No. 10 Penn State is 5-0 this season, and coach James Franklin loves to stress his team’s goal of going “1-0” every week.
With its bye come and gone, the team is looking to finish a week undefeated for the sixth time in 2022.
Penn State caps off its week at Michigan, ranked fifth in the AP Poll and fourth in the Coaches, Saturday.
Franklin has his weekly press conference Tuesday, and “Tuesdays With James” will highlight some of the session’s key points.
JAMES ON MICHIGAN
Michigan is, without question, Penn State’s biggest opponent thus far.
Leading the charge for coach Jim Harbaugh’s team is Blake Corum, who is one of college football’s best running backs.
Through six games– all Michigan wins– Corum has 11 touchdowns, 735 yards and averages 6.2 yards per carry.
Franklin is impressed with Corum, sophomore QB J.J. McCarthy and Michigan’s offense collectively.
“Got a ton of respect for what they’re doing, how they’re doing it,” Franklin said. “Extremely efficient. I think they do a great job of staying on schedule. First down is obviously a huge factor for them in their offense. It’s going to be a challenge. They’re able to run it. They’re able to throw it. Their offensive line was considered to be the best offensive line in all of college football last year. On top of that, they’ve got maybe the most productive back in college football over the last couple years.”
“They’ve got wide receivers that can make plays, tight ends that can make plays and a young and talented quarterback that’s leading the nation in completion percentage” (78.3).
Franklin also respects Michigan’s defense and special teams units and feels all three will test his team Saturday.
“You’re going to have to be prepared and ready to play,” he said. “We’re going to have to deal with their personnel, their scheme and the venue. Looking forward to the opportunity.”
WE ARE… BETTER… EQUIPPED
Sean Clifford got sacked seven times against Michigan at Beaver Stadium last season.
That’s not the only reason Penn State lost, 21-17, but it didn’t help.
So far in 2022, Penn State’s offensive linemen have protected their quarterbacks well, giving up just seven sacks through five games.
But Michigan will be its biggest test to this point, and although Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo are in the NFL now, Michigan’s pass rush is still dangerous.
Michigan is tied for fifth in the country through six games with 22 sacks.
So is Penn State better equipped to handle Michigan’s pressure?
“Yeah, I think we’re better equipped,” Franklin said. “But I also think they’ve done a good job of making people one-dimensional, so then you’re getting in obvious passing downs. Might also be a situation where people, I don’t know if the score has always mandated that [they can run]. Some of their games it has.”
Michigan’s six wins have been by, in order, 44, 46, 59, 7, 13 and 21 points, so teams have been forced to go to the passing game early.
“People have gotten away from the run game because they’ve gotten down by too many points,” Franklin said. “Whenever you’re up by a certain margin, then you’re going to get more passing opportunities, which also creates more opportunities to rush the quarterback and pin your ears back. So that plays a factor into it, how the score goes.”
Thanks to freshmen studs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, as well as improved run blocking, Penn State can do damage on the ground, which didn’t often happen last season.
The ground game will be an important factor in Saturday’s game.
“I also think we’re better equipped to do it in terms of not getting away from the run and being one-dimensional, kind of sticking with the plan,” Franklin said.
JAMES ON CLIFFORD HOW ABOUT CLIFFORD?
Through five games, starting quarterback Sean Clifford has thrown nine touchdowns, two interceptions and has completed 62% of his passes.
That’s what some of the numbers say, but what does Clifford’s coach say?
“Sean has done some really good things,” Franklin said, “I think there’s some plays that he would like back. There’s no doubt about it.
“But I think overall, the way he has managed our offense, whether it’s the passing game and the protections, whether it’s the run game and getting everybody on the same page in terms of how we’re IDing the front, then it’s making those four-to-six plays a game that you need your quarterback to make, that the media or the fan or the coach would watch the game and say, ‘That was a critical play in the game that Sean was able to make for us.'”
Saturday is a big game, and Clifford is used to big games by now as a fourth-year starter.
“I think his entire career and his entire season kind of keeps building up and leading up to moments like this and opportunities like this,” Franklin said.