Saquon Barkley, the amount of yards he's been able to rush for this year, the durability he's had, the big plays at critical moments in games has just been huge.

And we've still got a developing line and a lot of moving parts with injuries and things like that. So it's a credit to all those guys. It's a credit to the O linemen. It's a credit to Coach Limegrover and Coach Moorhead and how he calls the game. We had a lot of conversations on the sideline. And when you're trying to manage the O line situation where maybe you're struggling at that position a little bit, that's the challenge.

And I think he's done a really good job as well. Great team win. Great complementary football -- offense, defense, special teams. All had a big part in tonight.

Q. Obviously thinking about tonight, you can't really do that without thinking about where Penn State was just five years ago, where the university has come, especially this program. Was it any wonder that you guys had to overcome a fumble return for a touchdown, the fourth down that you guys didn't convert in the first quarter, you're down 21, had to fight back? Was it a microcosm of I guess in a way it felt that this was fitting, you guys had to win the way you did?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, Commissioner Delany asked me to make the game as exciting as we possibly could. So that's why we did all those things in the first half, to get the ratings up.

But we've done those things all year long. We've done a really good job the last eight games of not turning the ball over. So that one hurt, the turnover.

But, again, our kids believe. And I think I know that sounds very simplistic and it's silly, but our guys believe in each other. They believe in the coaches. They believe in the plan.

And we're going to fight you. We're going to fight you one play at a time from the beginning of the game to the end.

And when you play hard and you protect the football and you believe, you have those key core ingredients, then you've got a chance to do some really good things.

Q. You're Big Ten champions, but there's still a lot of questions --
COACH FRANKLIN: Say that again.

Q. You're Big Ten champions.
COACH FRANKLIN: Sounds sweet coming off your lips.

Q. There's a lot of questions where this team will end up in the next couple of weeks. Is that a bad thing for a conference champion? And do you have any thoughts whether the NCAA should look into issues like this that way, questions like this aren't being asked anymore of conference champions?
COACH FRANKLIN: What do you mean the NCAA?

Q. Would you like just to see the powers that be correct the issue that maybe a team that wins a conference championship knows where it's going to be the next day, there's no questions, they know where they're going to be when they go to bed that night?
COACH FRANKLIN: We've been having these debates for years. There's always going to be challenges with it. There always will be. You look at the basketball tournament, how many teams is there, like 65 or something like that?

And 66, 67 and 68 are complaining they should have got in. There's no perfect system. Obviously I feel strongly that -- I haven't said this -- every time I turn on the TV or read an article, people said this year the Big Ten Conference was by far the strongest conference in college football.

I've heard that over and over again. We just won the Big Ten Conference championship. I've also heard for the last couple of years that you have the ability to overcome early setbacks. And we did that as well.

So I think we can make a great case for ourselves. We're going to be a part of that conversation. So we're appreciative and blessed that we're going to be a part of that conversation.

But at the end of the day, whatever the powers that be tell us that our future is, we're going to be really appreciative and we're going to be really happy. And I just talked about that with the guys in the locker room, and everybody kind of reacted the same way. I really feel like our guys feel that way: Whatever opportunity we get moving forward, we'll be very, very appreciative of.

I don't want that to be taken the wrong way that we're taking the pressure off the committee and we'll just -- that we don't want to be included in that conversation. We do. But we're just appreciative of spending more time together as a family and having an opportunity to continue playing the game together.

Q. I know you said earlier in the week, and you just spoke at length about the Big Ten, the conference championship having weight. And does it take on any more weight for you, for this program, given the way it unfolded tonight with you guys coming back?
COACH FRANKLIN: First thing I'd say, yeah, I think conference championship games should carry weight. It's another game where you're playing the best against the best. And again, to talk about the strength of scheduling being important, well, that obviously was another opportunity to do -- that's a very good football program we just played.

They've been in this game four out of the last six years. This is our first time being here. We did okay. I don't remember the second half of your question, sir.

Q. Just does it take on any more special meaning here for you for this program, for this team, the way it unfolded tonight by you guys coming back from a 28-7 deficit?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's been our script all season long. We've done it all different ways. We've done it with comebacks at the end of the game, two-minute drives. We've done it where we've blown people out. We've done it where we had to come back in the second half.

We've done it with field goal plays, blocked field goal plays. We've done it a lot of different ways. But that's the sign of a good football team when you find different ways to be successful.

No different than life. The script is not always going to go the way you want it to go. You take the hands you're dealt and you play it to the best of your ability. That's what our guys are learning.

That's the thing I'm most excited about. Obviously our guys are understanding how to win in football but they're also learning how to win in life, how to handle adversity, how to constantly believe in yourself, get knocked down, get back up again, keeping a positive attitude, great work ethic, competing in everything you do and willing to sacrifice things, other things that aren't crucially or critically important to you. So I'm just proud of our guys for so many different reasons.

Q. I'm sure you want the committee to call your name tomorrow. But is it easier to sleep knowing plan B is Pasadena?
COACH FRANKLIN: Again, we've got great options in front of us. And whoever that is, whether it's State College High School downtown, another game, awesome. That would be great.

Obviously the Rose Bowl, and I hear people on TV talking about that they feel like -- they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn't get a whole lot better than that.

That's a special deal. So, again, we would love to be a part of the playoff conversation. We'd love that opportunity. But also to be able to represent the Big Ten as the Big Ten Conference champions, playing in the Rose Bowl, that will be great as well.

So, like I said, we're going to be appreciative. I'm appreciative and blessed for how this season has played out and how the guys have been.

I love walking into that locker room. I love going to practice every single day with these guys. I love the men that I work with, the coaches.

We were blessed to get Coaching Staff of the Year, which is how I look at it. Not Coach of the Year, Coaching Staff of the Year. All the guys in that locker room have been awesome. So whatever our future holds, we'll be excited about playing it.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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