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Following A Week in the City, Head Coaches Meet in Yankee Stadium

James Franklin was slightly irked when he entered the Yankee Stadium media room for one final press conference following a circus of team pageantry that has taken the Nittany Lions to various locales across New York City.

Franklin said he wanted himself and his team to always be competitive, but the fact that Boston College’s head coach Steve Addazio had “beaten” him to the press conference by several minutes wasn’t sitting well.

It’s a minor defeat, but Penn State will have to be equally competitive on Saturday to defeat the Eagles, a team that features a versatile offense spearheaded by a dual-threat quarterback, and a defense that Franklin said likes to bring “chaos” on every play. “He’s bringing people at all different angles, all different looks,” said Franklin of Boston College’s defensive coordinator Don Brown. “He believes strongly in trying to confuse offensive lines…You’re going to get a lot of movement, you’re going to get a lot of pressure.”

If there was ever an offensive line that would be susceptible to chaos, confusion, and disorder, Penn State’s 2014 front five would be a strong candidate. Franklin was quick to point out that Boston College returned five senior offensive lineman to start the season, with 140 combined starts. Penn State, on the other hand, returned only Donovan Smith and the 20 previous starts he offered.

“That’s going to be a real focal point of the game,” said Franklin.

However, Penn State’s first-year coach said that the offensive line was the position that benefitted most from the extra practices that the bowl game granted. “Having our offensive line together now in the same position, that’s been big,” he said. Miles Dieffenbach is healthy, and, unlike most of the year, Penn State hasn’t had to scramble around inexperienced underclassmen to fill various voids up front.

On the other side of the ball, the Nittany Lions will face quarterback Tyler Murphy, who’s both rushed and passed for 1,000 yards this season. But it’s a strong offense up against an equally competent defense, as Mike Hull and coach Bob Shoop have consistently annoyed offenses this year, especially those that feature dual-threat quarterbacks. “[Hull’s] an outstanding player, he runs so well, he covers the field,” said Addazio, who was asked significantly fewer questions than was Franklin. “That’s an outstanding defense. The film backs up the stats.”

No current Penn State player has won a bowl game, and very few have even played in one. “The emotions for us aren’t so much the bowl game, it’s about the family being together,” said Franklin. “The 2014 football team won’t be together again.”

Franklin said that one of the biggest challenges the sanctions have provided this year is the lack of competition in practice. There’s little depth to face off against the first team, and that has possibly translated to losses on the field. Franklin provided an anecdote, saying Dieffenbach — a highly touted recruit — told him he was on the fifth team when he started at Penn State. His freshman year, he hardly earned a rep.

“Now we’re in a position where the freshman are second team the moment they walk on campus,” said Franklin. “That’s the biggest difference.”

The lack of experience could provide a challenge, but Franklin said he’s leaning on his staff — most of whom have been together for four years and have found success in bowl games — to lend support. “I always try to be very honest and up front and discuss these things.”

The head coaches press conference was attended by a pool of media that had not covered the Penn State team all season. Following a lengthy question delivered in Spanish, one reporter asked Franklin about following Joe Paterno’s legacy, always a touchy subject. Franklin responded honestly. “Penn State’s a place where we had the same coach [for a very long time]. We have tremendous respect for our history and our past, but I can’t be anybody but James Franklin.”

That shouldn’t matter Saturday, when two teams who both narrowly lost to playoff-bound opponents face off. “There are no moral victories,” said Franklin, referencing Penn State’s loss to Ohio State. “But I do think it illustrates how close we are.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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