Franklin solving Penn State’s riddles in bye week
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State coach James Franklin is spending the season’s second October bye week by tempering the team’s disappointment with back-to-back losses and dealing with ongoing offensive issues.
The Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) are idle until an Oct. 25 home night game against No. 13 Ohio State (4-1, 1-0). Franklin knows there is plenty to do between now and then, and the problems he must solve are familiar — boosting the defense and finding better field position.
Penn State scored on its first three possessions against Michigan on Saturday and built a 13-7 lead, but the Lions were shut out in the second half as Michigan turned up the defensive pressure and scored 11 unanswered points for an 18-13 victory.
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg was sacked six times — upping his season total to 20 — and the offense produced just 54 yards rushing and 160 passing.
″(Christian) is like a lot of us, he’s a competitor,” Franklin said. “He wants us to play well and he wants us to win. He’s frustrated, and we’re all looking at ourselves at things that we can do better.”
Michigan was better in the second half, Franklin said, not because of schematic changes but from being more successful on defense.
“They were able to stop the run more consistently in the second half and able to pressure our quarterback,” Franklin said. “Those are things we’ve been dealing with all year long.”
Franklin also cited field position as a game-changer, saying the difference between Penn State and Michigan “was dramatic.” Punter Chris Gulla averaged just 33.4 yards on five kicks, and Penn State is ranked last in the Big Ten in punting with an average of 35.9 yards per punt.
Franklin spoke positively about the team’s mental state and the program’s future but admitted the losses can exact a toll.
“We have challenges and things that we need to get better at, but I think the coaches and the players are as optimistic and as positive about this season and our future as we’ve ever been,” Franklin said. “We’re disappointed in the last two weeks and there are areas we need to improve and that we can play better at.”
Those areas include more than offense, Franklin said.
“We have to play faster, we’re not playing as fast as we can right now,” he said. “And aggressively. That’s really all three phases. I think special teams and offense are what everybody’s focused on right now, but I think in all three phases we can play faster and more aggressive. Being able to consistently run the ball on offense and being able to consistently protect our quarterback is probably our biggest challenge right now.”
Right now, he believes, a bye week can’t hurt.
“Any program enjoys a week off. There are so many benefits. There are so many factors that go into it,” Franklin said.