Although he gave his players a three-day break to conclude the first of Penn State’s two bye weeks, James Franklin hadn’t planned on taking any days off.
While Penn State players spent Thursday and Friday traveling back home, seeing high school friends and attending football games at their alma maters, Franklin was busy skipping across the region via helicopter attempting to get Penn State “as much bang for our buck as possible” in recruiting. Franklin saw four games on Thursday alone.
“The main part is efficiency,” Franklin said. “You’re either in cities, here you try to see a half of a first game and a half of another game. And you get stuck in traffic and you never make it to the second game and the kid’s expecting you, it’s a problem. I don’t think there’s any way you can do that without it, unless we go back to ‘Star Trek,’ transporter-type deal.”
Franklin was supposed to spend Saturday at a high school game in Philadelphia but was transported to his couch in his newly finished basement man cave when that game was rescheduled. A rare day off to spend with the family, but not entirely away from football.
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“I sat down in the basement and watched a bunch of football games,” Franklin said. “Mainly, mainly the Michigan game, and flipped back and forth.”
Penn State (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) will resume its season on Saturday against the Wolverines (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. in Ann Arbor.
Michigan has lost three straight games including a 26-24 loss at Rutgers on Saturday.
Like Franklin, Penn State players watched the game closely. The Nittany Lions needed a late touchdown drive to beat the Scarlet Knights in Week 3.
“It was definitely an exciting weekend,” linebacker Mike Hull said of his Saturday viewing — Notre Dame-Stanford, Alabama-Mississippi and Michigan-Rutgers.
“I’m definitely looking at some of their schemes and how they like to run the ball or what type of blocking they’re doing,” Hull said. “I don’t just watch it as a normal spectator anymore, I don’t think. I just notice maybe the way they’re blocking certain plays or who’s keeping the ball or who’s their go-to target, things like that.”
Saturday’s game will be the first conference game played at night in the Big House’s 88-year history. Franklin has never coached inside the 109,901-seat stadium, but knows it will be important to quiet the crowd early with sustained drives. He knows that will require a running game, where Penn State is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry this season.
“I think the biggest thing that you’re trying to do is deal with not having the home-field advantage with the noise and things like that,” Franklin said. “We have been trying to establish the run every single week and since spring football. That’s not new and that really has not changed.”
Penn State players will look to make corrections on the practice field and they’ll do so with fresh legs.
Starters and heavily used players were given most of last week away from contact and were only put through walk-throughs.
“The whole week I wanted to rest my body and get myself back to 100 percent,” receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “The season is long and guys have got to keep their bodies right to make it through to the end.”
Brady Hoke is hoping to do that as coach of the Wolverines. Hoke, in his fourth season with Michigan, became the first to coach the team to three losses before October. He’ll turn to an athletic defensive line and quarterback Devin Gardner to get the Wolverines off the skids.
“Gardner, he’s definitely a weapon for the Michigan offense,” Penn State cornerback Trevor Williams said. “He’s dangerous on his feet.”
The Wolverines lost leading rusher Derrick Green to a collarbone injury last week. De’Veon Smith appears in line to receive the bulk of the team’s carries Saturday.
“They’re a very competitive team,” Williams said. “They’re better than what their record says.