James Franklin (Penn State) Weekly Press-Conference
COURTESY OF PENN STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT
Appreciate everybody coming out. Beautiful, beautiful day here in Happy Valley. Seems strange but I do want to give you guys some information from the Pitt game, although that seems like it was about a month ago.
Offensive Players of the Week: Journey Brown and Will Fries. Defensive Players of the Week: Micah Parsons, Shaka Toney. Special teams: Jordan Stout and Jonathan Sutherland. Wanted to give you that information. But besides that, I'm going to move forward because it has been some time.
Obviously excited about the opportunity to go play Maryland. Conference game, obviously a program that we have some history with, and I specifically have some history with.
Go back a long time with Coach [Michael] Locksley. We have a lot of respect for what they have been able to do so far there in that program. Always felt like that program had a lot of talent and I think Mike is doing a good job taking advantage of it.
Eleven returning starters. Obviously put up a bunch of points so far this year. You look at offensively Scottie Montgomery, who I've known for a long time is their offensive coordinator. Been a head coach, been an offensive coordinator, and has done a nice job there working with Locks there offensively.
You look at guys we've been impressed with, their center, Johnny Jordan. Obviously Tyler Bowen's got some history specifically with their offensive line. Smart, physical, tough player. Sean Christie has played a lot of football for them, their left guard.
Anthony McFarland is a guy that could change the game at any moment. They have got a number of running backs that can hurt you.
Their one running back they have moved to the slot, doing a good job there, as well, and Dontay Demus the wide receiver out of Washington, D.C. has done a nice job for them. They are a spread personnel team, is how I would describe them. They will go 11, 12 and then 20 personnel with a two-back flex formation. They are going to run the RPO stuff. Obviously, they are committed to running the ball and are doing a good job with that.
Defensively, Jon Hoke, first year as defensive coordinator there. Been in the profession for a long time. Obviously Brady's brother.
Three returning starters. Multiple defensive front, three and four down. They will mix in coverages, as well, from one-high to two-high to obviously your zone pressures, as well. You look at guys that we've been impressed with on tape, No. 5, Shaq Smith who is a Clemson transfer, Keandre Jones who is an Ohio State transfer, No. 4. Tino Ellis, seems like he's been playing there forever, and then the very productive Antoine Brooks, who plays their strong safety/nickel, however you want to characterize that.
On special teams, Coach [John] Papuchis, who I was out on the recruiting road with this weekend, really good guy and well respected, has been a defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator for most of his career. DJ Turner is the guy I was talking about who is the slot receiver has been a running back and a successful running back. It’s just another way to get their guys on the field. Been doing a good job in their return game.
Obviously great opportunity. Go on the road. I think it's going to be a really good environment. I've been in that place for like Thursday night ESPN games. I think it's going to have a similar environment. We have the fight song playing at practice which I know well, for eight years. My man, Special K is in the stadium. I don't know if you are familiar with Special K in the stadium.
I know it's going to be a good game. Our guys are excited about it. We have a bunch of Maryland guys on our team, as well and DMV guys, as well. We are excited to go play a good opponent on the road in a Big Ten game.
Q. Your running game has had its ups and downs through three games. How would you evaluate it and how close are you to where you want it to be? JF: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for us, and it's obviously not something that you guys are not already familiar with, but we've been pretty good on first and second down offensively in general.
We've been great in the red zone. We have to be better on third down, and I think obviously the better we are on third down, we'll create more opportunities on first and second down, which we've been pretty good at. It will create more opportunities in the red zone.
We have to get into the red zone more because we've been one of the better red zone teams in the country, and I think third down will help with that. Third down will help create more first and second down opportunities obviously. Will create more red zone opportunities for us. It will allow us to be a little bit more consistent when it comes to time of possession.
I don't think time of possession is a huge factor, but obviously whenever you get to the point where you know, you're so far out of whack that it does factor in, helps our defense out. Helps everything. Helps our offense get into a rhythm, as well and the run game's a big part of that.
We have to be more consistent in all the things we're doing, but I do think being better on third down will help us in all areas offensively and defensively.
Q. [Defensive coordinator] Brent Pry said before the season Cam Brown started getting more vocal after the Bowl game. How has it helped him on the field? JF: Yeah, I think so. It's the natural maturation process that happens with your guys. You know, he's been around. He understands how we do things. We've gotten to know him, you know, on a very significant level. Gotten to know his family, as well.
