Upon further review: Examining Penn State’s 20-14 win vs. Army

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 7 hours ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s offense without freshman running back Saquon Barkley certainly isn’t for the better. In the two games Barkley hasn’t played in – okay so he had one carry against Temple—so the two games where Barkley hasn’t carried the ball at least twice, the offense put up 180 and 264 total yards.

Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) beats Army defensive back Chris Carnegie (14) to make a fingertip catch of a pass from quarterback Christian Hackenberg. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The trio of redshirt freshmen, Mark Allen, Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas shared time in the backfield with Barkley and Akeel Lynch both missing the game due to injury. James Franklin said after the game that the Lions didn’t hold anybody out who could’ve played. Now, whether that’s true or not is anyone’s guess. Franklin continues to keep injuries close to the vest and also said on Tuesday that he thought safety Marcus Allen would play. Allen wasn’t dressed.

As for Barkley, who sported sweats on the sideline, Penn State’s ground game posted 3.2 yards per carry in his absence. The big-play capability was largely gone and it showed.

“The guy has the ability to make guys miss,” Franklin said of Barkley. “We had a few times tonight where we had guys one on one and we weren’t able to do that. … It obviously has a factor in the game.” 

What is different about James Franklin’s role with the offense?

He said after the Temple loss he would be more involved with the offense, which he said meant offering suggestions throughout the week and on game days, but not necessarily calling plays. With the offense posting 264 total yards (they entered the game averaging 345.5, which was 110 of 127 FBS teams) Franklin reiterated that the offense simply needs to do better.

“He’s always kind of been with the offense, always on the offensive side of the ball at practices and stuff like that,” tight end Mike Gesicki said. “As in specifics and play calling I’m not really in on all that kind of stuff so I’m not really sure, but coach Franklin, he’s doing a good job with the offense and coach Donovan, we’re very happy to have him as our OC and definitely as our tight end coach. I love coach Donovan, he’s a great guy, a great mentor for myself and I’m just happy to get this win.”

Said guard Brian Gaia: “He comes to our meetings at least once a week now to make sure certain things he notices, and maybe coach Hand notices as well, are going well. He is another set of eyes that can help out.” 

Said WR Chris Godwin: “He hasn’t really approached anything different. Our offensive coaching staff they do a great job preparing us each and every week and it’s just a matter of us executing at the end of the day.”

Said QB Christian Hackenberg: “I think he’s done a good job. He keeps our mental psyche in check at all times. He does a great job of finding ways to motivate people. People step up and people react well to what he does so I think he plays a major role in terms of getting us mentally prepared to go out and do what we need to do on a consistent basis.”

Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan hasn’t been made available to the media since the team’s media day in early August.

Did you notice…

-Sophomore safety Troy Apke, playing in place of injured starter Marcus Allen, made his first career start.

-RB Mark Allen, filling in for Lynch and Barkley also earned his first start.

-RB Nick Scott scored his first career touchdown on an 11-yard run in the first quarter.

-RB Johnathan Thomas, part of the trio of redshirt freshman backs, recorded his first career carry as the backs rotated by series early in the game.

-TE Mike Gesicki’s 33-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter was the first of his career. Saturday is also Gesicki’s birthday and he said the touchdown was his best gift thus far.

-Senior LB Ben Kline, who came in for the final play of the first half, saw his first game action since the 2013 game at Minnesota. Kline missed last season with an injury and worked his way back, running with the scout team a few weeks ago.

-Penn State missed a shot to catch Army in transition on 3rd and 4 at the Army 23 yard line in the first quarter. The Black Knights were running a 12th player to the sideline but nobody on Penn State’s side could snap the ball, or recognize the need to snap the ball, quickly enough. The play resulted in an incomplete pass intended for Nick Scott and Penn State converted the 4th down to DaeSean Hamilton before Scott capped the drive with his 11-yard touchdown run.

