James Franklin loves everybody. He loves his players, coaches, fan base and even the media.
After Penn State eked out a 20-14 win over Army West Point on Saturday, Franklin remained positive in the face of offensive struggles.
The Nittany Lions were more than three-touchdown favorites over the Black Knights. Instead of winning with ease against a prepared but less talented Army squad, the Nittany Lions barely escaped with a 4-1 record, finding difficulty in stringing together offensive momentum.
Penn State recorded 264 total yards of offense, the fewest Army has surrendered this season. The Black Knights allowed more yards to Fordham (445), Connecticut (415), Wake Forest (340) and Eastern Michigan (473).
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Regardless of what happened — and what might happen down the road — it doesn’t look like the coach’s positive attitude is going to subside.
“I love our players, I love our school, I love our colors, I love Penn State, I love Happy Valley, I love our community,” Franklin said. “Do we need to get better? Yes. But you guys can ask me every question in the book and try to get me to be negative, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.”
That approach has been instilled in his players, too. Redshirt freshman running back Nick Scott, who scored his first career touchdown on Saturday, said Franklin and his staff are always positive, even when doling out criticism.
Junior linebacker Von Walker said Franklin is “probably the most positive person I’ve ever seen.
“After the Temple game, that was a pretty low point for us as a team,” Walker said, “but he brought us back up. I don’t know. I’ve never seen coach Franklin be negative.”
Scott, along with other players, said after the game that a win is a win.
“Things aren’t always going to be perfect,” quarterback Christian Hackenberg said.
Not only was the yardage total lacking, but rhythm was hard to come by. The less-than-ideal weather played a role, Hackenberg said, and so to did the absences of running backs Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch due to injuries.
That likely won’t silence many concerns from the fan base, though, which Franklin acknowledged.
“Got to get better,” Franklin said. “I know it. You know it. The fans know.”
When asked specifically to evaluate offensive coordinator John Donovan and how the offense might turn around, Franklin offered: “We’ve got a long ways to go. I’m not happy with where we’re at.”
The coach also noted the Nittany Lions wanted to throw the ball more earlier in the game, but the heavy downpour held off that plan until later in the afternoon.
That considered, Saturday was another disheartening statistical outing for Hackenberg. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.
That brings his 2015 season total to 824 passing yards. Through five games last year, Hackenberg amassed 1,477 passing yards, and he recorded 1,367 the year before.
When the Nittany Lions did take shots downfield, they were successful.
On what turned out to be the game’s crucial drive, the Nittany Lions ran three plays, all passes. Hackenberg completed all three: a nine-yard completion to Kyle Carter, 49-yard heave to Chris Godwin, and a 33-yard wheel route to Mike Gesicki for the touchdown.
“We have opportunity for growth,” Franklin said. “We’ve got to throw the ball more consistently and take more shots.”
As for Saturday’s expectations, Franklin isn’t concerned about point spreads.
“I lost $20 in Atlantic City when I was 24 years old after college and I almost threw up,” the coach said. “That was the last time I gambled. I don’t know anything about it.”
Franklin does know a thing or two about keeping spirits high, though.
As Penn State heads into next week’s game against Indiana, expect much of the same.
“We won today,” Franklin said. “We’re 1-0, and we’re going to do everything in our power to be 1-0 next week. And I’m going to come in here, and I’m going to be positive.
“I’m going to be positive. I’m not going down that road with anybody.”