5 crucial takeaways from Coach James Franklin
Last week, Coach James Franklin seemed ecstatic by the effort put forth by the Penn State football team against Pittsburgh. In the post-game press conference, Franklin highlighted building depth on the roster, while emphasizing the importance building team chemistry. While a concrete scheme and blueprint is necessary, but Franklin believes having the right players on the field is equally important. For example, seven true freshmen have already touched the field, a number sure to increase as the season rolls on. Franklin offered insightful predictions and conclusions about the current state of the Penn State football team, including these five crucial takeways.
Gain Momentum Early
This season, Penn State is averaging 48 points per game, placing them at 16th in the country and 2nd in the Big Ten. The offense has scored in every quarter this season, but Coach Franklin still sees room for growth. “We’ve got to do a better job of starting fast,” Franklin said during his press conference on Tuesday. Despite totaling 51 points on Saturday the Nittany Lions only scored touchdowns on two of its six drives in the first half – Franklin believes the offense becomes easier to operate when Trace McSorley establishes himself as a runner early in games.
McSorley ran for 36 yards, but he was only a fraction of Penn State’s dominating rushing attack last week. The team eclipsed 200 rushing yards for the second consecutive week, with 205 yards on the ground against Appalachian State and 211 yards last week in Pittsburgh. Running back Miles Sanders accounted for over half of Penn States’ yardage on the ground with 118 yards on 16 carries. Sanders dominated on the ground, but had two big plays called back due to penalties. “He probably has 200 yards or more of total offense without those two penalties,” Franklin said.
Preparing for Kent State’s Up-Tempo Offense
Kent State dominated Howard last week by a score of 54-14. It was their largest margin of victory since 2004 and the first time the Golden Flashes scored 50 or more points in five years. Kent State is averaging 82.5 plays per game, whereas the Nittany Lions are averaging 72.5 plays per game. “This will be as fast of a tempo team that we’ve played,” Franklin said. “Their quarterback is a problem. He can run, he can throw, he’s dynamic.” Kent State’s sophomore quarterback, Woody Barrett had a school record 387 total yards in the teams’ opener. Barrett has three passing and two rushing touchdowns in two games this season. “We’re playing a team who expects to win,” Franklin said.
Both running back Ricky Slade and linebacker Micah Parsons were five-star recruits coming out of high school. Despite their youth (both are under 20), they’ve both grown dramatically as football players since arriving to Happy Valley. “I’ve been really impressed with the whole freshmen class, but I think those two guys [Parsons and Slade] have handled what we’ve given them so far pretty well,” Franklin said. “So when they do that, we’d like to create more opportunities over the next couple weeks.”
Growing as a football player and adapting to playing in the Big Ten can be difficult, especially as an 18 or 19-year old. After a great game against Appalachian State, Slade fumbled twice last Saturday. Adjusting to Division I football is different elsewhere, but in Happy Valley, the legacy and brotherhood of Penn State football runs deep.
Larry Johnson, former Penn State running back, reached out to Slade on Twitter following last Saturdays’ win. Johnson was an All-Pro for the Kansas City Chiefs and a first-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, Johnson rushed for 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season at Penn State. The camaraderie and team-centric mentality of the Blue & White will only help Slade, Parsons, and any other freshmen that comes to Happy Valley.
Coach Franklin acknowledged that his team didn’t reach their goal for “explosive plays” in its 51-6 rout of the Pittsburgh Panthers last weekend. The Nittany Lions ranked 58th in yards per play (5.8) last week, a number which would’ve been much higher had Sanders’ big plays not been negated by penalties. The Nittany Lions are 13th in the nation in penalty yards per game (27.5), an impressively-low number but nonetheless, Franklin’s constant emphasis on unforced, mental errors should only continue to improve the discipline and big play potential of the Penn State offense.
KJ Hamler is one of the biggest sparks on Penn State’s explosive offense - averaging 17.8 yards per catch. Hamler is very versatile, scoring a 32-yard rushing touchdown early in last week’s game. The redshirt freshman is the leading receiver on Penn State’s offense through two games and is 11th in the Big Ten in receiving yards. Hamler is also making an impact on special teams, averaging 31.2 yards per kickoff return, which is the 11th best in college football.
The 12th Man
100,000-plus fans have packed into Beaver Stadium for eight consecutive home games. The crowd noise has always been a factor for opposing teams traveling to Happy Valley and it won’t be any different for Kent State. “I’d love for us to be able to sell out. I think it sends a message nationally,” Franklin said.
The Nittany Lions will get their chance to send a national message September 15th at 12pm, when Kent State comes to town. Penn State is currently favored by 35 points, making the Nittany Lions the 3rd most favored team of all teams playing this week.