Injuries piling up

Center Angelo Mangiro hobbled to the locker room with his left knee heavily taped during the third quarter. He didn’t return to the field and in his place was reserve center Wendy Laurent. If Mangiro can’t go next week Penn State’s line would be dealt another blow. Left tackle Andrew Nelson has yet to return to the field since the end of the first half against Buffalo.

-Punter Chris Gulla also exited the game after trying to make a tackle in the third quarter and looked shaken up as he tried to get off the field.

-RBs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley didn’t dress and neither did safety Marcus Allen or linebacker Brandon Bell.

Mr. Positive

Questions about Penn State’s offense and offensive coordinator John Donovan sounded to wear on Franklin in his post-game news conference.

Several “we need to do better” remarks were met by Franklin raising his voice at the last question of the day, one about how fans will respond with a six-point victory again Army, a team where Penn State was a heavy favorite.

“I’m worried about making sure our guys go to school, get an education, make great choices I the community and find a way to win games,” Franklin said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We won today. We’re 1-0. We’re 1-0 and we’re going to do everything in our power to be 1-0 next week and I’m going to come in here and I’m going to be positive. I’m going to be positive and I’m not going to go down that road with anybody. Love our players, love our coaches, love our media, love everybody. Love everybody.”

Franklin has come across as overly positive, so much so that it’s been questioned whether or not it’s at times genuine, since his arrival. Players said he’ll raise his voice in practice and such, but overall keeps the tone positive.

“I’m sure he finds his own ways to do it but he really doesn’t show it as much to us,” Hackenberg said of Franklin seemingly never being negative. “There’s times obviously where tensions are high at practice or whatever and he gets into it in the moment like everyone else.”

What’s Franklin like when he’s mad?

“The positive attitude that he brings is really almost 100 percent. It’s like 99.9 percent,” linebacker Jason Cabinda said.

Is it believable?

“Yeah, absolutely,” Cabinda said. 

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4. 

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James Franklin fields questions on PSU's offense, John Donovan and more

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 10 hours ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- James Franklin met with the media following Penn State’s 20-14 victory against Army. Here are some of the highlights on the offense, the offensive coordinator, injuries, fan expectations and more.

Q: Can you evaluate the offense from the start of the season to now?

James Franklin: “Not where we need to be. There’s no doubt about it. Not where we need to be. We’re inconsistent. What’s killing us is penalties. We get ourself in too many long yardage situations. I do think the weather has had a factor in some of that, but that’s not the reason. That’s been a factor, one of many factors. The penalties, we’re not in a position to overcome long yardage situations on third downs and things like that. We did pick one up on a screen and we almost picked up another one obviously handing the ball off on a run play so we got a lot of work to do in that area which is obvious to everybody.” 

The offense is in the bottom 10 in the country now. [Lions entered ranked 110 of 127 FBS teams] What is your evaluation of [offensive coordinator] John Donovan and are you confident him and this offense can get this thing turned around?

Franklin: “Just what I just said. We’ve got a long ways to go. I’m not happy with where we’re at.”

Thoughts on the receivers struggling to get separation against Army:

Franklin: “We gotta be better. We gotta be better in all those areas there’s no doubt about it. I think we’ve got to throw the ball consistently and take more shots to give those guys opportunities, whether they’re getting separation or not I’ll check the film to see that. But you look at Godwin he’s coming down with contested catches and making it with people on his back, so whether you get separation and run away from people, or whether you catch contested catches the most important thing is when you have an opportunity to make a play you make it. It’s great to see Mike Gesicki get involved , we got to continue growing there.”

You said you’d be more involved with the offense after the Temple game. Have you been that involved in the last three games, if not will you be getting more involved for next week’s game?

Franklin: “Yeah, I’ve been more involved. Yes.”

Q: Any of the kids who didn’t play today could they have played with better weather conditions?