He understands what Brent is trying to do defensively. He understands what Brent needs out of the linebacker unit. I think he also has got a good feel obviously for how the program overall, how we want it to run, off-season conditioning, strength conditioning, culture drivers, leadership, all of it. He's just been really good.
Obviously that first game was tough, him not being able to play. We got into an interesting discussion. He wanted to play in the second half and we didn't think it made sense. He's doing really well. Obviously you can say whatever you want, and we wouldn't our approach to stay as consistent as possible, but I'm also aware when a kid from Maryland is going back home, it is a little bit different for him. So we want to make sure that our process is consistent as possible, so guys like Cam and other guys don't start focusing on things that don't matter.
Q. After the Buffalo and Pitt games, you noted how well those teams executed their game plans. How would you assess Penn State's game plan execution through the first three games? JF: Yeah, I think obviously you get a couple things. We've gotten to a point, I think as a program from a consistency standpoint, I think there's still some areas obviously for growth. There's a lot of areas for growth.
But I do think we have gotten to the point as a program that we are getting people's best version of themselves. I don't think there's any doubt about that. You know, I remember one of the coaches talking about how he'd been studying for Penn State, had a four-year study on Penn State. Spent a lot of time in the summer on us and those types of things.
So yeah, I think people are putting a lot into preparing for us and they are executing those games. You know, for us, we found a way to win. Obviously we've got to be more consistent in all three phases. There are areas that we need to get better. There's no doubt about it. I think those areas are fairly obvious.
But I am very proud of how we are playing. You know, I show examples all the time to our team, guys are sending me things that I watch. There were five really good examples that we showed the team yesterday from this past weekend.
So you know, I'm not saying we don't make mistakes, too, but I'm proud of how we are playing really sound, really disciplined football in terms of you know, how we protect the football, penalties, how we're playing complementary football offense, defense and special teams.
Again, probably no one unit is dominating statistically, but we're playing really good team football. So we've got to take some steps to be more dominant in all three areas, but if we can just keep marginally getting better every single day, then we'll like where we'll be.
Q. [Rasheed] Walker, second-year freshman, big responsibility for you guys on the field. Can you talk about how he's done his first three games as a starter, his personality, how do you think a bye week even can help a young guy like that at his spot? JF: Yeah, he's growing up and growing up fast. I think the fact that we haven't talked about him a whole lot is a good thing typically with the offensive lineman. We're also very happy with Des Holmes and getting him more reps in games, as well as in practice.
Same thing with Will Fries. We think that group is doing really well. We need Caedan [Wallace] to continue growing up so he can factor in for us, as well, a guy that we think is very talented.
Yeah, I think Rasheed is doing some really good things. Like all of them, I can sit here and critique areas and things that we want them to get better at, but overall, pretty good. You know, pretty good at a left tackle position having to block some of the best big athletes day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out in practice as well as in the games and he's doing a good job.
So we're pleased with him, but we've got to keep building his confidence and keep building his fundamentals and techniques.
Q. You talked earlier in the season about KJ [Hamler] and making sure that you don't stretch him too much, considering his responsibilities on offense and special teams. Through three games, do you feel he's being utilized the right way or too much or not enough? How much have you seen that through the first three games? JF: We've got to get him more touches with the ball in his hand. I think we all see -- and that doesn't have to be shots down the field. It can be short stuff, as well. Higher percentage things. And really with KJ, it's about managing it all. It's Sunday through Saturday.
You know, where he's at in practice, in terms of reps, what we're doing as kickoff returner and punt returner on offense and defense, we have to get him started a little bit more. With our corners on punt return, holding up their bullets, we've got to do a better job of that, because we've all seen if we can get him a little space that he's got a chance to be successful.
We just feel like he's too explosive as a punt returner, kickoff returner, not to factor in in those areas. Same thing on offense. We have to get the ball in his hands a little bit more, and then we just have to do a really good job of managing all that, because when KJ goes, there's no like three-quarter speed with him. That's just how his personality is and how he practices and how he plays. We just have to manage that so that we are getting the most explosive version of KJ on Saturday afternoons.
Q. How are you? JF: Really good. It's beautiful outside. Just came back from the Arboretum. Have you been there lately? You ought to go. I think the Arboretum and I think the patio outside my office are the two most underutilized things on our campus.
