Franklin gives Mountain Lion grad some love

By Cory Giger

It’s tough for a defensive tackle to compile gaudy statistics, simply because of the nature of the position, so it’s often difficult to analyze the overall performance of those big space eaters in the middle of the line.

Our eyes are trained to watch the football, not the big uglies battling it out in the trenches.

As he was talking Tuesday about his defensive line, Penn State coach James Franklin made a point of mentioning something about tackle Kevin Givens that many fans may not have realized.

“The guy that’s not getting a whole lot of love is Kevin Givens, but Kevin Givens for us is killing it,” Franklin said of the junior from Altoona Area High School.

“He’s doing his job consistently, and sometimes when you do that, other guys shine. But as a coaching staff and as a team, we know the value that Kevin’s bringing.”

Givens has just 20 tackles (12 solo) this season, and also five tackles for one loss, one sack and four quarterback hurries.

None of those numbers jump off the page, yet Franklin brought up Givens’ recent strong performance without even being asked about him.

Defensive line coach Sean Spencer also recently said Givens is playing the best ball of his career.

“Kevin has put a string of games together his last couple games that’s probably been his best football since he’s been here,” Spencer said on a conference call last week.

“It’s different. Coming onto the field last year as kind of a rotation guy, playing end, playing 3-technique, playing nose guard, doing different things, I think now he’s found a home at one spot. … The last couple games, he’s been really, really consistent. Early on, he was still trying to find his way as a starter. But he’s strung together, these last couple weeks, some pretty good games.”

Fellow defensive tackle Antonio Shelton was asked about Givens on Tuesday and, like the coaches, heaped praise on him.

“Kevin’s one of those guys, he’s one of the most athletic people I’ve ever seen. It’s kind of scary,” Shelton said. “You don’t expect someone to be that big and strong and at the same time be athletic. But a lot of things that Kevin does, he sets other guys up to be successful.?”Like last week, there’s this play where the backside, he’s on the left side. The right guard pulled, and he knocked his guard into the pulling guard and it completely messed the play up, ended up going for a (tackle for loss). Little things like that Kevin does. He’s always in the right position doing his job that allows the defense to play how we play.”

Defense underrated

Penn State’s defense faced huge question marks entering the season and was expected by many to be a weakness. But the defense has outperformed in a big way at times, even if it hasn’t received a whole lot of recognition.

It’s been the opposite, in fact, in some ways.

Because the defense was on the field late in the games and couldn’t stop Ohio State or Michigan State from taking the lead and winning, many people blamed the guys on that side of the ball.

Michigan then scored 42 points on PSU, leading to further criticism.

But Penn State’s defense held Ohio State, the No. 2 scoring team in the country at the time at 54 points per game, to just 27, and seven of those came after Miles Sanders fumbled deep in PSU territory late in the first half.

The Lions also gave up just 21 points to Michigan State, and Michigan had only 14 points with one minute left in the third quarter before pulling away, starting with an interception return for a touchdown.

Then last week, PSU’s defense held Wisconsin to 10 points, and to a mere field goal after a 71-yard TD run on the game’s first possession.

“The thing that I would say about our defense, and (coordinator Brent Pry), is we got guys that aren’t selfish,” Franklin said. “Offensive coaches, defensive coaches, special teams, you have to be careful. Sometimes you get in a situation where coaches are making decisions based off of stats. They want to be able to say that we have these stats. They want to be able to, on Sunday, whether you won or lost, to be able to focus on these stats.

“I think we’ve got a group of men — I think Brent’s a great example — that it’s about winning. And there are some things and choices and decisions that are made that probably go against stats. … Our defense puts a priority on winning and not being selfish and doing what’s in Penn State’s best interests and doing what’s in our kids’ best interests.”

As for Pry, his longtime friend and assistant, Franklin said the coordinator has done a great job this season.?“I’ve got tremendous respect for him and our entire defensive staff, and they’ve done a tremendous job for us and will continue to,” Franklin said.

Successful season?

Franklin wouldn’t bite on a question about what would need to happen for this to be considered a successful season. The Lions can finish the regular season 9-3 but still don’t have a signature win.

“It’s hard for me to say that right now, because the season’s not over and we’re talking about the season,” Franklin said. “So we’re focused on Rutgers. So at the end of the season, when it’s all over, we played all our games, I think there’s a lot of things to be proud of. I think there’s a lot of things that we can build on.”