Penn State Football

Franklin discusses individual awards, valuing analytics

Penn State coach James Franklin works with the offense scout team and the defense as the team practices for the Big Ten Championship game on Wednesday.
Penn State coach James Franklin works with the offense scout team and the defense as the team practices for the Big Ten Championship game on Wednesday.

Penn State had only two players — running back Saquon Barkley and placekicker Tyler Davis — named first-team All-Big Ten.

For the No. 7 team in the country, that might come off as a little low. You’d think a team competing for a conference championship and spot in the College Football Playoff would have more first-team All-Big Ten representatives.

But Penn State coach James Franklin thought it demonstrated the Nittany Lions’ depth.

“We’re playing well as a team,” Franklin said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’re playing really good complementary football.”

It’s not as if the Nittany Lions were ignored. Quarterback Trace McSorley, tight end Mike Gesicki and defensive end Garrett Sickels got second-team nods, while a handful of other Penn State players were named to the third team or honorable mention.

Franklin also believes Penn State’s style of offense and youth puts the Nittany Lions at a slight disadvantage when it comes to receiving individual awards.

“We’re young,” Franklin said. “Sometimes guys make first-team or second-team, a lot of it is based on the hype coming into the season. Now, obviously you have to back it up once the season starts, but there’s already name recognition before the year even starts.”

Getting analytical

At his Tuesday press conference, Franklin brought up Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ratings, a metric that ranks Penn State 11th in the country based on explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives and turnover margin.

Franklin expanded on his staff’s use of advanced statistics.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s been a driving factor in decision-making, but I think all these analytic companies have done a really good job of being able to put some metrics on some things,” Franklin said. “Whereas in the past it was a gut feeling, now you can really go and check where you’re at.”

Franklin noted that Penn State director of football operations Michael Hazel is “an inquisitive guy” and his staff brought in analytic minds over the offseason.

Still, the coach isn’t going to abide by everything the resources suggest.

“For us, it’s just another piece of information that you use. We like it. We value it. But we’re not one of these people that are going to follow it to a ‘T,’” Franklin said. “Because if you go with those people, you’re supposed to go for it every single time on 4th-and-1 … And if it doesn’t work out, it’s not like I can come in and say, ‘Well, the analytics company said it was the right decision.’ People aren’t going to want to hear that.”

Scout team shoutouts

Franklin made sure to mention a handful of scout team players that have made sizable impact this year.

Irvine Paye, who caught a 10-yard pass at the end of Penn State’s 45-12 win over Michigan State, was one of them.

“Irv Paye was a walk-on tryout running back who’s really got great quickness,” Frankin said. “He’s an older guy, he tried out for the team two or three times, but he’s really helped us.”

The coach also brought up quarterbacks Jake Zembiec and Michael Shuster, and offensive linemen Tom Devenney and Adam De Boef, a State College native.

“Taking a guy like De Boef and having him play tight end because he’s a little bit of an undersized offensive lineman, but having him play tight end to have a more physical blocker for our scout team,” Franklin said. “You’ve got older guys like Tom Devenney who’s been on scout team for four years and takes a lot of pride in it and brings a lot of value.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9