Nittany Lion tailback out for season
Following are the highlights of James Franklin’s Tuesday press conference:
Saturday’s game: Vs. Ohio State, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Main storyline: Just as last week brought disclosure that starting running back Journey Brown was sidelined indefinitely with an undisclosed medical condition, Franklin opened Tuesday’s presser by confirming that sophomore running back Noah Cain, who started last week’s game at Indiana, is out for the year. Cain hurt his ankle on the Nittany Lions’ first series and did not return. He watched the second half on crutches. Franklin: “So much respect for Noah. He worked really hard for the opportunity.”
Next men up: Devyn Ford, who carried 20 times for 69 yards and a touchdown against the Hoosiers, will become the starter. “There’s a difference between rotating with three-four backs and then being the guy,” Franklin said. “You have to change your mentality, and I think he’ll grow into that.”
Youth movement: True freshmen Keyvone Lee, who carried six times for 35 yards at Indiana, and Caziah Holmes (5-16) have become the backup RBs. Franklin: “When we started, those guys were fourth and fifth on the depth chart. Now they’re in prominent roles. We thought we’d have time for them to gain experience.”
Obligatory lookback: Franklin admitted the stunning 36-35 overtime loss to the Hoosiers stung, but the squad pulled together during its Sunday meeting. “On Saturday night and Sunday, everyone’s hurting,” he said. “But I think our staff and our captains led on Sunday, and we were able to move on.” He has said in the past that the team — and he in particular — have had trouble bouncing backs from losses, sometimes losing a second straight game, but added, “I think we’re doing a better job of that.”
Impressed with Buckeyes: Franklin called Saturday night’s matchup with No. 3 Ohio State “a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity.” Heisman Trophy candidate Justin Fields, a former PSU verbal commitment, was the centerpiece of the Buckeyes’ 52-17 win over Nebraska last week, which Franklin figures will force the Lions to step it up on offense. “We have to create more explosion plays,” he said, adding he was generally satisfied with the Nits’ defensive performance against the Hoosiers, save their late game-tying TD drive. “That’s as good as we’ve defended Indiana the last couple years.”
Tip of the game plan: Franklin hinted that the Lions will need to keep Fields and his talented wideouts off the field by controlling the ball. “There are times when everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to run and you have to be able to run.”
Complete effort sought: Thought he’s 1-5 against OSU, most of the games have been close, including a pair of one-point losses in 2017-18. “We’ve won late, and we’ve had early leads,” he said. “You have to do both.”
Flag day: Penn State was penalized 10 times for 100 yards at IU. Franklin noted in his six seasons, the Lions have averaged 4.5 penalties per game. “We played hard, and we played with passion, but we didn’t always play smart.” He added that because of COVID-19, PSU – like all teams – are bringing officials to practice less than in the past.
Coaching transition: Much was made about Ford’s late-game TD with 1:42 left that extended the PSU lead to 28-20 but gave Indiana time to tie the game, which it did. Franklin said after the game that the plan was for Ford “to get what he could and get down” without scoring. That situation, coupled with a delay of game involving backup quarterback Will Levis, was not attributable to new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarracco’s first game, Franklin said, though he acknowledged, “When you have a new staff and some changes, you’re still working through those things. I don’t think those two circumstances played out that way. (But) will we be more comfortable in how Kirk calls the game in game two? Yeah.”
Minus Luketa: Franklin called the loss of linebacker Jesse Luketa for the first half Saturday because he was ejected for targeting last week “significant.” He favors player safety, but also thinks the targeting penalties are getting excessive. “There are players being ejected who are clearly trying to make contact with their shoulders.”
On the COVID front: Franklin and his staff all wore masks high up on their nose and covering their entire face throughout last week’s game. “I wanted to make sure our staff would be an example,” he said, adding he sees other coaches with their masks pulled down. PSU had a player falsely test positive Saturday so he couldn’t play. Franklin didn’t name him.
— Neil Rudel