Franklin Discusses Rivalries And Punting In Weekly Press Conference
After a home-opening win over Buffalo on Saturday, James Franklin was back to his cheery self on Tuesday for his weekly press conference to preview this weekend’s prime-time matchup with Rutgers.
Here are some highlights from the press conference:
Brandon Bell and Grant Haley should be back, but Andrew Nelson’s status is still up in the air
Franklin said he’s “hopeful” to have all three players back for this weekend’s game, but, as always, he didn’t have any specific details.
“I think Grant and Brandon, we feel pretty good that we’ll have those guys and those guys will be significant additions for us,” Franklin said. “Grant will be really important for us, he was fantastic last year as a gunner on the punt team. That will be huge for us this week, having him available in that role. Obviously, as we all know with our depth and our confidence being able to grow on the offensive line, being able to have Nelly available would be great for us as well. We’re playing a bunch of young guys at linebacker, so having Brandon back [would be nice].
He mentioned that it would be nice to have Bell back because he’s from New Jersey.
Reshuffling the offensive line worked, now it’s time for chemistry to develop
After promising last week to shuffle the offensive line, Franklin delivered on Saturday, putting in Brendan Mahon at tackle. The unit gave up zero sacks and allowed the offense to rush for 200 yards, despite the loss of Nelson in the second quarter. Franklin explained that decision, and said now that the young unit has had some success, they need to start building chemistry together around their leader in the middle, senior Angelo Mangiro.
“We didn’t have Wendy [Laurent] completely available the last couple weeks,” Franklin said, “and that factored into it. You could make the argument that tackles are very important to what you’re doing offensively, but the center is the ‘quarterback’ of the offensive line. Angelo has a calming effect on the entire group. The fact that he’s right there in the middle, he’s able to communicate, able to take charge, able to lead and be a real vocal presence. I think that’s the biggest thing, having the one senior on our offensive line be at center, we thought that was valuable. Mahon has played at tackle before, we felt like he’s be able to do it. Getting Paris back in there, I thought those guys played pretty good. I think having Wendy back at ‘full go’ this week provides a little bit more flexibility for us, and I think we feel good about that unit. We just have to continue to get those five playing together for a significant amount of time to build the type of chemistry and cohesion to help you win.”
The punting game needs to improve, or Rutgers will take advantage
Arguably one of the best return men in the country will be coming to Happy Valley on Saturday in Rutgers’ Jamarion Grant. He set the program record with 337 all-purpose yards in a 37-34 loss to Washington State last Saturday, and had a 100-yard kick return touchdown and a 55-yard punt return touchdown. That gives him three on the year in just two games, as he also returned a kick for a touchdown in Rutgers’ season-opener. Franklin acknowledged Grant’s extreme athleticism, but said that he thinks his team will play well against him.
“I think the biggest thing is, if you’re doing the things the way we think things should be done in terms of techniques and fundamentals, it should take care of itself,” Franklin said when asked about how he game plans around dangerous athletes such as Grant. “I think you have to be careful because if you make a big deal about it, you’re gonna have the opposite effect. We look at it as a tremendous challenge. It’s exciting. When a great player comes in, you have the opportunity to do some things to make sure he doesn’t have the opportunity to make a big impact on the game.”
Franklin went on to say that the punting game needs to improve after an average performance against Buffalo.
“We want 40 yards, we want a 4.0 [second] hang time, and we want the location that we’re looking for,” Franklin said. “We’re not getting that right now. To me, you can probably live with two out of the three, but you’d like all three. Right now we’re not getting the hang time or the location, and it’s stressing out our coverage units. When you have to cover 53 and a third, with one of the better athletes on the field back there returning punts, you’re causing stress on everybody. We gotta consistently punt the ball for the distance, hang time, and we need to get the location more times than not. That needs to happen.”
Rivalries aren’t made “in a marketing meeting”
A lot has been made about the “rivalry” between Rutgers, Maryland, and Penn State, but when asked what constitutes an “organic rivalry,” Franklin was concise in his response.
“I think it’s the word you just used, organic,” Franklin said. “It’s just something that naturally develops over time. Nobody comes up with it in a marketing meeting. It just naturally happens over time between fans, between schools, between alumni. I think the word you used, organic, is the best way to describe it.”
Whether that counts as shots fired towards the Big Ten Network, towards Rutgers, towards Maryland, or a combination of the three, remains to be seen.