Just went over there, we were talking about -- I don't know if you guys know the story. [Director of Operations] Michael Hazel got married on lunch break and wanted to do that on my patio. Wanted me to go get the license to do the wedding. Then his wife, Molly, finally put her foot down and said enough's enough.
So they got married over at the Arboretum, during lunch break, literally, during lunch break, but it's beautiful over there. So if you haven't had a chance to go see it -- we should do the press conference one week -- they have this little covered landing and patio over there. (Laughter)
Q. Your defense, it seems like opponents have converted a lot of third downs and a lot of third-and-longs. Is there any commonality there? Is there any common thread? JF: That's accurate. That's more than a fair question. We have to be better there. We've had a lot of discussions about it. I think a little bit is how you call it. I think you obviously can get in a situation where you're too conservative or you can get in a situation where you're aggressive, but they know you're being aggressive and now they catch you with the screens and things like that.
I think it's just an overall awareness of our players, are understanding where the sticks are, how people are trying to attack us, what we call. When you call certain things, there's strength of those calls and there's weaknesses of those calls in both directions.
As a staff and as players, we just have to be aware of those things. There's no doubt about it, that factors into time of possession, as well. We work like crazy to get people into third-and-long situations and then we let them off the hook. That's been something obviously over the bye period we've spent a lot of time discussing and studying and looking at. It's definitely an area that we can get better.
We talk about the offense with time of possession on third down. Part of it is defensively being able to get off the field and again, I think we've been pretty good on first and second down, but those third-and-longs, we're letting people off the hook at way too high of a rate. So obviously it's been an area of focus and an area of concentration.
You know, one of the things that we're doing is we are obviously doing a little bit more right now of emphasizing third down in practice, but as you all know when you shift time and resources to one area, which is third down, then you have to take it from somewhere else that we have in our normal week. You just can't add time. Although, as coaches, we'd love to do that.
So that's always a discussion: Do you just emphasize it and spend more time on it, or do you leave the plan the way it is and try to work through it gradually.
Yeah, I think more that's a fair question. It obviously was a big part of our bye week studies and discussion, and I think overall just an awareness of our players and coaches understanding the situation we're in, where the sticks are, what they have to get to, and then the calls that we make and our players understanding the strengths and weaknesses of those calls.
Obviously we are all aware screens have been something the last two years that has hurt us in those type of situations. So we have to make an awareness. If we call man coverage and you've got the back in man coverage, you'd better be in position to make it difficult for those guys to block you.
It's just all those things. It was a big point of emphasis over the bye week.
Q. You said after the Pitt game that the pass rush wasn't showing up as the strength you thought it would be. You're seeing more max protect, but is there anything you can change that can help you get to the quarterback more? JF: Actually the first thing I said was how impressed I've been with our defense, and obviously how much confidence we have in our defense and our defensive line and how we held them to 24 yards rushing, and then I said, yeah, but I think we can get better in that area.
I don't think there's any doubt that people are max-protecting. I don't think there's any doubt that people are chipping. But most importantly, we've been able to make people one-dimensional. Now once we make people one-dimensional, we have to be able to take advantage of that in terms of those plays that get people off-schedule, whether that's tackle for loss, whether that's sacks, those types of things.
But where you have to be careful is that you don't emphasize those things too much that now you stop being good against the run because everything you do is up the field and vertical about sacking the quarterback.
You know, it's funny, we were just talking about that, watching NFL football, and some players that obviously their goal is to get as many sacks as possible but they are not playing the run one bit. So it's a balance between those things.
But I've got a lot of confidence based on history and based on production and [Defensive Line Coach] Sean Spencer. We led the nation in sacks last year. I've got a lot of confidence based on production and history of our defensive linemen, defensive ends and defensive tackles. I know that will continue to grow as the season goes on, and I think we'll see more of that come Saturday afternoon.
Q. This will be your fourth game. How have things changed for you and the staff in player evaluation with the four-game redshirt rule, and do you think that rule is better or worse for college football in general? JF: I figured that was coming. For us, we just had some discussions on some guys that you know, we had played the first two games or three games, and we have to decide, are we going to play in this fourth game or not and a lot of the guys, we've kind of held on that we're going to save this fourth game for later in the year for injuries or whatever it may be, or they are just not ready, you know, and the coaches are not comfortable with putting them in a tightly contested game at this point.
