Penn State football heads to Columbus to take on No. 1 Ohio State this week, and Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin addressed the media on Tuesday regarding the enormity of the opportunity such a game provides — and how the team is “staying level” through pressure.
Franklin said he addressed the ranking and status of Ohio State to players just once — on Sunday as the players were picking apart Indiana film — and after that, “it won’t be discussed the rest of the week.”
Players like offensive tackle Andrew Nelson seemed loose while speaking about the upcoming game. Nelson, who returned last weekend after sitting out with a lower body injury suffered against Buffalo, said the team had gotten a little bit of a confidence boost after watching film of the Buckeyes.
“We understand that we can move the ball on them offensively and we can definitely stick with them,” he said. “We don’t fear anybody, and the Big Ten is full of great teams this year.”
Nelson also said that Penn State “knows (they’re) hated by the Ohio State community,” and that the team is looking forward to its big opportunity in that environment.
Middle linebacker Jason Cabinda is more concerned about Braxton Miller, the athletic quarterback-turned-receiver who has been impressing many with his fluidity and skill while operating in space.
“Braxton is a guy who’s slippery. He’s very dynamic,” said Cabinda. “He’s a guy who (team) pursuit is going to help, getting five, six, seven, all 11 defenders to the ball. When he has the ball, that is going to be huge, (to) make him make drastic cuts and all that kind of stuff. It’s going to take a lot of effort.”
Of course, there are two sides to every football game, and a few Buckeyes offered their own thoughts about Penn State this week, via press conference (and corresponding transcripts) found on the team’s website.
Head coach Urban Meyer, notoriously succinct at his pressers, said he hadn’t spent “much time” so far assessing the Nittany Lions, as of Monday, but said when he did, he’d focus on their improved offense.
“Started slow, but they’re really moving it,” he said. “Obviously we have a lot of respect for Penn State and their players. They’re great players.”
One of the nation’s top defensive ends, Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, is hoping Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg sticks around in the pocket.
“The last couple of weeks they’ve just been stepping up in the pocket every time,” said Bosa. “And Hackenberg really likes to sit in the pocket. He’s a great passer, a real pro-style quarterback. He’s not as afraid of pressure as the last couple of quarterbacks, so hopefully he’ll sit back in the pocket a little longer.”
Hackenberg did show his legs against Indiana last week, with two big carries up the middle and two rushing touchdowns — Franklin joked on Tuesday that his quarterback is competing with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett to be the best dual-threat quarterback in the Big Ten.
Bosa also thinks Penn State has come a long way since week one.
“I remember watching their first game this season, and it’s nowhere close to how they look now,” he said. “They’re really coming together and looking like a really good team.”