PENN STATE FOOTBALL COACH JAMES FRANKLIN TAX SLAYER BOWL PRESS CONFERENCE DECEMBER 18,2015
JF: Really quickly before we get into the specifics of the bowl game, I am really proud of the guys that we have got graduating this weekend, which is what it’s all about. Matt Baney, Tarow Barney, Adam Breneman, Derek Dowrey, Malik Golden, Austin Johnson, Jake Kiley, Geno Lewis, Angelo Manning – with a master’s degree – Carl Nassib, Nyeem Wartman-White, Trevor Williams, Gary Wooten Jr. and Anthony Zettel. And, then Chaz Powell who finished his eligibility in 2011 and has been driving back and forth for the last year to finish up his degree, I am really proud of him. I want to thank the administration for being supportive of him and allowing him to come back and finish his degree.
The bowl game is a tremendous opportunity to play a storied program in the University of Georgia. I was very impressed with Coach [Brian] McClendon in the time that I had to spend with him at the press conference.
It’s going to be great having some of our guys back. Obviously, we missed Carl Nassib at the end of the year. He really didn’t play the last three games of the year, so we’re excited about the opportunity to having him back. I know him and Kris [Petersen] are thankful to be back in State College after the last week and a half was a whirlwind flying all over the country. I want to thank Kris. She’s done a great job for us all year long, and did a great job with Carl last week helping him go all over the country and win all his awards.
Georgia is a talented team. They are big, long and athletic. You look at them on defense, and they have the No. 1 pass defense in the country. Offensively, they are big and physical. Their tailback has had a really, really good year and is going to be a challenge for us. Then, the thing that really jumps out to us that is going to be a concern is special teams. Their special teams have been really impressive. Their wide receiver, Isaiah McKenzie, has been electric returner, so that’s going to be a real focus for us the next week and a half, trying to contain him.
What a great opportunity. We have over 30,000 Penn State graduates in the Florida, Georgia, South Carolina area, so it’s going to be great to see the blue and white down there in Jacksonville. We’re excited. I thought our last practice; this was one of the better practices that we’ve had, probably since camp.
It sounds silly, but we made the team period for five push-ups, the loser had five push-ups, and five push-ups is a major motivator. Guys got after it. It was a very spirited, very competitive practice. We’re going to do that again today. Today will be the first day that we’ll start to formally implement some of the Georgia plan and then Sunday we will flip to Georgia and go back to scout teams and things like that.
So we’re looking forward to the opportunity and it should be a great game. I am excited to watch our guys go out and compete for the last time as the 2015 football family.
Q. Have you had a chance to sit down with Christian [Hackenberg] and Austin [Johnson] and talk about their respective futures? Have they sought out official evaluations from the NFL to see where they might go?
JF: Yes, I met with both of those guys, about two weeks ago. We had really good meetings with them. We have some services that we provide for our families, as well as the players, to get some information. They both have applied for information from the NFL, as well.
That’s an ongoing process and I have met with both of them, and what we basically decided more than anything, is about wanting to have a plan and be organized, so whatever is decided, it’s not going to be someone coming out and throwing something out mid-week on [social media.] It’s going to be something that we are going to try to do together and do it the way they want it to be done, and also is [do what is] going to represent Penn State the right way.
We are still working through those details and really, still working through some of the answers.
Q. I didn’t get a chance to ask you this the other day, but Joe Moorhead, as far as a recruiter. He got pretty rave reviews. What’s his recruiting territory going to be, and how do you see him working with your staff?
JF: At this point, we haven’t really identified that. Obviously you want to play to guys’ strengths, and also for the coordinators, you’d like to have a little bit smaller area and a little bit more of a regional area, just because of their other responsibilities.
At this point of the recruiting process, we are more concerned about finishing off this class, so his responsibility right now is to build relationships with our current commits and guys that we’re still involved with, and he’s already started doing some evaluation of the 2017 guys that we were involved with.
