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Nittany Lions used to their countdown clock

Following are the highlights of James Franklin’s Tuesday press conference:

Saturday’s game: At Wisconsin, noon (FOX)

Main storyline: While Penn State’s season opener at Wisconsin is days away, the countdown clock inside the Nittany Lion’s practice facility has been running for quite some time. Franklin said that putting up a countdown clock before game week is unusual for the program, but the importance of starting the season off with Big Ten heavyweight Wisconsin in a crucial year for the Lions program was more than enough to flip the script. “Having Wisconsin as an opening game is different than the way college football normally starts out,” Franklin said, pointing to non-conference play early in the season. “I think that that was a big motivator and driver for us all offseason. We don’t typically put a countdown clock of our first game; we do that when we transition to our first opponent, but we thought it was important to put that up in our facility all summer and throughout training camp. Every meeting would end with the slide with how many days we had left and here we are in game week.”

That’s hard: Wisconsin will be Penn State’s toughest opening opponent to kickoff a season in at least 10 years, and 2021 will be the team’s second-straight year it begins Big Ten play in Week 1. Franklin believes his team has put in the work to be ready to play in a hostile environment at Camp Randall Stadium. “We try to put as much pressure on our guys as we can at practice. We just try to do the best we can to get everybody prepared but you don’t ever truly know until you step out into that environment,” Franklin said. “All you can do is do everything you can to be as thorough and as detailed as you can and talk about what it’s going to be like and show them that and build confidence.”

On the offense: Throughout the offseason, the development of Sean Clifford under quarterback guru Mike Yurcich — the Lions’ third offensive coordinator in as many years — has been a huge storyline and will undoubtedly play a big factor in how successful Penn State’s 2021 season is. Franklin gushed about the work that Yurcich has put in with the Nittany Lions offensive unit that features a ton of depth at running back and has a veteran presence under center in Clifford. Franklin believes the duo has meshed well in their preparation. “One of the things that is most impressive about Sean is how he prepares and where he is from a football IQ standpoint in understanding protections and what we need to do to solve problems and he works at it,” Franklin said. “Mike (Yurcich) has been different and in a lot of ways, it has been good for Sean. Mike is aggressive in how he coaches and that is important and on Saturday, you are going to see that. You have to pick and choose your spots, but he does a good job of that.”

Got a roster?: It’s no secret that there has always been some gamesmanship in college football when it comes to injuries to players with the philosophy being rooted in not giving your opponent any type of advantage. This year, that sentiment has spread to depth charts, as Franklin mentioned that other schools in the Big Ten have not been releasing depth charts, so the Nittany Lions aren’t going to, either. Franklin said that he’s not opposed to releasing the information but noted that if other teams aren’t going to do them, he’s not going to save opponents time in handing them a two-deep. Franklin’s biggest point was in consistency across the board. He also joked when asked a question specifically about the depth chart at the running back position. “We’ve always released a depth chart and I don’t really have a strong opinion either way. There have been a number of schools in the conference that haven’t been releasing them for a number of years,” Franklin said. “Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Purdue either weren’t releasing them, or were thinking of not releasing them. It didn’t make sense for us to do it if others don’t.”

Friendly competition: Competition throughout practice has been ramping up in preparation for the Badgers and the offense and defense have been engaged in some spirited battles that has gone all the way up to the coordinators, according to Franklin. Competition and pushups have been common as Yurcich’s offense has been pitted against defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s defense. “In practice we try to make it as competitive as we possibly can and a certain drill will be for pushups and the losing group will do them,” Franklin said. “We breed that into our practices as well. Coaches will sometimes be doing pushups without the players, but they are included with the players. It’s fun, and I think it brings out the best in you.”

— Compiled by William Whisler, Lewistown Sentinel

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