We're kind of at that point with a lot of different guys. The rule, I think there's benefits to it. You know, for the players and I think there's benefits for the program. There's no doubt about it. But I think with all these rule changes, there's unforeseen consequences to it. It’s funny, just a few years back, the NCAA was all about deregulation, deregulation, deregulation. Well all those rules are in that book for a reason. They got in there in the first place for a reason.
I also get all the different discussions that are going on in college athletics right now. I understand all the discussions that are going on specifically with college football. I do. I get it and I see things from both perspectives at a high-level Division II athlete at East Stroudsburg and all the demands I had to turn down.
But I do, I get it from both perspectives, I really do, but I think that's the hard part is you make changes to rules that were in place for a reason, and there's unforeseen consequences that probably aren't thought about by everybody on the front end. So it's hard to say whether it's good or bad. I think the intentions are all these rules are good for the student-athletes.
I think all these rule changes, the intentions are good for college athletics, but it doesn't always play out that way because it's very sophisticated, it's very complicated and it can be messy; and messy not in a good way for the student-athlete or college athletics.
Q. How important were the first three games with respect to building depth on defense, considering how young some of your guys are and were there any kids that you thought really developed through that period that you really needed in those second team and third team spots? JF: Yeah, I think very much so, and I think that's always the argument that we have, you know, and some of the stuff that [Assistant Athletic Director for Strategic Communications] Kris [Petersen] will show me some of the criticism or critique.
Obviously you can leave your starters in and just really play at a high level and give yourself the best chance to be successful, or it's rotating guys in to create depth and hopefully those guys learn to play at a similar level, too.
This has been our plan, really, for my nine years as a head coach. It's worked out fairly well for us. But yeah, there's been some guys, I think Adisa Isaac is a guy that has shown some flashes of some good things. I think Brandon Smith is a guy that's really shown some flashes that I thought needs and deserves more reps on defense and on special teams.
I think some of the young corners have gotten some opportunities and shown some good things, as well, and we're going to need those guys to continue to develop. We feel really good about our starters and we've got to create more depth at that position, some based on some injuries and some based on lack of depth and experience.
So yeah, I think it's been good and I think it's been important for us, but you know, we've got to keep building it. I don't think there's any doubt about it. I think obviously a guy like [Jaquan] Brisker has done some nice things for us, as well and what's nice is now you're able to get into a package where Lamont [Wade] is on the field, Brisker is on the field, GT [Garrett Taylor] is on the field, all at the same time. We got some of that going, too.
So I think it's very important for us. We've got to continue building it.
Q. Were you happy with what you accomplished recruiting-wise during the bye week and how do you feel about the hurdle that was coming back for Saturday practice and then getting back on the road? JF: Yeah, you know, I thought we had a really good plan. We were able to execute the plan. My Saturday changed a little bit because one of the high schools changed the time of their game which is obviously difficult to prepare for. But yeah, I thought we were able to get a lot done. Coaches were all over the country.
Terry Smith kind of gets the bonus points because he traveled the furthest. I think he was in California and Texas in a short period of time, and then redeye-ing back for Saturday practice, which isn't easy to do and it's much appreciated by us, what Terry was able to do in a very, very short period of time that needed to get done from a recruiting and evaluation standpoint.
I thought the fact that we covered it in camp with the players so they knew what to expect. As much as I possibly can, I always try to give our players a heads up as early as possible so they and their families can plan. But I also think I don't like our players to be caught off guard by something new and different and obviously playing a Friday game with a bye week the week before is a little bit different in how we normally handle bye weeks, so I think that was good.
The one challenge we had a little bit and we talked about this in the past, you know, probably talk more about it after the game is over, but we don't practice on Mondays. So now when you go to a Friday game, you have to practice on Mondays and guys haven't scheduled that way.
So I think we had seven guys miss some form of practice or meetings. I was trying to get in touch with whoever I needed to get in touch with because I think Maryland cancelled school on Friday, so I was trying to figure out a way we could get school cancelled on Monday trying to get all the fraternities and sororities to back me up on that and I don't think that happened.
But there's obviously some logistics that go in with that.
Q. The last two seasons, Penn State has not allowed a touchdown to Maryland. Obviously this is a different game with new quarterback and a next head coach. What is the big difference in Maryland that might provide a stiffer challenge, and why do you think defensively that you guys were able to dominate in the past? JF: Well, I'm not really that concerned about the past. I'm more concerned about what we've seen on tape and what we know about this team now. They have always been very talented. I think we all saw how they played Ohio State last year. They have always had speed, even from when I was there, we always had a lot of speed on the roster from the area.