Specific areas and things like that, we haven’t got into those specifics. Andy Frank has already started working on that, finding some different possibilities for him, as well as what we think makes the most sense for Penn State. But we haven’t specifically identified those things.
One of the challenges is that [Joe] and Bob [Shoop] have a similar background and they are both coordinators, so it’s hard for them both recruit the same areas.
Q. So your specific impressions of Brian McClendon, I was wondering what those were, and also, what kind of an opportunity is this for him to be the interim head coach against in this type of game?
JF: [Brian] is really nice guy, a really sharp guy. Obviously he has a long history with the University of Georgia.
For whatever reason, our paths had not crossed a whole lot before this. But I think it’s a great opportunity. Whether it’s being an interim head coach or it’s being a head coach, it’s one of those deals, as an assistant, until you do it, you think you understand, but you really don’t until you’re in that seat. You can do as much preparing as you want, but until you’re responsible for all those things and wearing all those hats; it kind of changes your perspective on things.
Hopefully he’ll have a chance here to be a head coach soon, but I do know going through this experience will really help him have a different perspective on things as a coach. I look forward to interacting with him and his staff and his players all week long. But first impression was a great impression.
Q. Back during the bye week, you talked about the redshirt freshmen offensive linemen and their progressions. What have some of your takeaways been? Have you seen the improvement you were expecting to see?
JF: Yeah, Ryan Bates is a guy I mentioned to you guys earlier. There was actually a time there when we were thinking about maybe burning his redshirt. He’s done some really nice things in one-on-one sessions. He’s done some really nice things in team periods, in competitive periods, against Austin [Johnson] and [Anthony] Zettel.
Right now, we have him working almost predominately at center. But I think he’s a more natural guard. But that center experience is valuable for him in terms of creating flexibility for us and him taking control from a leadership standpoint. He’s just less than 300 pounds, about 297 pounds I think, so now he’s put himself in position where he’s big and strong enough to do it.
[Steven] Gonzalez is a guy that we’re excited about. He’s about 330 pounds right now, which is about where he was when he arrived, except the weight is different. So if you look at his body fat percentages and things like that, they’ve really changed. He’s a powerful guy. He’s a guy that can really get movement and create space. He’s great with double teams and things like that. So we’re excited about those two guys.
And then the other guy that I think has really done some nice things for us is Sterling Jenkins. Sterling is probably one of our most improved guys. A lot of times, the guys that are that long, they are not very strong in the weight room. He is really strong in the weight room for a guy with almost 34-inch arms. His pass sets have really improved, as well. [Sterling] still needs to be more physical. That’s an aspect that I think is going to continue to grow. But he’s really, really light on his feet and he’s very athletic. When he uses his hands, he’s got a good punch.
Those three guys, as true freshmen during the redshirt period, have really improved. Then the other guys, as well, that are redshirt freshmen that are coming on, like the Noah Beh, Chance Sorrell, those guys I think have really taken another step, as well.
Those guys are exciting for our future down the road, in terms of the depth and the size and the experience that we are looking for on the offensive line.
Q. Saw you on TV at the Home Depot Awards with Carl. Is that the only one you went to? What were your impressions and what was it like to see Carl night after night after night in contention for these awards and what it meant to him and the program?
JF: It was really cool. Carl is graduating with a biology degree, as well.
What we tried to do, between recruiting and other responsibilities, is to split it up. Kris pretty much went to everything and I was going to make the [award banquets] that I could make…we just wanted to make sure there was somebody with Carl at all these different events, and then his family was able to make it to some, as well. Some of these events don’t pay for the families to go, but others do, so it makes it difficult for some guys to get their family members there.
I’m trying to remember the ones I went to. I went to the Bednarik and Nagurski…And then obviously the ESPN Awards, as well. It was great spending time with Carl. When you have 125 guys on the team, you don’t get to spend enough time – individual time – with each one of them. But as we all know, he’s an interesting guy, he really is.
I have a lot of respect for Carl and all the things that he’s been able to accomplish, and one of the things that I love the most about him is Carl is one of these guys that’s very, very comfortable in his own skin and who he is. You know, the type of student he is, the type of person he is, the type of player he is, how passionate he is, how motivated he is, how much he cares about Penn State and his teammates.
