Welcome to Tuesdays with James, our weekly grab bag of topics from Penn State head coach James Franklin’s weekly Tuesday press conference.
SENIOR DAY… FOR SOME
Senior Day in college football didn’t use to be complex.
Before the last home game of the season, a school would honor its soon-to-be graduates with a pregame ceremony, and every honoree knew that it would be his final college game in front of the home fans.
But like with so many other things, COVID-19 has complicated Senior Day.
With every pandemic-era athlete having another year of eligibility if they want it, Penn State fans in Beaver Stadium Saturday won’t know if they’ll be watching seniors like quarterback Sean Clifford play their last home game against Rutgers.
“Everything’s kind of changed,” Franklin said. “Obviously, with the COVID deal, it’s made it different. We had a number of guys that took part in the senior ceremony last year and still decided to come back, so I think our staff, as well as the players, understand some guys may not walk with the intention of coming back, some guys may walk and still haven’t made that decision yet until we sit down after the season and decide. So it’s very different.”
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
With the regular season winding down, Penn State’s running game is finally starting to produce.
Sophomore Keyvone Lee is looking more like the player he was during his promising freshman year, with a season-high 88 yards on 20 carries in the loss to Michigan.
For Franklin, midseason adjustments in the running game have paid off.
“We just continue to invest in it,” he said. “We made some changes about the midpoint of the season in our practice structure, and we’ve invested in it like crazy. I try to, on the headsets, try to make sure that we’re staying patient with the run game in continuing to mix those things in there. I think we’ve been more physical up front with the offensive linemen and the tight ends, and I think our running backs are more decisive.”
After the Michigan loss, Franklin stressed the offense’s need to create more explosive plays.
When asked to elaborate more on the subject Tuesday, Franklin said that he’s particularly looking for bigger splashes on the ground.
Although the Nittany Lions have been running the football better overall in the past two weeks, the Nittany Lions’ longest run was against Michigan was 18 yards, and against Maryland, it was just 15.
Franklin wants a little more noise.
“I think right now we just don’t have the explosive plays in the running game,” he said. “That’s been our challenge and our issue. I think we’ve been running the ball a little bit better the last couple weeks, but there’s been some opportunities for some big plays that we’ve made in the past, and we need to make moving forward. So that will be a focus all week long.”
Franklin was asked about a different kind of noise, presumably referring to ever-swirling rumors of the coach’s future.
“I get it,” Franklin said. “We’ve been in the same situation before and have had really strong seasons. I think you’re also in a situation this year where, you know, we’ve lost some games that we had a chance to win, and our record looks a little bit different. So I get people are trying to connect the dots there. All of the things that I’m able to control, I’m controlling. But I get it. I understand the business; I understand people’s concerns. Again, I would just state, looking at my track record, looking at my time here, eight years, my actions, my behaviors, I think they’ve been pretty consistent, really, since I’ve been here.”
CLIFFORD HANGS TOUGH
Sean Clifford took a beating against Michigan.
The combination of a struggling offensive line and Michigan’s lethal pass-rush tandem of Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo created a miserable Saturday for Penn State’s quarterback. He was sacked seven times and hit five more. In what’s been a difficult 2021 season for a lot of reasons, Franklin is happy with how his quarterback has handled it all.
“Sean’s a competitor,” Franklin said. “He’s tough. He’s given everything he can to this program and to this university and his teammates, but he was beat up (last Saturday). He’s getting hit too many times.
“He is battling his tail off. I love him, and I’m super proud of him.”