News and Notes from James Franklin’s Press Conference
After holding on in the annual White Out game against Michigan, Penn State now hits the road to take on Michigan State. Here are the key talking points from James Franklin’s weekly press conference leading into the game in East Lansing.
White Out Players of the Week
Offensively, Steven Gonzalez and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week KJ Hamler were Players of the Week. On defense, Tariq Castro-Fields and Micah Parsons won Player of the Week honors. Lastly, on special teams, Dan Chisena had a great week and won Special Teams Player of the Week.
The Spartans gave the Nittany Lions fits each of the last two seasons, as they upset Penn State the last two years. Dual-threat QB Brian Lewerke is back and is someone Penn State will have to stop this season.
Coach Franklin cited the importance in staying in rush lanes, getting their hands on the QB, and finishing the play when trying to stop Lewerke. In addition, Penn State needs to excel when “defenders are in conflict”. What this means is when a quarterback is scrambling, Franklin wants the defender to stay back in coverage and keep the quarterback in front of them, instead of coming to tackle the quarterback and leaving a receiver open for a big play behind him.
Other offensive playmakers include wide receivers Cody White and Darrell Stewart.
Defensively, Michigan State has a collection of playmakers. These include senior linebacker Joe Bachie, senior defensive end Kenny Willekes, and senior defensive tackle Raequan Williams.
As always with Michigan State, Coach Franklin is preparing for numerous trick plays, especially on special teams. So, look for Penn State to be extra cautious when it comes to a fake field goal, fake punt, or a surprise onside kick from Michigan State.
Status of the Offense
Yes, Penn State scored 28 points last week, but just seven came in the second half. For the game, Michigan dominated time of possession, 37:45 to 22:15. They had more total plays, 88 to 62, more first downs, 26 to 14, and allowed less than 300 yards to the Penn State offense. Although Coach Franklin is not typically worried about the time of possession battle, a deeper look at those stats is concerning. So, let’s dive into what he had to say about numerous parts of the Penn State offense.
“We can get better” is how Franklin phrased it and emphasized being more consistent on offense.
One big positive from Saturday night was the final touchdown to KJ Hamler. Typically, Penn State runs a hybrid style of hurry up offense. They will get to the line quick, then get a read of the defense, then check to a desired play. But, on the 53-yard touchdown to Hamler, Penn State got right to the line and did not allow Michigan to make their adjustment, resulting in the huge play. Franklin said he wants to mix tempo and that turning tempo on and off is the most valuable way to do it.
Finishing the Game
We saw in the last few seasons, especially 2018, where the Penn State offense could not finish the game by running out the clock and not allowing the opposing offense to have a shot to tie or even win the game. On Saturday, Penn State did just that when KJ Hamler took a third down carry and gave Penn State a game-sealing first down. Coach Franklin credits his offensive line for plays like that.
The depth of the group keeps them fresh for late game moments like that. Also, talent, maturity, and leadership from Michal Menet, Will Fries, and Steven Gonzalez are helping this group close games and rack up midseason awards.
The Running Backs
It appeared that after the Iowa game where he ran for 102 yards and a touchdown that freshman running back Noah Cain would become the featured back. But, Cain went on to receive just five carries against Michigan. Personally, it is rather confusing to me why Noah Cain does not get the bulk of the carries. But, Franklin insists that he has “four backs we really like”. I like them too, James; but I think myself and the rest of the fan base like Noah Cain a whole lot more than the other three guys.
How the Offense Plays Complementary Football
The Penn State defense is dominating in 2019, allowing just 10 points per game, third best in the country. So, what is the job of the Penn State offense? Obviously, their job is to score, but Franklin had an interesting way to think about it. He wants every offensive possession to end with a kick. That means each drive ends with an extra point, a field goal, or a punt. All Coach Franklin wants is to limit offensive turnovers and he feels confident his defense will allow Penn State to win the game.
Alright, enough on the Penn State offense. Let’s get into a former Penn State defensive legend, Tamba Hali. The former All-American visited Penn State as an honorary captain for the White Out game and left his mark on the team over the weekend. Coach Franklin pointed out the humility Hali showed when he was around the team. He left a huge impression on the Nittany Lions by delivering a simple message, “talk less and listen more”. Now that Hali is retired, Franklin hopes the 12 year NFL star will be around the team even more to leave more positive messages with his team.