A: Franklin: “I think it depends who you talk to. If you talk to the kids, yes. Talk to the trainer, no. They weren’t ready to play this week it wasn’t like we were holding anybody for anything. They weren’t able to go this week so hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to get the guys back. The kids always say that. You ask the guys, ‘You ready to play?’ ‘Oh yeah, I can play coach. I can do it. Talk to the trainer, ‘No, no you can’t.’ We’re always going to put the safeties of our players first to make sure they’re taken care of and we’ve got really sharp, trained professionals that are able to do that.”

Q: This is a big picture-question. After the Temple loss you seemed to have a pretty good feel for maybe how frustrating that might be for the fan base. This was a four-touchdown point spread, expectations from you fan base aren’t 20-14 wins over Army. I know you’re being positive and everything, but what would you tell your fan base after a game like this where weather and injuries aside, you come out and really struggle and almost lose as a four-touchdown favorite?

A: Franklin: “Okay. First of all I have no concerns about point spreads. I couldn’t tell you what they are. I don’t know a coach in the country that does, so I’m going to come in here every single week and be positive even if it kills you guys and you want me to be negative.

I love our players, I love our school, I love our colors, love Penn State, love Happy Valley, love our community. Do we need to get better? Yes. But you guys can ask me every question in the book and try to get me to be negative and I’m not going to do it. I’m not gonna do it. Love our guys, love our staff, love the opportunity that we have here—gotta get better! I know it, you know it, the fans know it.

Point spreads and all those things I don’t even understand them. I lost $20 in Atlantic City when I was like 24 years old after college and I almost threw up. That was the last time I gambled. I couldn’t tell you anything about it.

I’m worried about making sure our guys go to school, get an education, make great choices I the community and find a way to win games. That’s what we’re going to do. We won today. We’re 1-0. We’re 1-0 and we’re going to do everything in our power to be 1-0 next week and I’m going to come in here and I’m going to be positive. I’m going to be positive and I’m not going to go down that road with anybody. Love our players, love our coaches, love our media, love everybody. Love everybody.”

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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Penn State practice notes: In, out and a QB comparison

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Running backs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley were not present at the 10-minute portion of Wednesday’s practice that was open to the media.

Their usual backups, redshirt freshmen Mark Allen and Nick Scott who came in to play in the second half against San Diego State when both Lynch and Barkley were sidelined with injuries, took reps with the offense. James Franklin said last week that players don’t necessarily need to be available in practice all week in order to play, but does that extend to freshmen who are still acclimating to the offense?

“Each situation is unique and different,” Franklin said following Wednesday’s practice. “Obviously if you’re a senior and you’ve played a lot of football and you haven’t practiced much that week you can play. As a freshman it’s much harder to do that.”

Franklin, who keeps injuries close to the vest, said that redshirt freshman running back Johnathan Thomas, who dressed for the first time this season last Saturday, is the team’s No. 3 running back. Franklin then quickly back peddled and said “I probably shouldn’t say No. 3, he’s one of three backs that we plan on evaluating this week and then seeing who is going to give us the best option on Saturday.”

Franklin added that Penn State “still has the opportunity” to maybe get Barkley and Lynch back Saturday for the noon kick against Army. Lynch wasn’t able to put much weight on his left leg as he exited the field Saturday with the help of trainers and Barkley jogged on the sideline after landing awkwardly on his right ankle.

While the offense worked on the near side of the field the defense was on the far side, both starting safeties Marcus Allen and Jordan Lucas were participants. Allen exited Saturday’s game and returned to the sideline with his right arm in a sling. Lucas, the team’s most experienced starter on defense, didn’t dress for the game. Lucas practiced Wednesday with his right shoulder heavily taped.

Left tackle Andrew Nelson who has yet to play since sustaining a knee injury against Buffalo also was not at practice.

Defensive tackle Anthony Zettel was at practice after returning home to Michigan following Saturday’s game for a memorial service for his father who passed away last Friday. Franklin, defensive line coach Sean Spencer and some of Zettel’s closest teammates attended the memorial.

Does Hackenberg have similarities to NFL great Troy Aikman or FXFL QB Josh Freeman?

