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James Franklin Responds To Media Criticism Of Decisions Made In Minnesota Game

Penn State football head coach James Franklin capped off his weekly press conference with a 757-word closing statement about the media’s coverage of his decision to go for a two-point conversion against Minnesota.

Sean Clifford threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Nick Bowers — a play that trimmed Minnesota’s lead to 24-19 with 4:05 to play in the third quarter. The Nittany Lions elected to go for two instead of taking the extra point, but Ricky Slade was stopped short of the goal line after catching a screen pass from Clifford.

In the fourth quarter, Journey Brown scored a touchdown to bring the Nittany Lions within five points with 3:49 to play, and Franklin chose to squib the ensuing kickoff instead of going for an onside kick. His defense got a stop, and Penn State got the ball back with 2:40 left and a chance to take the lead.

“At the end of the game, I got some questions about going for two and I want to talk about that specific situation, but I also kind of want to talk big picture of what I struggle with,” Franklin said on Tuesday. “Maybe next summer at the [media] barbecue, you guys can fill me in on your perspective. It’s probably not the setting for this right now.

“Here’s the thing I struggle with: A lot of these decisions are not clear-cut. There’s some that are, but there’s a lot that are not clear-cut. It’s a gut feel. And what I struggle with is when those decisions — and again, I already told you the two-point chart said go for it and the analytics stuff said go for it, but then opinions are stated as facts. I struggle with that.”

On Tuesday, Franklin reiterated his reasoning for going for two and sending the ball deep on top of his criticisms for the media.

Franklin engaged in the following exchange with the Altoona Mirror’s Neil Rudel and PennLive’s Dave Jones about the two-point try during his post-game press conference in Minneapolis.

Neil Rudel: “James, a couple of red zone issues: the delay [of game penalty], and the spike. Also, why’d you go for two?”

James Franklin: ” … In terms of going for two — obviously, we have the two-point chart, like everybody does. It made sense to go for it. The offensive and defensive coaches checked the chart and felt like it was the right call in that situation. To be honest with you, again, with the way the game played out, that wouldn’t have mattered.”

Dave Jones: “Well, it would’ve mattered if you were down 11 instead of 12.”

Franklin: “Thanks.”

Jones: “Well, I mean, that early in the game — I think Neil’s question is, why go for two with 19 minutes to go before you really know what’s going to happen later in the game?”

Franklin: “Yeah, it’s always the situation. If it works, everyone thinks it’s a good call. I told you: We checked the book, the book said go for it, I talked to the offensive coaches, I talked to the defensive coaches, and we all agreed. It wouldn’t have [mattered] at the end. You don’t like it, so you ask me again, but I think I’ve already answered the question clearly.”

Jones: “I’m curious if you think you have more than one — if Sean [Clifford] thinks he has more than one wide receiver he can really count on other than [KJ] Hamler and [Pat] Freiermuth. It doesn’t look like it at this point. What do you think?

Franklin: *chuckles* “We got a lot of guys that we like. Jahan Dotson made a bunch of plays. Late in the game, we had drops, and we had drops early on. I’ll take as many questions as you guys got rather than statements.”

(Disclaimer: For the sake of clarity & length, we’ve removed part of Franklin’s answer to Rudel and an additional question he was asked. You can watch these full exchanges here — beginning at the 5:15 and 7:58 marks.)

In hindsight, the decision to go for two looks bad because the screen pass to Ricky Slade failed, but it’s far from the only reason Penn State lost. Franklin also put plenty of trust in his defense by sending the ball deep, and the unit repaid his display of confidence by coming up with a stop and giving the Nittany Lions a chance to win.

Franklin’s main gripe with those who criticized his choices was the fact that, in his mind, they stated their opinions as facts. He did claim responsibility for the team’s lack of execution on the two-point conversion as head coach before thanking the media for allowing him to “vent for a few minutes.”

You can read Franklin’s full closing statement below:

At the end of the game, I got some questions about going for two and I want to talk about that specific situation, but I also kind of want to talk big picture of what I struggle with. Maybe next summer at the [media] barbecue, you guys can fill me in on your perspective, because it’s probably not the setting for this right now.

So going for two in that situation, we looked at the classic two-point chart, which said go for it. We used our analytics stuff, which said go for it. We decided to go for it partly because we’re on the road, not playing as well as we thought we should be at the time, and if we picked up the two-point conversion, it increased our chances and put us in a better situation. If we didn’t pick it up, we still were going to have to overcome those points at some point.

At the end of the day, here is the thing I struggle with. A lot of these decisions are not clear-cut. There’s some that are. But there’s a lot that are not clear-cut. It’s a gut feel. What I struggle with is when those decisions, and again, I already told you the two-point chart said go for it and the analytics stuff said go for it, but then opinions are stated as facts and I struggle with that. I struggle with things that go on when it comes to discipline and people know very little of the story but have really strong opinions on how things are supposed to play out.

I’ll give you another example. End of the game, we’re trying to decide, do we go onside kick? Does everybody know what I’m talking about, end of the game? Do you go on-sides kick there or, do you kick it deep, hold them, and burn your timeouts? We decided to kick it deep. We decided to do a squib kick. You guys probably saw me bring them over there because I was hoping with a squib kick we had a chance of pinning them inside the 25, because every yard mattered at that point.

And you never know. With one guy deep having to cover the whole field, you kick it at an angle, you may go down and recover it, and he may bobble it, which he did. We stopped them, they went three-and-out, and I burned the timeouts. That was the right decision. Why? Why was that the right decision? Because it worked. Because we stopped them. They went three-and-out and I burned the timeouts.

If they would have picked up two first downs and ended the game, I would have been getting my butt ripped in the press conference for ‘why didn’t you go onside kick?’

You’re missing my point. My point is, sometimes the decisions are clear-cut, and I get it. And I make mistakes. A lot of people make mistakes. But when things are gray, when things are gray and things are stated as facts, I struggle with that.

When I see people criticizing decisions on discipline — and I’m not just talking about my program — you don’t have all the facts, I just struggle with things being stated as facts when they are not. They are opinions.
A lot of times, it’s based on how it plays out. If I went for it too early in the game and we picked up the two, it’s a great decision. We threw a screen. They had three guys, and we had two. If we run inside and score, we get two. It’s a great situation.

I’m not saying I’m always right. But it’s easy after the fact to say that that was a bad decision when we don’t execute.

Now, at the end of the day, I’ll be the first one to admit I’m ultimately responsible for making sure that we execute the decision. So, I don’t want you to misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m still responsible for all of it, and I’ll take it. But I will tell you that’s where some of my frustration comes from sometimes. Doing this for 24 years, that’s the hard part. You can disagree with me. You’re more than welcome to. I’m stating my opinion on how I see it.

I appreciate you guys listening to me and letting me vent for a few minutes. It is on to Indiana, and I’ll look forward to not answering any more questions about last week and Minnesota.

James Franklin

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a senior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Sports Editor. He grew up in Bedminster, NJ and is way too obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is hard. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail, death threats, and your vote for the best chicken parm in State College to [email protected]

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