He’s a guy that really took this whole Penn State experience and ran with it. I’m really proud of him. It was also cool to watch him interact with all those other players at the different national awards. He had the chance to introduce himself to a lot of people. He Tweeted out a picture of him and [Barry] Switzer. Coach Switzer and I have gotten to know each other fairly well the last couple years, so I got a chance to introduce him to him, and he enjoyed that. All the other players; we sat right behind Christian McCaffrey and his family at the ESPN Awards, so it was good getting a chance to spend some time with them.
I think Carl kind of had an “aha moment.” I think it’s one thing to know that you’re leading the country in sacks and tackles for loss and all those types of things and you think you’re a pretty good player. But, now you’re going to all these national awards banquets with all these players you hear about on TV and you’re one of them, he kind of had that “aha moment” and said, maybe I am pretty good.
It was really good. I know I enjoyed it. It was taxing, obviously, that trip out to California for the Lott IMPACT Trophy. It’s a long trip but well worth it, especially when Carl looked at all the people that had won that award before him, it’s pretty exciting. I am really proud.
When we got back last week, we’ve done some new things in our lobby promoting some of our award winners, so all the undefeated seasons we have up in our lobby now and all the national award winners and academic award winners, and to think Carl is now going to have three national award out there in our lobby is amazing. When you think about where Carl started. I think it’s one of the better stories in college football in my 21 years of doing this; it’s probably one of the better stories that I’ve ever been associated with.
Q. What have you seen from Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens in these developmental practices and also, how do you think they fit into what Coach Moorhead wants to do with his vision for the quarterbacks?
JF: I think those guys are guys that have a lot of different skills that fit into a lot of different systems. To me, that is how we want to recruit moving forward. It’s how we’ve always recruited. You want to recruit guys that create great flexibility. Trace and Tommy both do that. Obviously Christian [Hackenberg] does, as well.
I mentioned that last week when I said we have three quarterbacks that we’re really excited about, and Kris came into my office and said, everybody was buzzing about that, which three were you talking about? Well, there’s only three scholarship quarterbacks in our program now that I can talk about.
So the three I was talking about, so we’re clear is Christian Hackenberg, Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens. Obviously, we’ve got other guys in the program that are doing a good job for us, in Billy Fessler and Jackson Erdmann. I think those guys sitting behind Christian for a year or two, has been valuable. To learn from all the things that Christian has done well and learned from some things that they may do differently based on their skill sets and things like that.
That’s valuable, that time. Me as an assistant coach sitting behind head coaches and learning from their experiences, and I think both of those guys have had the maturity to approach it that way. So hopefully they will have another year and learn, and be ready when their opportunity comes.
Q. Kind of like when you played Maryland with the interim coach, is there a lot of wild-card playing a Georgia team with an interim coach? Do you expect they are going to be running some things with regards to how you prepare for a team that they may be doing a lot of different things than they did during the regular season?
JF: I think it’s hard to kind of recreate yourself at this point of the year. I do think there will be things, parts of the package that maybe they want to emphasize more than others, than maybe the previous coaches would have done. So yeah, you’ll see a different flair. You’ll see some changes there.
But it’s not like we’re going to go out there and they’re going to be running the wishbone. There’s going to be a lot of similarities to what they have done [all year long.] They will just emphasize, no different than when we played Maryland. It wasn’t like we had not seen those blitzes and pressures from them before, just not to that percentage.
I think up to that point, they may have been blitzing 25 percent of the time and then that game they blitzed like 75 percent of the time. So that’s probably the biggest difference is you’ll see a certain aspect of their game emphasized more than others.
Q. I don’t know the exact number but you’re about to take a lot of college age guys to Florida for an entire week. Curious your input on the off-the-field agenda, any requests, recommendations, anything that you’re particularly looking forward to, and how you’re going to handle that part of it.