ESPN NFL Analyst Trent Dilfer said Wednesday on ESPN that QB Christian Hackenberg has similarities to Troy Aikman and that Hackenberg’s situation at Penn State, which Dilfer said “is not a good situation,” is part of the quarterback’s problem this season. Dilfer said scouts and NFL general managers will still drool over the Penn State junior, despite his numbers this season.

“It’s our job to play well,” Franklin said Wednesday when asked about Dilfer’s comments. “We’ve got to play well. … I’m worried about the people in our locker room and the people in our building.”

Is there any quarterback that Hackenberg reminds Franklin of?

“Me having an opinion about a guy I watched on TV 14 times in my life and not at practice every single day or coaching in the locker room it’s hard for me to get into those things,” he said. “Troy Aikman is awesome.”

Franklin then said that Josh Freeman, who he had as a recruit and then as a freshman and as a sophomore at Kansas State, had similar arm strength to Hackenberg. Freeman threw six touchdowns to 15 interceptions as a freshman, completing 51.9 percent of his passes. As a sophomore he threw for 3,353 yards and 18 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, before wrapping up his collegiate career as a junior with 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions, plus another 14 rushing touchdowns.

Freeman was selected in the first round (17th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After bouncing around the league with stints with the Bucs, Vikings, Giants and Dolphins Freeman signed with the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) where he will play this season with the Brooklyn Bolts.

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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Five takeaways from James Franklin's weekly news conference

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- James Franklin addressed Penn State’s rash of injuries Tuesday and said none of the players injured during last week’s game against San Diego State sustained season ending injuries

Franklin said starting safeties Marcus Allen and Jordan Lucas are both expected to play this week. He wouldn’t say when running backs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley would return, but added that it’s “next man up” at all the positions where injuries happened Saturday. 

“Although I don't talk about injuries a whole lot, to be honest with you, this early in the week, even if I wanted to, there is not a whole lot I could tell you,” Franklin said Tuesday. “We didn't know about Jordan Lucas last week until basically Saturday morning. From everything I know this morning, none of them are season-ending injuries. Anticipate getting them all back, whether it's this week or next week, we'll see. We'll see how the week goes, how they heal.”

Franklin said the staff discussed this week whether or not it would need to burn freshman safety Ayron Monroe’s redshirt, but added that Monroe is still in the yellow category, meaning he may or may not see the field this year. 

Franklin always keeps the injuries close to the vest to read into this however you like. Left tackle Andrew Nelson has yet to play in the last 2 1/2 games because of a knee injury and remains week to week and has his knee in a bulky brace. The media will catch the last 10 minutes of practice on Wednesday as usual so we’ll see if any of the injured players, defensive end Evan Schwan included, are at practice. 

2. Will Juwan Johnson play this year?

Franklin said back in August that the freshman wide receiver was one of four players given the green light to burn his redshirt this year. The 6-foot-4 freshman has yet to play in a game and Franklin said Johnson is now back in the yellow category, so like safety Ayron Monroe, Johnson may or may not burn his redshirt this year. 

Franklin said the depth at wide receiver has made it easier to keep Johnson off the field thus far. 

“If you're going to play a guy, you'd like to play him earlier. If you're committed to playing him all year, within the first four games,” Franklin said. “But, again, based on injuries and things like that, you could be forced.”

3. Tackling isn’t up to par

James Franklin mentions this one seemingly every week and said specifically Tuesday that the safeties need to tackle batter. While he said Malik Golden and Troy Apke -- filling in for starters Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen-- had solid performances to build off of, taking better angles and having fundamentally sound tackling will continue to be emphasized in practice this week. 

“The challenge as a safety is you have to be the last line of defense when it comes to passes,” he said. “But then you also have to defend the run. With these option teams you have to be even more disciplined than ever because they will, they will take a shot when you're overcommitted to stopping the run.”