Then obviously you got a head coach who has got an offensive background and been successful. You know, was able to get there at a time where the roster was in a pretty good place and then also, we're able to get a quarterback to transfer in that started a lot of games. That experience I think has been valuable and I think the system fits him well, too.
So they are doing a good job. They are doing a good job of taking advantage of the athletes they have. They have done a good job of building confidence in how they play and who they have played. There's no doubt that we're going to be walking into a significant challenge on the defensive side of the ball come Friday night, as well as offense and special teams.
Q. The interaction between the two staffs, what are the advantages and disadvantages of knowing each other so well and with Mike taking the job, have you guys connected at all since he's taken the job? JM: Yeah, obviously you see each other at Big Ten meetings. You see each other on the road recruiting. You see each other at the Fiesta Summit, I saw them out there at that, he and his wife, Kia, who I have known for a long time.
And then with our staffs, there's a lot of crossover there, and just being so close to each other. All those things factor in. I think that's where football is in some ways maybe different than other sports is how competitive it is year-round. You trying to protect your state. You're trying to protect your footprint. You're battling with these guys year-round. It's not just Saturday afternoon and it's not just the week of the game. It's in recruiting. It's in the region. It's in the footprint. It's in the state. It's all of it. They come to Pennsylvania. We try to go to the DMV.
So all those things kind of factor into it, and then like you're saying, the history. I think I spent eight years there. Had a great experience. I'm very appreciative. Johnny Holiday reached out the other day, who I go way back with Johnny Holiday.
So it will be a great environment. It will be a great game. And there's no doubt to your point, there's a lot of crossover and connections when it comes to professional relationships, personal relationships, and then obviously in recruiting.
Q. When you talk about established players, how do you define what established is, and how does that impact your thought process as a position once you've considered someone established? JF: I guess the way we would say is an established guy is a guy we know what we're going to get week-in and week-out, game in, game out, practice, all of it. A guy who has played enough football for us on a consistent basis that we consider he has solidified his position and there's really no threat to him. I mean, obviously we always want to make sure that we are creating an environment that there's competition, but there are some guys that have played at such a high level for such a long time, you know what you're getting there.
Now it's about managing; managing the reps, so that when they are in there, you are getting the best you possibly can from them, but then also, being able to get some other guys in there to develop the depth.
So that's kind of the discussion for us, and who those guys are on offense, defense, special teams. But it's all about consistency. I think that's probably the biggest thing in college football, and I think that's probably the biggest thing at the next level is all these guys are really talented and they can do it at a certain amount out of 10 times.
But the really good ones, are able to do it eight, nine, times out of 10 or 10 out of 10. That's where you separate yourself and that's where you become one of those established big-time players that when we're watching tape of other opponents or they are watching tape of us, you say, “this guy is a problem.” This guy is a problem coming into the game, not just because of the splash plays he makes but how he does it on a consistent level.
The other thing I would say, too, is a lot of times the young players, they are focused on just the splash plays alone. So they think they should be playing more because they have had a sack or an interception or whatever it may be, but a lot of times that guy doesn't grade out as well because those other eight plays aren't as consistent.
We talk about that with our defense and I think that's where I think we've got to be careful with the conversation last week about sacks because if you put too much emphasis on that, and not them doing the dirty work that needs to be done -- I think Parker [Cothren] was a great example of a guy, kind of like what we would call the keystone of our defense; a guy that maybe doesn't show up in the stat sheet but is essential to the defense being what we needed it to be, and that was Parker Cothren. I think right now we are doing a pretty good job of that, being gap-sound and those types of things.
I think if we continue to do that, some of those splash plays, some of those exciting plays will, show up, not because guys are forcing it to happen but it coming as a natural result of doing their job within the framework of the offense, defense or special teams, if that makes sense.
Q. Having played a Friday night game a year ago, are there takeaways that you use to better prepare for this Friday on the road? And how is the best way to prepare, especially a young team, to go into a hostile environment for the first time? JF: Yeah, I think a couple things. It sounds silly but one of the challenges is when you play a Friday game, there's nothing to do during the day. Like when you play a Saturday night game, there's games on. They can watch games all afternoon because what you don't want to do is lay around and sleep all day.
