Three days after Saturday night’s collapse against Ohio State, and James Franklin still acknowledged the loss “hurts.”
During his weekly appearance on the Big Ten coaches teleconference, which lasted about 10 minutes Tuesday afternoon, Penn State’s head coach evaluated his team while looking back to Saturday night’s game.
“Obviously this is painful and it hurts,” he said. “But I do think that, when used the right way, this can fuel us to continue to grow and continue to take that next step.”
Franklin also believed one reason for Ohio State’s rally, from down 26-14, was the fact his starters were tired in the final quarter. He said the first team did more than what was usual, which led to fatigue setting in when the Nittany Lions could least afford it.
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“No. 1, we played our first-teamers at a much higher rep count than we have the previous games,” Franklin acknowledged. “I think that put us in the position we were in, but I also think that we ran out of gas a little bit in the fourth quarter.”
Here’s a look at everything Franklin said on the Big Ten teleconference:
Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne was quoted in an AP story taking responsibility for the fourth-down playcall. You said after the game you had the final say in the play. I was curious about the discussion you had — did you ever think about overruling Ricky?
Franklin: Yeah, I don’t think I ever said what you just said. I said, ultimately, it’s on me. I never said what you just said. But I guess what I am proud of is that we’ve created an environment here and a culture here where players want to take responsibility, where assistant coaches want to take responsibility. I think there’s a lot of value in that. That makes me proud of what we’re building here. But, again, like I said on Saturday night, ultimately I’m the head coach and I’m responsible.
Are you doing any evaluations during the bye week? What are you most pleased with, and what’s the area you feel you need the most work?
Franklin: Yeah, just like we do every year during the bye week. I think the other thing I’m proud of is, I think back when I watched the tape, we played really hard. We played really hard. And what I’m always looking at, is have we improved every single week? And I can’t imagine there’d be anybody out there that follows Penn State closely that doesn’t feel like we have improved every single week, from App State all the way to Ohio State. I think we did that.
Obviously, we didn’t do enough to win the game. And we look at all those things in great detail, and we’re going to go back and do all our self-studies and where our tendencies are, and areas that we still need to improve and those types of things. And then also obviously getting a head start on Michigan State and balancing recruiting with that as well. So, obviously, this is painful and it hurts. But I do think that, when used the right way, this can fuel us to continue to grow and continue to take that next step.
Now that you’ve had a chance to watch film, can you describe what happened — you said about tackling in space on Ohio State’s last two drives. What was the issue there, and did it prompt you to re-evaluate some things, whether it’s team or personnel?
Franklin: I think a couple things. I think, No. 1, we played our first-teamers at a much higher rep count than we have the previous games. I think that put us in the position we were in, but I also think that we ran out of gas a little bit in the fourth quarter. I think, obviously, we’re always going to be working to get better on fundamentals and technique, and they got great players and they got great depth and they’ve had that for a number of years. And I do think that, come the fourth quarter, we had guys play a lot more reps than they’ve ever played and we started to wear down and that showed.
But I think, from a fundamental standpoint, it’s hard to say from scheme-standpoint and things like that, that we would need to look at that because we held one of the most explosive offenses in the country way under their yardage and point total. But, come the fourth quarter, we didn’t have enough left in the tank. But we’re always going to be improving, to get better on our fundamentals and techniques. And there’s always, obviously, always going to be some things we can do better to help scheme-wise get better too. But I think based on how the game went for three quarters, I think our plan was pretty good.
And, if I could follow that up, what are your plans right now for Justin Shorter and Jahan Dotson for the rest of the season?
Franklin: Yeah, just kind of like I say every week, it’s kind of a week-to-week deal. If they’re steady and keep improving and we have some deficiencies or injuries or things like that where those guys can jump in and help us, we still have the ability at this point in the season to green light them and play them the rest of the season — or we have the ability to use their four games. And each week, we’ll take it week-to-week and see what the best scenario is to give our team the best chance to be successful.
How did you evaluate the play of three of your veteran receivers — Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins, Brandon Polk — these last five weeks, and can you put a finger on the dropped passes? Does something need to change?
Franklin: Yeah, we just got to work through it and continue to build confidence and continue to build fundamentals and techniques. And, obviously, you look at Juwan’s catch on the sideline — it was as good as you’ll see. And so you have the ability; you just to got to be more consistent in all the things we do. We can throw the ball a little bit more accurately; we can consistently catch the ball at a higher rate, looking the ball all the way into the tuck, those types of things. But again we got tremendous faith and belief in those guys. Like at every position, we’re just trying to be a little bit more consistent.
Can you evaluate Miles Sanders?
Franklin: We love Miles. We think he’s playing at a really high level. Obviously, a couple weeks ago, he rushed for 200 yards. He’s growing and he’s evolving, and he’s getting more comfortable in his leadership role. And we’re very pleased with him; we think Miles is one of the best running backs in the country, and he’s been a great teammate and he’s really evolving into a strong leader for us as well. I think as the year goes on, he’ll continue to do great things for us.
What’s the one thing that he does more than anything else?
Franklin: Probably it’s the combination of skills that he has. But I know, up until last week, I think he was — if not leading the nation — was one of the top backs in the country in terms of yards after contact. So that’s, up to this point, that’s probably the things that jumps out most at you — getting those extra yards.