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John Donovan Provides Little Insight In Rare Media Availability

Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan has been generally protected by the football teams during his time in town. He’s only been available to the media on a handful of occasions, most recently at this year’s preseason media day, and not at all during the Nittany Lions’ sloppy offensive start despite a 5-1 record.

But in a rare turn of events, Donovan spoke to reporters via teleconference Thursday morning, but despite pointed questions, any insight towards his coaching philosophy or any explanations of his at-times egregiously bad play-calling was absent. His one- and two-sentence answers to tough inquiries were expressed in dismissive tones, and he suggested that Penn State’s record made up for its oftentimes languid play.

“We’ve produced enough to win five games in a row, and that’s what we’re focused on doing this week,” he said. “If we can do that again, we’ll be happy.”

Predictably asked to answer for the substantial amount of criticism of his performance, the second-year coordinator said he prefers to stay in a “bubble” while the critics do their criticizing without responding.

“No, no I don’t,” he said of worrying about critics on social media. “I try to worry about week-to-week who we’re playing.”

One of the biggest complaints Donovan has faced this year is his play-calling. Three straight runs, ineffective screens, and a seeming reluctance to let Christian Hackenberg throw the ball downfield has left more than a few fans angry, and others calling for his job. James Franklin suggested following the Army win that he had been more involved in the play-calling as the season progressed, perhaps to compensate for Donovan’s poor performance.

Donovan was asked if Franklin had been more involved three times, and sidestepped the question each time.

“He’s involved in every aspect of this program,” he responded to the first inquiry.

“Like I said, he’s involved in every single aspect of this program,” he said again after the second request.

And the third time was no different: “He has got the deepest role in every role in this program. He could not be more deep. Offense, defense, special teams, administration, recruiting. That’s his role.”

Donovan, meanwhile, was more than happy to talk about talk about the positives — and make no mistake, there have been some. Saquon Barkley, Penn State’s star freshman running back whose status for Saturday is still up in the air, has provided a spark for the Lions’ offense and reflects a larger theme of young skill for the offense.

“He’s a talented kid, he works out, this is very important to him, and he’s very mature,” he said. “It’s always a surprise when a true freshman comes in and it’s nice to have him.”

Moving forward, Donovan said his unit needed to avoid third and longs to have a chance this week at Ohio State. At practice on Wednesday, Penn State simulated the electric atmosphere at Ohio State by pumping blaring crowd noise through the loudspeakers. It’s all in an effort to make sure Donovan’s unit is ready for adversity after playing five straight games in the comfort of home.

“It’s a concern because you definitely have advantages playing at home. We gotta be great at communication,” he said. “It’s been fairly smooth this week.”

Though he didn’t provide any substantive comment towards the criticism of his play-calling, Donovan also noted that the playbook has become more diverse as the season has progressed. He said that the offense is running similar concepts in different ways.

“You just try to study your opponents and study yourself,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that and get victories these last few weeks.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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