Franklin Talks Defense, Northwestern at Weekly Presser
It may be Homecoming week in Happy Valley, but James Franklin has his sights set on only one thing: “Northwestern, Northwestern, Northwestern, Northwestern, Northwestern.”
After going over last week’s 48-7 win over UMass, Franklin had lots of praise for the way his team played and for the visiting Wildcats. He said his team isn’t distracted by the bye coming up next week, or anything else going on this week. The team is ready to compete against Pat Fitzgerald’s team.
Here are some notes from this week’s press conference:
- Going over UMass: Franklin was pleased that Penn State won the big play battle by giving up only three “explosive plays” (15 yards or more) and gaining nine on offense. He says the exciting thing about the win is that “we still have a lot of room for growth and the ability to get better.” He added that the offense needs to improve footwork and coordinating protection, and the defense needs to work on coverage and communication.
- Players of the week for UMass: Angelo Mangiro, Nyeem Wartman, and Sam Ficken.
- Franklin, on the second-string guys getting in the game against UMass: “I saw after the game that DJ Crook tweeted out ‘It’s a dream come true,’ and talking to some people, not only did that mean the world to DJ, guys like DJ who come to work every single day, and work as hard as everybody else don’t always get the opportunity. So to see guys like that be able to go in and make some plays and chase their dream of playing at Penn State… and to see DJ’s parents emotional in the stands, to me, that’s awesome. That’s what it’s all about.”
- On the fast-paced offense Northwestern runs: “They’re a no-huddle tempo team that does a lot of communication at the line of scrimmage.”
- On the impact the fans can have on the game this weekend against Northwestern: “Our fans are gonna be huge, with the sold-out stadium. What I’d love to do is make it impossible to communicate at the line of scrimmage with our fans and our students doing a good job there.”
- On defensive tackle Austin Johnson: “A lot of times he may not get the stats that a linebacker or another defensive lineman are getting, but a lot of it is because he’s the cause of it. They’re having to double team him. Probably the most athletic 315 lb. guy I’ve ever been around. The thing I like the most about him is, every time I see him, when he walks into the building or when he’s out at practice, he’s got a huge smile on his face. He’s unbelievably appreciative of being at Penn State and having a great experience. I think he’s got a chance to continue to be a special player for us. Him and Zettel make a really nice one-two punch inside.”
- On Christian Hackenberg: “I think he’s played extremely well. Let’s be honest, for most of this season so far, he’s shouldered a lot of the offense, so now that the running game is getting going, I think that’s going to be helpful.”
- On playing all three running backs (Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch): “We don’t really overthink it. Basically, each one of them is going to get a series to start the game. Then, we’ll also have specific plays on the game plan that are tagged for specific players. So this may be Bill Belton’s series, but this play may be tagged for Akeel based on his strengths. That’s where you’ll see guys run in and out, to mix things up. Whoever the guy that looks like is being the most effective, then we’ll go with them a little bit longer, or maybe even the rest of the game. We have three quality backs that we feel good about.”
- In response to “After four games, how good is your team?”: “We were 1-0 last week, which is awesome, and we’re focusing on being 1-0 this week against Northwestern. I’m excited about that opportunity, to continue to grow and build that chemistry, work on our weaknesses and build on our strengths.”
- On playing freshmen, specifically in the secondary: “It’s very important for the growth of our program, for the confidence for those kids, for the confidence of the coaches. Typically, you’re looking at this throughout the week, you may say ‘We’re planning on playing a guy,’ and then he doesn’t have a great week at practice and you don’t feel confident putting him in there. At our staff meeting, we’ll go through our notes and talk about the depth chart and how we’re planning on playing guys. It may be Jordan Lucas and Grant Haley, we’ll go three series to one series, or it may be two-to-one with Trevor [Williams] and Christian [Campbell], or we may say ‘This is this kid’s first time playing, so we want to get him one series in the first half and see how he does.’ What you hope is a guy goes in there and has some success.”
- On the experience of playing Northwestern when Franklin was at Vanderbilt: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that having history with people, with teams, with coaching staffs, with players, there comes a bit of a comfort level or understanding. I don’t know if one game does that, but it’s better than none! I think playing at home, when you’re at a place like Penn State, really gives us an advantage. You have a true home-field advantage here, and we’re expecting to have a big one on Saturday.”