James Franklin Addresses Player Safety And Special Teams Concerns In Press Conference
Many questions remained after Penn State’s 38-10 loss to No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday, but two stood out enough to dominate today’s press conference with James Franklin.
Punting issues remain, and there’s not much Franklin can do about it
The combination of Daniel Pasquariello and Chris Gulla combined to average just 32 yards per punt against the Buckeyes, and the two consistently gave the Ohio State offense a short field to work with. This has been a reoccurring problem — Franklin said reiterated a few times that the team has had this problem for the last year and a half now — and until the duo can get out of its own head, the struggles will continue.
“Punting has been a real challenge for us for a year and a half,” Franklin said. “The thing we have to find a way to work through is, in practice we’ve been pretty darn good. We track every punt. Daniel Pasquariello has a really strong leg and can really bang it in practice. [Chris] Gulla is probably a little bit more consistent, but has not been able to get the long punts that Daniel has had. They’ve both done a good job in practice, and for whatever reason, it’s not transferring to the games.”
Franklin said that, at times last year, the punters just “booted” the ball as far as they could, and put the pressure on the return team to run down and make a play. With the caliber of punt returners in the Big Ten, though, it’s hard to do that this year.
“I don’t think this is the week to do it, with Likely [returning punts],” Franklin said. “That’s been part of the issue, we play Rutgers, Ohio State, and their return guys, and now we play Maryland and Likely, who I think has three returns for touchdowns. The last thing you do is want to leave the ball in the middle of the field with 53-and-a-third for a guy to work with. That’s something we’ve discussed, taking the pressure of them and allowing them to bang it as far as they possibly can down the field and put pressure on the coverage unit. I don’t think this is the week to do that, considering the impact Mr. Likely has had on games this season so far.”
Either way, Franklin said that there’s no excuse this year. It’s in the punters’ heads, and it’s on them to get it right on game day.
“Last year, I think you could have made some arguments that [the struggles were] based on pressure,” Franklin said. “There were some times against Rutgers and people like that where they got pressure on the punter. That’s not the case anymore. Really, people have stopped rushing us. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
“We’ve got a plan for this week,” Franklin said. “It’s gonna be a real challenge, obviously, with Likely, who’s a very, very talented and explosive returner. He’s had a huge impact on the season for them, especially early in the season… We have two guys that have shown the ability to do it in practice pretty consistently. We have to get them to translate that to the game. It’s not a physical thing, it’s a mental thing. It’s confidence.”
Franklin is a competitive guy, and that’s why the starters were in the game late
Despite Christian Hackenberg being clearly hobbled, and Saquon Barkley coming off an injury that kept him sidelined for multiple games, Franklin kept those two and the rest of the starters in the game late in the fourth quarter of a blowout game. Many criticized the coach for putting the players in that position, but Franklin simply responded with the fact that he’s just trying to compete.
“I think obviously we could have put Trace [McSorley, the backup quarterback] in,” Franklin said. “I think you guys are going to see over time that our staff, players, and me specifically are really, really competitive. I think it’s hard to put your backups in before the game is over. It’s almost like waving a white flag. That’s not who I am or who we will be. We’re gonna fight ’til the last play of the game. Is there a fine line in that? Yeah. There’s been a lot of times when we’ve had guys with bumps, bruises, sprains, whatever it is who have played. Could we have put Trace in in that situation? Yeah. But what I’m telling you is, just as a competitor, it’s hard to say, ‘I’m gonna put the backups in at this point in the game and wave the white flag.’ That isn’t who I am or ever will be. But I also get what people are saying, and I understand why you say that.”
When asked about the balance between putting in backups and “waving the white flag,” Franklin seemed to contradict part of what he’s said in the past. In previous press conferences, he’s said that he wants to get McSorley and other backups some valuable game experience. He then went on to say that getting reps against the top team in the country weren’t valuable.
“I think it really comes down to, what do you think is the most valuable thing for your team?” Franklin said. “You can also argue that, by putting those backups in, they’re gaining experience. But at that point, I don’t know how valuable that experience is anyways. It’s not like at that point we were running a traditional offense. It’s a fine line, there’s no doubt about it. With my approach and demeanor, it’s gonna be hard for me, until the final whistle blows, to not be doing everything in our power to fight to win the game.”