For the last time of the regular season, Penn State’s James Franklin addressed the media after practice on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.
Franklin talked about some matters that loomed heading into the final game against Michigan State, but he also touched on some more recent news in talking about the College Football Playoff rankings that came out Tuesday night.
Here are the biggest storylines from Franklin’s Thanksgiving Eve press conference.
Big Ten in the playoff
The College Football Playoff released its third-to-last rankings of the season, setting up rivalry week. Penn State came in at No. 11 behind multiple other two-loss SEC teams, and there were two Big Ten teams ranked in the top four in Michigan and Ohio State.
After Wednesday’s practice, Franklin was asked about the possibility of having two Big Ten teams in the College Football Playoff and what it would mean for the conference.
Franklin said there are a lot of things that the Big Ten should be promoting when it comes to the College Football Playoff like the “other conference” does, and by other conference he means the SEC.
“I’ve been in that conference,” Franklin said. “They're pounding the table and promoting through a lot of different resources, so I’m aware of what’s going on.”
Franklin ended the answer and said he isn’t focused on those discussions right now and is instead focused on Michigan State.
“I got a lot of things I can say right now,” Franklin said. “It’s probably not appropriate.”
The Allar strategy
There’s no question the future of Penn State relies on true-freshman quarterback Drew Allar, and these past couple of games have been crucial to getting him some playing time before he fully takes over next year.
With every snap, there's a risk that Allar could get hurt, especially behind a banged up offensive line like the one Penn State has now.
Franklin said he has to be “smart and strategic” about how he goes about using Allar and practicing with him.
“Obviously, you don’t want to take on more of a risk with any of our guys than needed,” Franklin said. “There’s some risk involved in our game. There always will be.”
Franklin said he has to be careful in every aspect of the game, whether it's full speed, walkthrough or during a game.
He said those risks are something he manages on a day-to-day basis and is something he’s going to manage with all his players, not just Allar.
“You just kind of live with it,” Franklin said. “You’ll drive yourself crazy if you are trying to do that. You get the guys prepared the way they want.”
Tackles for loss
In the past couple of games, Penn State has found its identity defensively, holding teams to an average of eight points per game in its last three games.
One of the aspects that has made the Penn State defense so dominant has been tackles for loss.
In Penn State’s last three games the Nittany Lions have had 40, which is the first, second and fourth most in a single game this season.
Franklin said the main reason for the uptick in tackles for loss has been defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s change in how Penn State defends.
Diaz uses more of a vertical approach compared to Brent Pry’s more gap-based approach.
“From a common-sense approach, if I’m playing a mark instead of playing inside a mark, obviously you got a chance to penetrate and create negative plays and tackles for loss,” Franklin said.
However, Franklin said when you play more vertically, every player has to be doing their job because there’s more chance for big plays when one man messes up.
“If you are a defensive player, specifically a defensive lineman or a linebacker, I can’t imagine there’s a more productive system to play in,” Franklin said.
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