So what time do you wake them up from a sports science perspective? How much do you meet? How much do you break? What do you do to get their body out of the recovery stage and into a compete stage. Really going back and looking through all those things, and where we have a Saturday night game, we may allow a little more dead time during the day, where a Friday night game, maybe we want a little less just because if not, they are just on Netflix and laying around and taking naps all day long, which I don't think is the right thing for them to do to be ready to play the game.
Yeah, I think the last Friday experience will help with that. I think the sports scientists have helped with that, as well. And then there's other challenges. I think having an awareness of the atmosphere you're going to go into, not only the stadium but in the locker room.
One of the challenges this year, they have one of the smaller visiting locker rooms. In the past, we tape outside. The coaches usually change at the hotel because there's not a lot of room to change over there. There's a lot of things that I think if you prepare your team and staff ahead of time for those things, there's value. There's value in all of it.
I think the thing that you guys know, as well as every student on campus and every professor on campus and some of the houses and the community, is the noise. We're going to prepare for the noise, and I'm typically going to try to make things worse in practice than they will be in the games so that we're never going into a situation where we're shocked by how loud it is.
In terms of the crowd noise, which is the fans, which is kind of screechy, and you deal with that, and then we've got the fight song playing over top of that, as well, on two different systems; and making it really, really difficult so that you're ready for your silent cadence or you're ready for your clap cadence or whatever it may be, you know, that you've done it, and we started with that in camp, probably not to this degree, but we've done it. We've done it. I think it's all those -- I think it's all those things.
Q. Following up on the competition at the running back position, do you want to try to continue playing four, or now that you're through the non-conference, are you looking to pare that down? JF: It's the same answer it's been every week. We're going to play all four of those guys until somebody really separates themselves from the group. We're comfortable playing with all four because we think all four can play, and the only way that would change is if somebody just makes it clearly obvious to everybody that they are the guy, and right now we feel like we've got four guys that we can play with and win with.
Q. You haven't really faced a true spread team so far this year. When you're recruiting guys, especially on defense, is this what you're thinking of in the back of your mind: Teams like this, teams that play with a spread or up-tempo style so you need the speed and length to cover space? JF: Yeah, but it's interesting, because you have to be able to recruit for both. If you recruit just a bunch of outside backers and corners and safeties, but don't have the d-tackles that you need or the Mike linebacker that you need, now you go spread, spread, prejudice and you play somebody and they line up and try to pound you; you've got to really be able to do both.
Obviously the way the college football has changed, the way the NFL has changed and the way high school football also changed, you'd better be able to defend the spread and have the athletes and the length to do it. But you'd also better be able to have the people that you can lineup and play smashmouth football.
That's where a guy like Kevin Givens in the past was so valuable for us because he was a guy we could play at defensive end when you were playing one of those types of teams. Now you go from a 240-pound defensive end to a 285-pound defensive end. So having the flexibility in your roster to move people around based on skill and based on experience, I think is valuable, as well, so you have to be careful with that.
I think for our defense, that sees a spread every single day at practice, we are probably more prepared for that, although it's challenging. That's where I think I've talked to you guys in the past where if you're a spread offense, your defense needs to make sure they are spending enough time on 22 and 21 power sets and power football because they don't get that from your offense in practice. Again, it's hard to replicate that if that's not who you are.
No different playing a wishbone team. You know, you can act like you're going to try to replicate that in practice. It's hard to replicate. That's, I think the balance. That's where I think this year, us doing a little bit more 12-personnel, I think is helpful, because our defense gets a little bit more than they have gotten in the past. And I thought that was important.
Sometimes as a head coach, they are the decisions that you are making. It may not be, okay, this is what we need to do to be the best offense in the country. Well, this is what we need to do to be the best team in the country and a lot of times that is personnel driven, like you're not going to go 12 personnel and you don't have the personnel to do it just to help your defense out, but if you can do both, you know, with [Nick] Bowers and [Pat] Freiermuth and [Zach] Kuntz and [Brenton] Strange, it makes sense for us to do it, and it also helps our defense.
As a head coach, these are the things that you're trying to do to say, okay these are the things we need to do this season and focus on these things in the off-season because it's the right thing to do for our offense, but more importantly, it's the right thing to do for our team.
