Franklin: ‘Tells’ com­mon, but hardly ham­per­ing Nit­tany Lions’ of­fense

The Citizens' Voice - - Sports - BY DON­NIE COLLINS STAFF WRITER

Penn State’s na­tional cham­pi­onship dreams col­lapsed with two road losses by four points to two of the bet­ter teams in the Big Ten in re­cent weeks, and the big ques­tion around the pro­gram the last few days is whether the Nit­tany Lions were help­ing op­po­nents find a way to hand them those two losses.

For­mer col­lege foot­ball great and NFL star turned ra­dio per­son­al­ity Jonathan Vilma brought the is­sue to the fore­front late last week, when he sug­gested on a na­tional ra­dio show that he no­ticed ten­den­cies with Penn State’s of­fense that could have led to its late col­lapses in losses to Ohio State and Michi­gan State.

“I can say that about ev­ery of­fense in the coun­try,” head coach James Franklin said Tues­day dur­ing his weekly news con­fer­ence. “There are tells. That’s what our de­fense does. That’s what our of­fense does. Are there some things that we can do bet­ter? Yes. No doubt about it.”

While guest co-host­ing ESPN Ra­dio’s The Rus­sillo Show on Fri­day, Vilma said he no­ticed sev­eral weeks ago — and with­held his com­ments while the Nit­tany Lions were still firmly in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off dis­cus­sion — “some tells” with the way the of­fense lined up.

Most no­tably, he in­sisted that he could tell whether Penn State was go­ing to run the ball or throw it based on the stance of one of the of­fen­sive tack­les.

“It was par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able when he started get­ting tired,” Vilma said of the tackle. “As all line­men do, they get tired. He would then start to re­ally lean in on his runs and sit back on his passes. And I said, ‘Wow, I could call run-pass this whole game. Run-pass, run­pass.’ I was right.”

Vilma also sug­gested what Franklin ad­mit­ted af­ter the Nit­tany Lions’ 35-6 win over Rut­gers, that de­fenses were able to ei­ther force Penn State into a cer­tain play call or shut down a run­ning play based solely on where run­ning back Saquon Barkley aligned him­self in the back­field in re­la­tion to op­pos­ing de­fen­sive tack­les.

Franklin didn’t nec­es­sar­ily dis­agree with Vilma’s as­sess­ment, say­ing that the most im­por­tant thing for Penn State is not elim­i­nat­ing all tells, but more con­sis­tently win­ning one-onone bat­tles, sus­tain­ing blocks along the of­fen­sive line and fig­ur­ing out ways to dis­guise ten­den­cies. They did that Satur­day, he said, with the pis­tol for­ma­tion and more mo­tion­ing of Barkley into and out of the back­field.

“But, I’d also say this: If the tells were so ob­vi­ous, I still think we’re av­er­ag­ing, I think, 31 points a game,” Franklin pointed out. “If everybody knew what we were do­ing on most of our plays, I would think we’d be scor­ing a lot less than that.”

Sus­pen­sion stands

Franklin con­firmed Tues­day that line­backer Manny Bowen, who missed last Satur­day’s win over Rut­gers due to a vi­o­la­tion of team rules, will not play Satur­day against Ne­braska at Beaver Sta­dium ei­ther.

It re­mains to be seen whether Bowen’s sus­pen­sion will last past this week­end’s game, and Franklin re­mained vague when asked about the sub­ject.

“Bowen’s not avail­able right now,” Franklin said.

The sus­pen­sion is the sec­ond the ju­nior has been given dur­ing his Penn State ca­reer. He also missed the Rose Bowl loss to USC in Jan­uary due to a vi­o­la­tion of team rules.

Bowen cur­rently ranks third on the Nit­tany Lions de­fense with 51 tack­les, and his four quar­ter­back hur­ries are tied for sec­ond on the team be­hind de­fen­sive end Sha­reef Miller’s eight.

Phys­i­cal key?

Most of Tues­day’s news con­fer­ence cen­tered on the play of the of­fen­sive line and how to im­prove the unit’s phys­i­cal­ity, a facet Franklin noted with a bit of a shrug.

He said there were no lineup changes com­ing against Ne­braska, and he added that he con­tin­ued to hope some in­jured play­ers could re­turn sooner rather than later, a sign that of­fen­sive tackle Ryan Bates could be inch­ing closer to a re­turn. He stressed Penn State needs to stay the course with its starters and con­tinue to stress the im­por­tance of both de­vel­op­ment of the young­sters and the learn­ing process that goes along with play­ing con­fi­dently.

“It’s youth, I think it’s ex­pe­ri­ence, and I think it’s men­tal­ity,” Franklin said. “I think the thing that’s ex­cit­ing to me is, I think Will Fries has a chance to be a re­ally, re­ally phys­i­cal, in­tim­i­dat­ing of­fen­sive line­man. Steven Gon­za­lez has the abil­ity to do that. Con­nor McGovern has the abil­ity to do that. Bren­dan Ma­hon has the abil­ity to do that. And so does Chasz Wright. We’ve just got to get them play­ing con­sis­tently with that type of con­fi­dence and that type of men­tal­ity.”

In that re­gard, the play of the lone vet­eran up front might hold more im­por­tance at this point.

Franklin said he plans to have a chat this week with Ma­hon, hop­ing the se­nior can set an ex­am­ple of phys­i­cal play for the fresh­man, two sopho­mores and ju­nior that are likely to join him as starters against the Corn­huskers.

“Ma­hon has got the abil­ity to be one of the most phys­i­cal of­fen­sive line­men in the coun­try,” Franklin said. “He’s an older guy. I think when he does it, the rest will fol­low.

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