We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Penn State sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, baseball or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Friday, Sept. 30. Let’s get started.
Barbour endorses Franklin
Thursday was a good-news, bad-news day for Penn State coach James Franklin. Early on, he received a vote of confidence from athletic director Sandy Barbour, as reported by the Altoona Mirror. But much later he fielded a question about Les Miles, LSU’s just-fired coach, during the PSU coaches radio show – telling, since there are no doubt fans who would like to see Miles succeed Franklin someday.
So it goes for a coach who is 16-14 in two-plus seasons, and 0-5 against Ohio State and Michigan. That includes last Saturday’s 49-10 beat-down by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Franklin, hired in January 2014, has done an exceptional job restocking the roster after it was left threadbare as a result of the NCAA sanctions handed down in July 2012 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. But Franklin’s recruiting successes have yet to translate to the field, and that hasn’t set well with certain segments of the fan base.
He pleaded patience during his regular weekly news conference Tuesday, and Barbour supported her coach Thursday, according to the Mirror:
“He’s not on the hot seat, and he’s not going to be on the hot seat in December. James is going to be our football coach. I believe in where this football program is going under James Franklin, and I think he’s going to be our football coach, period.”
But then there was the question about Miles, which led Franklin to respond as follows:
“We’ve gotten to a point in this industry, that, we’ve lost the focus. I don’t know the specifics and the details (of Miles’ firing). College athletics, and football specifically, it is about the winning, and I get that. That’s an important part. But, it’s also about educating our kids, and preparing them for success. I’d have to imagine that Les has done a great job of that as well.”
He said that was what attracted him to Penn State to begin with – the belief that it was possible to win with players who actually attend classes. At the same time, he fully understands that winning remains important, that there’s a reason they keep score every Saturday.
Mike Poorman of Statecollege.com noted that Franklin is 12-14 since winning his first four games at Penn State. That has led the coach to recalibrate, to tone down the rah-rah act he brought to Happy Valley.
As Poorman wrote:
He’s gone from #107k, Twittermania, dominating the state (I know, I know: he meant recruiting), blowing up balloons, taking helicopter rides, eschewing QB Club, doing cartwheels out of bed and never discussing injuries to somewhere much more moderate.
He’s become less like The James From The Previous Institution and more simply, simply CJF. Much less hype, more humble.
Poorman added that the Lions haven’t sunk as low as their fans might have feared, post-Sandusky. But neither has the team’s recovery been as quick as its backers might have hoped:
(Franklin) needs a signature win, an upset, a substantial bone to throw to all the Doubting Thomases in the Lion’s Den. Putting his name on a “W” against Minnesota and then Maryland may be more than big enough. For now, anyway.
Certainly, it would appear that these next two weeks are critical for the success of this team, and maybe Franklin’s long-term future. Beat Minnesota and Maryland at home, and bowl eligibility seems a lot more likely. Lose both, and the season could very well spiral out of control.
Franklin didn’t necessarily agree with that point of view, when asked about it on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches’ conference call:
“I’ve never thought like that, ever, as a coach in this profession, or a player. Our focus is on Minnesota.”
Then there was the take of tight end Mike Gesicki, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning:
“I do agree that you have to take one week at a time, but I also agree that these next two weeks are huge for our program and huge for where the season will take us. I think that we all understand that, and that we all see the big picture.”
Looks cloudy right now, though. Especially for the head coach.
A 258-pound folk hero is born
Perhaps, the foremost indication of how the season has unfolded for the Lions is that one of the better things they have had going for them is the tackling of Joey Julius, their 258-pound kickoff specialist. His jarring shots on Kent State’s Kavious Price and Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis have gone viral, and PSU defensive end Shareef Miller was moved to call Julius “the hardest hitter on the team.”
Miller, speaking to reporters during a news conference Tuesday, was very likely kidding. But Julius has certainly made an impression, as ESPN.com’s Josh Moyer writes, notably on Penn State radio analyst Jack Ham, a Hall of Fame linebacker for both Penn State and the Pittsburgh Steelers:
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I can’t even remember anyone in the pros who took that kind of attitude on kickoffs. I can’t remember anyone who had that kind of feel for it – and he enjoys it.”
At Lower Dauphin High School, not far from Harrisburg, Pa., Julius played soccer as well as football, and was under strict orders to never cover one of his kickoffs, so he might remain healthy enough to do his thing on the pitch.
The shackles are clearly off now, however. As Lower Dauphin coach Rob Klock told Moyer:
“Don’t be surprised if he does it again (i.e., takes out a return man). In high school he was a soccer player, but he was probably more into it than most of the football players who played year-round. I loved him for that. He’s a competitor.”
Wet track awaits
The forecast is for rain Saturday. That could very well favor the Gophers, who in last week’s 31-24 victory over Colorado State saw Rodney Smith run for 99 yards and Shannon Brooks, just back from a foot injury, add 85. The week before Kobe McCrary exploded for 176 on 17 attempts against Indiana State.
Then again, the Lions have Saquon Barkley, a guy accorded an SI.com video feature this week. And he’s overdue for a big one.
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