Q. What do you like when you look at Shaq Smith on tape and the rest of their defense in general? JF: It's the athleticism. You know, with both of those guys that transferred from Ohio State and Clemson, it's their athleticism. I think what the defensive coordinator and defensive coaches are doing a good job is playing to those guys' strengths and allowing them to be successful in what they do best.
You know, obviously studying those guys on tape, you look at their production has been pretty good. You know, obviously they are two different players. You got one guy who is a speed player and you've got one guy who has got the ability to do both at 250 pounds. We know both guys very well.
So I think that's the best thing they are doing is they are playing to their personnel strengths really on offense, defense and special teams.
Q. Jan Johnson, how important is he as a captain and a leader for that young linebacking core, especially this week, with a handful of them, this is their first real game? JF: Yeah, really important. He's been a culture driver for us. You guys know, that's a term that I really like in our program and I think Jan is that type of guy. Our players get a little sick of us, me and Coach [Brent] Pry talking about Jan Johnson, but it's a great story. It's a great story for college football. It's a great story for Penn State.
Yeah, his leadership, him and Cam Brown at the linebacker position, the leadership that they provide for our entire defense, GT [Garrett Taylor] on the back end, all of it, it's going to be really important because we do have a young team. We do have a team that has not traveled and played in this type of venue before.
So those senior leaders, those vets, to be able to step up and kind of explain to them what it's going to be like -- you know, this game a little bit reminds me of my first year when we went to Rutgers, and Rutgers all off-season had been pumping the game up and we were just coming off of sanctions and that was a battle. That was a battle.
It also reminds me a little bit of when we played them in Ravens Stadium, which was a battle. I think we have a pretty good understanding of what it's going to be like Friday night, but again, it doesn't really matter what I know and what the coaching staff knows. It's what the team knows and what the team's prepared for, and that's what we're trying to do all week is get them ready for that so there's no shock moment of what it's going to be like.
Q. Young running backs, how they hold up in protection -- how do you think Noah and Devyn [Ford] have done in that regard, and have you ever been in charge of a running back room like this where seemingly all four guys are okay with kind of sharing that load? Because I don't think every room is built like that. JF: Do you not want the room to be like that? (Laughter) They are all getting along right now. Maybe we don't want that.
Yeah, they have been really good. I think what helps is they all have really good relationships. Also I think [running backs coach] Ja'Juan [Seider] has done a good job of that, as well. I also think that they understand the days of just playing one running back, I think are pretty much gone in college football.
So yeah, I think as long as we keep those guys involved, then going to play the hot hand and they all know that they are going to have an opportunity to impact the game and grow and mature. I think that's what everybody's really looking for.
You know, it can be challenging. There's no doubt about it. But like I said, right now we have four guys that we feel good about. You'd love for all four to really step up and dominate or you'd like one or two to separate themselves from the pack, but either way we feel like we have four guys that we can win with that have earned the team's respect and they have got a really good environment and culture and support of each other in that room, and we are going to try to keep it that way as long as we can.
Q. You talk a little about Maryland's offense and their RPO. How important is it for the quarterback, Josh Jackson? He has ability to be kind of a dual-threat guy, so for your defense to continue to stay sound and fundamental defending the RPO? JF: Yeah, that's important, there's no doubt about it. When you're facing this type of offense and you're facing this type of quarterback that can hurt you in multiple ways -- and he's an experienced player. He's played a lot of football for them and he's surrounded with a lot of speed and athleticism. It's important. Up front is going to dictate how successful you are on offense and defense, and being able to consistently win those battles. I also think that's really across the board at every position, the physical nature of the game.
You know, so there's no doubt about it, the quarterback kind of drives the bus, but you'd better have those guys up front on offense and defense that are going to really determine how consistent the offense is and defenses can be.
Q. Beyond your starting three at receiver, how do you see that rotation coming to fruition? Parker said he was trying to develop that. Do you have a sense the rotation is that good sense moving ahead? Mac Hippenhammer was a player you referenced a lot in camp, but we haven't seen him get in the box score as a receiver yet. Is he still someone that you have confidence in that he has better times ahead? JF: I think it goes back to what we talked about before. We have to get more plays. I think yards per play, we're one of the best teams in the country in yards per play.
We have to get more plays. Being more successful on third down will create more opportunities for everybody on our offense and put us in a situation where we are going to need to play more players and rotate more players in there because of the number of reps we're getting per game.
I think being successful on third down and creating more opportunities for our offense and keeping our defense off the field will solve some of those issues you bring up.