Penn State head coach James Franklin joined reporters Tuesday afternoon for the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference.
Answering questions for 10 minutes, Franklin noted the importance for the program to take advantage of this bye week before returning to action next Saturday night for a 7:30 kick against No. 17 Michigan at Beaver Stadium. Having self-scouted the first half of the season on Sunday and Monday, the first thing Penn State’s coaching staff did coming out of a 31-7 win against Northwestern to improve to 6-0, Franklin said the team will be practicing later today and getting an early jump on preparation for the Wolverines.
A game that will start a string of games with some of the Big Ten East Division’s strongest opponents in Michigan, at Ohio State and at Michigan State in successive weeks, Franklin chuckled at the conference’s schedulers in answering the teleconference’s opening question.
“They love us with that schedule, there’s no doubt,” said Franklin. “Obviously, we did what we needed to do. We got to the bye week in a good situation from a health perspective and a win perspective. We gotta take advantage of the bye this week.”
With that in mind, specifically in the self-scouting department, Franklin was also asked whether or not he and his staff had considered any changes to Penn State’s starting offensive line that has seen Ryan Bates at left tackle, Steven Gonzalez at left guard, Connor McGovern at center, Brendan Mahon at right guard and a combination of Chasz Wright and redshirt freshman Will Fries at right tackle.
Noting the potential challenges that could arise by shifting pieces, Franklin said that the staff has, at least momentarily, committed to the lineup and maintaining of positions that it has had in place through the first six games of the season.
“(Moving Mahon to start at right tackle is) a possibility because he's done it before, but we think really kind of what have right now, the problem is you do that and now you're going to be moving multiple guys,” said Franklin. “So instead of just getting one area resolved, now you may be creating two because whoever is going to go into guard now, whether that's Fries, whoever that may be, Menet, now you got one guy playing a different position and another guy inexperienced at another. Right now, we're going to leave the model that we have.”
Getting set to take on a Michigan program that served up a 49-10 thrashing in Ann Arbor a season ago, a game that set of a string of nine-consecutive wins for the Nittany Lions leading into a thrilling, but ultimately disappointing, 52-49 loss to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl, Franklin was also asked about the impact of the loss that sent Penn State to an early 2-2 record in the 2016 season. Rather than settling on the loss at Michigan as a catalyst for the 15-1 record the program has enjoyed in the time since, though, Franklin said the progress of the Nittany Lions has been something long in the works.
“To be honest with you, I think that's a factor but I think it's been a slow, steady process of building since we got here. I think that loss obviously gave us a shot in the gut and I think everybody took a hard look in the mirror and said, What do we need to do to move forward and to take the steps that we need to take?” Franklin said. “But I think that loss as well as a hundred positive steps in the right direction, kind of everything that came together at the right time, and then we were able to get the win against Minnesota and just kind of keep building.
“So I wouldn't say it's one specific moment, but I think it's a combination of situations and experiences that we've grown over the years and over the seasons to get to this point. And I like where we're at right now. We've got a confident team that's playing well in all three phases. We have a tremendous challenge with Michigan coming in here and the bye week is at a good time and we've gotta take advantage of it.”
Should the Nittany Lions be able to earn a win against the Wolverines, Franklin continued, a plan that fermented over the offseason for the program to reach new heights will continue unabated.
“I think we had a young football team last year and we grew from all those experiences. We had a lot of guys coming back,” he said. “The season ended in a way we didn't want it to end and I think that's a little bit of a motivator, but I do think just having the number of players that we have returning that have played a lot of football for us, I think our guys said Look, we had a nice year last year, but we want more.
“So I think a combination of all those things factored into us having a very focused, very determined offseason to get us to this point where we're headed in the right direction, got a really good locker room, we've got really good chemistry and gained a lot of valuable experience the first six games of the season.”