Penn State coach James Franklin believes his offense has reached a “critical moment” in its evolution — achieving something it hadn’t done in the five previous seasons.
During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Franklin praised the Nittany Lions’ ability to protect the lead and run in the four-minute offense thanks to some new concepts it studied in the offseason. In the recent past, Penn State was mainly an inside zone team. Now, it’s not afraid to run counters and pull guards/tight ends to mix it up.
That’s allowed the offense to have success running the ball late — even when everyone inside the stadium knows a run is coming — and that was evident in Saturday night’s game against Iowa.
“I think that’s the first time we’ve done that against that type of opponent in my six years since I’ve been here,” Franklin said. “I think that is a critical, critical moment in our six years on the offensive side of the football.”
Midway through the final quarter Saturday, Penn State scored a touchdown to increase the lead to 17-6 after an eight-play, 35-yard drive that ate up 4:05. The Nittany Lions ran it every play. More importantly, in the final 2:31 of the game, Penn State ran the clock out by running on six consecutive plays, with Noah Cain converting a key third-and-3.
In addition to the counters and pulls, Franklin also noted that Penn State now utilizes two-back sets, and it can keep defenses guessing with the versatility of its tight ends.
“The thing that’s great is our 12-personnel has the ability to align and play like a 10-personnel team,” Franklin said, explaining their tight ends have the ability to line up like receivers. “So we can get into a spread set with our tight ends, and they’re a threat. We can get into 12-personnel and line up in a traditional two-back set and be able to run two-back runs.
“And when you’re able to do that from 11 or 12, it makes you more difficult to defend.”
Big Ten feedback on officiating? Franklin initially told reporters that he didn’t get any feedback from the conference with respect to tight end Pat Freiermuth’s touchdown reversal.
“Nothing at all?” a reporter pressed.
“I mean, I did,” Franklin acknowledged. “But it’s not appropriate to talk about here in this setting. If they want to say something, they’ll say something. I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Big Ten.”
He added: “Michigan, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan.”
White Out as a recruiting tool: There’s no denying how important Saturday night’s White Out is to the future of the program. In addition to the national implications, and the fact it’s on national TV, it’s the biggest recruiting weekend of the regular season.
Franklin didn’t try to downplay that Tuesday.
“Does it have an impact? Yes. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Franklin said. “I remember (former tight end) Jesse James talking about if you come to the White Out, it’s almost impossible for you not to come to Penn State. It’s almost impossible.
“So, yeah, it’s very important for our future and to keep building this thing, to close out this class the right way, and then also building for future classes after that.”
Getting KJ Hamler’s parents a “heart-shaped bed”: Franklin likes wideout KJ Hamler a lot “as a person, as a player.” Really, a lot.
The head coach joked Tuesday afternoon that Hamler falls into the same category as RB Saquon Barkley, in terms of how he’d like to treat his parents.
“I’m going to try to send Mom and Dad away on a romantic vacation up in the Poconos with those old heart-shaped beds that they used to have in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s,” he said, smiling, “Mount Airy Lodge and the champagne glass, hot tubs they used to have up there.
“I’ve enjoyed having KJ as part of our program.”
Hamler is the Nittany Lions’ most electrifying player on offense, and Franklin said he brings an infectious energy to practice. Which is why Franklin wouldn’t mind another one.
LT Rasheed Walker playing well: Franklin hasn’t fielded a ton of questions about redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker this season — which, because he’s an offensive lineman, is a good thing.
Despite his inexperience, Walker has held his own this year and hasn’t committed the kind of mistakes that usually make a lineman stand out. Against Iowa’s AJ Epenesa, he allowed a single sack and several QB hits, which isn’t too bad against what ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. deems a future first-round NFL draft pick.
“Got a very bright future,” Franklin said, referring to Walker. “I think he’s playing really well. I think our offensive line in general is playing really well right now.
“And we’re going to need them to continue to because the defensive line and the defensive front that we’re going to play on Saturday is going to challenge them.”