JF: I can’t tell our guys enough how proud I am of how they have handled themselves. You guys have heard me say this before: Every team meeting, we start the team meeting with examples of college athletes, high school athletes, pro athletes, football or outside of football that are making mistakes. In our society, as a college athlete or as an athlete in general, you can’t make mistakes like you could 25 or 30 years ago.
So they are under a microscope and there’s some pressure associated with that. Our guys have really been outstanding with those types of things. That’s how we want to do it at Penn State. They want to do it in the classroom and in the community, and they have been great.
We are just going to continue talking to them about it, the importance of making great decisions, the importance of surrounding themselves with positive people and positive environments. It is about not only holding themselves accountable but holding their teammates accountable, as well.
I’m pretty confident that we are going to go down there and represent ourselves the right way again. Does that mean that 125 18- to 22-year-old males don’t make a mistake from time to time? They do. But I’ve been very pleased, the year and a half that we’ve been here, how we’ve done that and we are just going to continue to keep talking about it, keep educating them about it and hopefully we’ll continue to make great choices.
Florida is an aspect of that. Obviously we want to do some things to enjoy it, to allow them to experience maybe a part of the country or region that they haven’t been to before, and the bowl associations usually have some activities for them and then we want to have some activities for them. We want to be able to give them free time, but the free time is what you worry about.
And then we usually have a process where the closer the game gets, the curfew gets earlier and earlier, and then we do bed checks. We’ll have our strength staff, what I call our bouncers, they are the kind of enforcers and they go do bed check.
And what I’ve learned after 21 years of doing this, you always have double bed check. Because I’ve been places where you go do bed check and they know bed check is coming and they are snug as a bug in the bed, and you don’t realize they are fully dressed, and then you leave bed check and then all of a sudden, the pillowcases and the bed sheet’s out the window and they are scaffolding down the side of the hotel (Laughter).
So we do double bed checks and things like that. But more than anything, we just talk to our guys about making great choices and make sure that [they know] we want to give them a great experience but we also want them to know that we are there to play a game and to represent Penn State the right way.
Q. Will the players be able to go home for Christmas? When do you plan to arrive in Florida? And is your philosophy to go down just for a week?
JF: Obviously right now, we’re still working through some things as an athletic department. There’s a heavy price tag that comes with those decisions. I do think whenever you go to these bowl games, I’ve been around places that you may add a day or add two days. I don’t know if we would ever go down a full week in advance, but I think you always want to be able to get down there, get adjusted, get some practices and feel comfortable. Then based on weather and things like that, be able to acclimate to those things. Those are things to look at in the future and some discussions of how to do that.
I think our plan is we practice today, give them off tomorrow and practice Sunday. We practice Monday, and then we’re allowing guys to go home for Christmas after that and then we’ll leave on the 28th.
So there’s a period of time that the players and coaches get to spend with their families and enjoy themselves and then we have been able to get a good amount of practices in since the season ended, so we will take a little break and then get back into almost a normal week and get ready for the game.
Q. Regarding Saquon Barkley, how did the reality of the season match your expectations from last winter, and where do you think he can get better?
JF: I think Saquon is just scratching the surface to be honest with you. He’s still figuring things out. He’s still growing. I mean, think about him after a whole off-season of strength and conditioning and speed work, of continuing to study defenses and understand coverages and fronts. He’s just at the very beginning of it. Although he’s physically developed, he’s just going to get bigger and stronger and faster and more explosive and more confident. And the more confident you get mentally, the faster you’re able to play.
Again, I think I said to you guys before, that I knew that he was a good player. When we got the job, he was committed to another institution and we knew he was a good player and needed to get him on our squad. Then he went out and had an outstanding senior year, which I thought was special. I thought he had a really, really special senior year. That’s when I thought, yeah, this guy may have a chance to help us as a freshman. And once he arrived, his demeanor and his approach and his attitude was he was going to do everything in his power to play as a freshman, and not just play but have an impact.
I think pretty early in practice, it was clear he was going to need to have a role, and then depending on how he grew and how he matured, would determine how big that role was going to be for us.