Penn State's James Franklin Talks Michigan: 'We Have To Find A Way To Win'
The Michigan Wolverines' matchup with Penn State on Thanksgiving weekend isn't what most expected preseason, with the Maize and Blue off to a 2-3 start and the Nittany Lions at 0-5, the worst start in program history.
At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Penn State head coach James Franklin was asked if he still has the team's focus after a putrid start, and he insisted he hasn't lost his squad.
"I look at how we’ve been practicing, I look at us late in games and obviously there’s disappointment and frustration, but I see how our guys are in the locker room after the game, I see how our guys are in practice and I see how our guys have competed late in games," Franklin said.
While U-M won a thrilling, triple-overtime game over Rutgers last week, Penn State most recently lost to Iowa, 41-21. In the loss, Franklin's crew turned it over four times, including two interceptions by redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford has been rotating over the last two weeks with redshirt sophomore signal-caller Will Levis, who fumbled twice against the Hawkeyes.
"We have to take care of the football, and that is going to be emphasized all week long going into our Michigan game," Franklin said.
Despite the Wolverines also being off to a rough start to the season, Franklin pointed out how difficult it will be to go into The Big House — even without fans — and come away victorious.
"Obviously, [U-M head] Coach [Jim] Harbaugh and the University of Michigan football program, going to be a tremendous challenge," Franklin said. "I think the home team has won the last four games [in the series].
"If you look at the all-time record at Michigan Stadium since joining the Big Ten, I think we’re 3-8, so we want to really find a way to swing that in our direction and find a way to get a win on the road at Michigan this year, which has been very challenging for us."
Franklin has a high level of familiarity with both U-M's offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and defensive coordinator Don Brown, which adds an interesting subplot to Saturday's tilt.
"Obviously, we know these people very well," Franklin said. "Josh Gattis is their offensive coordinator. Josh was with me for a number of years at both Vanderbilt and Penn State. That’ll be a challenge.
"Don Brown, I’ve known for a long time. Don was the defensive coordinator while I was the offensive coordinator at the University of Maryland. Don was the defensive coordinator at UConn when I was the head coach at Vanderbilt and we played them. And then obviously since he’s joined the Big Ten, he’s done a really good job statistically since he’s been there."
Slowing down U-M's personnel is also something Franklin stressed this week, saying that his team has its hands full in trying to contain several of the Wolverines' top weapons in all three phases.
"They have a dynamic returner in [sophomore receiver] Giles Jackson, which is going to be something where we have to find a way to limit his impact in the game," the coach noted. "On defense, the guys that stand out to you are [sophomore safety] Daxton Hill, [redshirt sophomore linebacker] Cameron McGrone and [fifth-year senior defensive lineman] Carlo Kemp.
"Offensively, they’ve got a number of guys — Giles Jackson, [junior wide receiver] Ronnie Bell, [sophomore wideout] Cornelius Johnson and then [redshirt sophomore running back] Hassan Haskins — that we have to be aware of. They run a very, very multiple scheme, always have. And they’ve obviously become a lot more multiple here recently, with Coach Gattis coming. It’ll be challenging."
From a Penn State standpoint, Franklin shot down the notion that he will rotate more players in the game to try to develop younger guys for the future, remaining adamant that the No. 1 goal is to beat U-M this week while still admitting that injuries have made the Nittany Lions thinner than anticipated at certain positions.
The latest blow for Penn State came last week when junior and star tight end Pat Freiermuth suffered a season-ending injury.
"We've got to do whatever we've got to do to beat Michigan," Franklin said. "I think that has got to be our focus. We have to get better today, and we have to find a way to win on Saturday.
"Obviously, based on a lot of different factors, there's going to be more guys that get to play, some of that out of necessity. But it's all about getting better today and all about what we have to do to beat Michigan."
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