It’s raining in State College Tuesday afternoon and given the weather forecast the rest of the week the Lions likely will spend some practice time indoors this week where they can expect to have a healthy dose of tag offs, meaning they’ll put themselves in an athletic position to make a tackle without actually leveling their teammate. 

4. Gesicki needs to continue being more physical

Franklin’s sophomore tight end continues making the transition to the position after playing wide receiver in high school. Mike Gesicki was flagged for a low block Saturday and Franklin said he “got after” Gesicki at one point during the San Diego State game, urging him to be more physical. 

Gesicki dropped two passes on one series earlier this season and continuing to turn the Lions’ gifted athlete into an all-around player takes time. Franklin said Gesicki is embracing the physicality of the position, and thus the blocking too, much better than he did last year when he played as a true freshman. 

“When I actually went back and watched the tape, overall I thought he played more physical and is embracing that role much more than he did last year,” he said.

5. Last shot for the backup QB to get game reps?

Saturday is Penn State’s last non-conference game and while getting backup quarterback Trace McSorley reps was a focal point for non-conference play the Lions usually weren’t in a position where they had a large enough lead to let McSorley see the field. The redshirt freshman did enter late in the game in mop-up duty against Rutgers but did not attempt a pass. 

“Trace and [freshman] Tommy [Stevens] are both doing extremely well in practice and in their preparation,” Franklin said. “There is a lot of confidence on our team with those guys as well. But, there is no doubt you'd like to get those guys and get them some work in not just non-conference but conference games as long as the situation of the game presents itself.

”We're not really a staff -- some staffs will say no matter what we're going to play the back-up quarterback in one series in the first half and one series in the second half. I don't necessarily believe that, because you're working to try to find a rhythm on offense.“

Bonus: Freshman defensive end Ryan Buchholz, who is slated to redshirt this year, moved inside to defensive tackle last week to help fill some holes on the roster, Franklin said. Thinking longterm, with Anthony Zettel and backup Tarow Barney gone after this season -- and the possibility that redshirt junior Austin Johnson moves on to the NFL --  the Lions have redshirt freshman Antoine White and redshirt sophomore Parker Cothren in the rotation. Freshman Kam Carter is also a defensive tackle, as is freshman Robert Windsor and both are in line to redshirt this season too.  

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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Three key questions facing Penn State

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The biggest takeaway from Penn State’s win against San Diego State comes later this week when the status of several key players who sustained injuries in the game becomes more clear.

James Franklin doesn’t discuss injuries unless they are season ending and the availability of both starting safeties Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen, plus running backs Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley as well as reserve defensive end Evan Schwan are important pieces to Penn State’s season.

So, while Franklin will talk Tuesday for his weekly news conference here are three pressing questions facing the Lions this week as they ready for Saturday’s noon kick at Beaver Stadium against Army:

1. What’s the depth look like at safety?

Malik Golden started in place of senior Jordan Lucas and Troy Apke entered in the first quarter when Marcus Allen went down. Allen reappeared on the sideline with his arm in a sling and ice on his shoulder, certainly not the most promising sign for the Penn State secondary.  Remember when Lucas injured what appeared to be his shoulder two weeks ago and went to the locker room and came back with it heavily wrapped but continued playing? It’s possible Penn State has two safeties with banged up shoulders right now so depth there will be huge.


Allen was talking with freshman safety Ayron Monroe on the sideline between plays and while Monroe didn’t go in and has yet to see any game action this year, it would seem like he’s in jeopardy of burning his redshirt if Allen is out for an extended period of time. Redshirt freshman Koa Farmer moved from safety to linebacker and back to safety within the last year so he could give them some depth behind Golden though Farmer’s limited with experience and was also banged up and didn’t play a few weeks ago due to an injury. Both Farmer and RB Nick Scott are gaining experience on special teams as kick returners, but are they ready for bigger roles if called on?

