Penn State has what could be its biggest game of the year on the horizon.
The Nittany Lions will head to Iowa City to take on the No. 3 Hawkeyes, kicking off at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Ahead of the marquee matchup, James Franklin addressed the media following Wednesday night’s practice.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest storylines ahead of Saturday’s tilt.
Iowa’s offense and forcing turnovers
One of the biggest conversations leading up to the game has been the number of turnovers Iowa causes and if Penn State can avoid turning it over.
The Hawkeyes have forced 16 turnovers thus far, including a seven-turnover outburst against Maryland last week.
However, Franklin said there hasn’t been any extra emphasis on ball security in this week’s practices — it’s always a point of emphasis.
“We do a specific ball security drill every single day. Always have,” Franklin said. “That’s a non-negotiable. There’s a lot of things that we’ll discuss and modify [in practice], that’s not one of them.”
While he isn’t changing anything about the team’s preparation, Franklin acknowledged the potency of Iowa’s defense.
“That’s been a huge part of their success this season, and a big reason why they are where they are,” Franklin said.
The multitude of turnovers have naturally set the Hawkeyes’ offense up in plenty of prime positions, skewing Iowa’s offensive numbers to place it last in the Big Ten in total yardage.
Franklin knows the offensive numbers don’t tell the whole story, too.
“They’re doing what they can do with the opportunities they get,” Franklin said. “They get the ball in short fields, and they’ve been able to turn them into touchdowns. That’s a positive for them.”
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With a multitude of uncertainty surrounding the group entering 2021, Penn State’s defensive …
We already know one true freshman won’t be using a redshirt this season.
Cornerback Kalen King has already burned his first year of eligibility, and Franklin highlighted some of the positives he sees in King’s play thus far.
“He’s still a true freshman that’s getting better, he makes plays and he’s extremely competitive,” Franklin said. “There’s still things that he needs to learn to have a chance to get significant playing time.”
Franklin emphasized the fact that consistency is “really what it’s about” when it comes to evaluating young players.
He said former Penn State cornerback Grant Haley, who now plays in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints, gained confidence playing on special teams as his role grew in the defense. That’s something Franklin would like to see King do, but it hasn’t happened yet.
As for the rest of the group, there doesn’t seem to be a large number of other true freshmen burning their redshirts. The way the season has played out, including a grueling nonconference slate, is a big part of that, according to Franklin.
“We’ve got one of the most challenging schedules in college football, so that may factor into it,” Franklin said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that this freshman class feels different than others, I think a lot of it is the schedule.”
Franklin did add, though, that he plans to research the numbers for this class compared to past years’.
Former assistants set to face off
When Marshall and Old Dominion square off this weekend, two members of the James Franklin coaching tree will be going head to head.
Charles Huff now serves as the head man for the Thundering Herd after four years as Franklin’s running backs coach, and Ricky Rahne is the Monarchs' head coach after five years on Penn State’s offensive staff.
Franklin appreciates having been a stepping stone in their careers.
“It’s cool to see those guys leave here and become head coaches or go to the NFL or whatever it may be,” Franklin said. “That’s part of my responsibility as well is to help the players reach their dreams. It’s also to put a product on the field that our fans, alumni and lettermen can be proud of. It’s also to help these [coaches'] careers and whatever they may want to do.
“To see those two guys playing each other this week is cool.”
Franklin said he’s caught moments of each coach's press conferences , and added he believes it’s the first time a pair of his former assistants will face off against each other.
“I’m happy for both of those guys,” Franklin said. “Those guys are both really good football coaches, those guys are both really good recruiters and they’re really good men.”
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