Lions heavily ‘banged up’ this week
UNIVERSITY PARK – A capsule look at James Franklin’s weekly news conference.
Opponent: Michigan State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten)
Kickoff: Saturday 3:30 p.m., Spartan Stadium
About the Spartans: They’re coming off a huge win at Ohio State, 17-14, to keep their hopes alive for the College Football Playoff. Can win the Big Ten East and earn trip to conference championship game with win over PSU. Ranked No. 5 in this week’s CFP poll. Only loss was on fluke finish at Nebraska, 39-38, as Huskers got benefit of controversial call on deep pass play late. Coach Mark Dantonio has guided team to at least 10 wins in five of last six seasons. Starting QB Connor Cook is questionable with shoulder injury. If he can’t go, Tyler O’Connor, who played against Ohio State, will be the QB. Winner gets the prestigious (sarcasm) Land Grant Trophy.
Last time vs. Penn State: Michigan State won at Beaver Stadium last year, 34-10. The series is tied, 14-14-1, but the Spartans are 8-5 at home.
Line: Michigan State is favored by 11; no over/under has been set yet because of Spartans’ QB situation
Bad news first: This is the final regular-season game, on the road, against an outstanding opponent, and the Lions apparently won’t be close to full strength. “We’re banged up right now this week probably more so than we’ve been in a long time,” Franklin said. “That’s shown up as the season has gone on, but probably more so this week than really in the year and a half we’ve been here.”
No spoiler talk: A PSU upset would keep the Spartans out of the Big Ten title game and ruin their national championship hopes. That’s plenty to play for, right? Franklin wants nothing to do with that kind of spoiler role discussion because he says his team has plenty to play for on its own. “A lot of people live and die Penn State football, and it’s very, very important to them,” Franklin said. “So trust me, my staff and our players feel like we’re playing for a lot on Saturday and feel like that every single Saturday.”
Timeout trouble: There has been confusion with playcalls and decisions all season, leading to countless wasted timeouts. That’s a poor reflection on the coaching staff, which Franklin acknowledged. “We need to do a better job coaching,” he said. There are young players making some mistakes, he added, or wrong personnel groupings for certain plays, which lead to the timeouts. Franklin seemed as adamant when addressing the problem as anything else Tuesday. “There’s a number of reasons right now that got to get cleaned up, and I’m not pleased with it whatsoever,” he said. “Haven’t really had this issue for five years that I’ve been together with this staff, but I’ve made it very, very clear that those things are going to change moving forward.”
Tackling trouble: The defense bears a heavy burden every week keeping the team in games while the offense struggles. Still, there’s no overlooking the poor tackling that has cost PSU time and again, and it was very evident in Saturday’s 28-16 loss to Michigan. “We’re playing talented teams with talented people, and if you’re not in the right position, don’t have the right leverage, they’re going to make you miss,” Franklin said. Another issue is that everyone needs to be running toward the ball – which apparently hasn’t been happening for some reason – as Franklin said that will help stop big gains even if someone breaks a tackle.
Respect for Sparty: Franklin said of Michigan State, “You could make an argument maybe the top program in the conference right now – No. 6 team in the country on the road, a team that finds a way to win (at Ohio State). You look at their Michigan win this year (on a late TD return of a fumbled punt), you look at their Ohio State win on the road, they’ve got a culture of winning that they’ve established now.”
Positives in program: Always one to focus on the positives, Franklin made sure to point them out even in the midst of a lot of criticism about how this season has unfolded. “There’s a lot of positives right now in our program,” he said. “You’ve got to look for them, but there’s a lot of positives in the program. Our guys are doing great in the classroom. They’re representing themselves in the community really well. We were able to go visit some people (for community service) and make a difference in people’s lives.”
– Compiled by Cory Giger