Monroe had a strong camp and received extra time with the second team because Apke was still banged up early in camp from an offseason injury so we’ll see if the freshman is thrust into any action, even on special teams, in the coming weeks. Remember, Penn State uses starters on special teams so like Apke last year who stepped in and burned his redshirt when Allen was bumped up to a starting role because of Ryan Keiser’s injury, there will be some special teams changes if both safeties, or just Allen, don’t play.

2. Can Mark Allen and Nick Scott carry the load in the run game if needed ?

All of the options behind Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch are freshmen. Mark Allen and Nick Scott got their feet wet in the backfield Saturday and it wasn’t anything special. Now, if Barkley is hobbled does Penn State try and push him to play Saturday against Army, a team the Lions should be able to beat without him? I’d say probably not. While it doesn’t look like this Penn State team will blowout many opponents, having Barkley healthier in a week or two would seem like a better option, depending how significant or insignificant the injury is. We’ll see. By the looks of it and the reaction as he tried to get off the field afterward Lynch’s injury certainly looked worse so we’ll wait and see what happens there.

But, what can the 5-foot-6 Allen and Scott, a special teams standout, do for the offense?

“Mark’s a guy we’re familiar with being he was on the scout team last year,” linebacker Brandon Bell said on Saturday. “Having to face him every week was a nuisance, zig-zagging a lot, but he’s a guy who was very determined after last season to have a role on this team and you could see it all through the winter last year and the summer.

“He’s a tough little guy. He’ll put his shoulder down.”

Allen’s first career reception he turned into a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter. I wrote about Allen a few weeks ago and his role model Darren Sproles, so it might be worth revisiting the story now with Penn State’s run game in question.

Johnathan Thomas, a redshirt freshman who hadn’t dressed the first three games this season due to injury, was in pads on the sideline on Saturday so his availability could help if Barkley and Lynch are out or limited. There’s also freshman running back Andre Robinson who is in line to take a redshirt this season, but I’d be very surprised if they’d end up burning his redshirt at this point.

3. What about the third-down conversions?

The numbers aren’t pretty. Through four games Penn State completed 16-of-55 (29 percent) of third-down conversions, placing the Lions 122 of 127 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. James Franklin said it already several times this season that finding success on first and second downs is important so it’s third down and a manageable distance, but against San Diego State Penn State converted just 4-of-15 third downs.

Penn State’s average distance on third down against San Diego State? 8.67 yards.

How were the Lions on 3rd downs in the previous three games? Not good. Converted 2-of-13 vs. Temple, 6-of-15 against Buffalo and 4-of-12 against Rutgers. How’d PSU get to 4-of-15 against San Diego State?

First quarter (converted 0/2):

  • 3rd and 8 (Hackenberg rush for 3 yards)
  • 3rd and 11 (Hackenberg pass incomplete to DaeSean Hamilton)

Second quarter (converted 3/6):

  • 3rd and goal at the 7 (incomplete pass)
  • 3rd and 6 (Hackenberg pass to Godwin for +7)
  • 3rd and 5 (Hackenberg incomplete to Geno Lewis)
  • 3rd and 8 (Hackenberg incomplete to Chris Godwin)
  • 3rd and 5 (Hackenberg pass complete to DaeSean Hamilton for +7 yards)
  • 3rd and 10 (Hackenberg pass complete to Chris Godwin for +11 yards)

Third quarter (converted 0/3)

  • 3rd and 5 (SDSU pass interference penalty continued the drive)
  • 3rd and 16 (Hackenberg pass complete to DaeSean Hamilton for 4 yards)
  • 3rd and 2 (Brandon Polk rush for 1 yard)
  • 3rd and 10 (Hackenberg sacked for a loss of 6 yards)

Fourth quarter (converted 1/4)

  • 3rd and 10 (Hackenberg pass complete to Mark Allen for 16 yards)
  • 3rd and 6 (Hackenberg pass incomplete to DaeSean Hamilton)
  • 3rd and 17 (Mark Allen rush for 6 yards)
  • 3rd and 9 (Nick Scott, rush for no gain)

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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