The questions about the collapse against Ohio State, the fourth-and-five, the fourth-and-one, the tackling and the Big Ten title hopes dashed were probably what James Franklin expected Tuesday.
Doesn’t mean he wanted to think about them anyway.
He answered them during his weekly press conference, of course, but he also reminded that Penn State needs to move on.
“Obviously it hurts. It hurts our fans. It hurts our coaches. It hurts our players,” Franklin said of the 27-26 breakdown against Ohio State on Sept. 29. “I think the last thing you want to do is ignore that. You recognize it. You watch the film. You evaluate the film, you make the corrections and you move forward.”
Moving forward means a grudge match Saturday against Michigan State, the team that essentially buried Penn State’s College Football Playoff aspirations last season with a 27-24 win last season at Spartan Stadium.
Franklin focused, as expected, on the Nittany Lions controlling what they can control for the rest of the season, noting that a few upsets last weekend with Penn State enjoying a weekend off still has them in the playoff hunt.
That’s why Franklin said he has been urging players and fans to focus on two things as the Nittany Lions get ready to hit the second half of their schedule.
“No. 1, we’re at a point in our program where we have to fight for every little gain we possibly can find, and it’s not going to be in one specific area,” he said. “Can we improve one percent in nutrition? Can we improve one percent in sleep? Can we improve one percent in scheme? Can we improve one percent in terms of practice, effort and focus, in meetings, in taking notes and all those types of things?
“I think the other thing is ... it’s always got to start with a simple question, and that is: Have we gotten better? I know we did not finish the game the way anybody wants us to finish the game. I get that. But OK, we understand that. We study that. We learn from that. We grow from that. But...we’ve gotten better every single week. If we continue to do that individually and collectively, I think we’ll like where we’re going to be.”
Help off the edge
The bye week afforded the Nittany Lions the opportunity to get healthier, and it looks like they’ll have just about every player they were counting on to produce in the preseason available to them for the first time.
Defensive end Shane Simmons, who missed the first month of the season with an apparent foot injury, will be available for the first time Saturday against the Spartans, with the Nittany Lions hoping to put pressure on the gifted Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who threw for 400 yards against them last season.
“He’s a guy who, this spring and this summer, we were really excited about,” Franklin said of Simmons. “He’s more of a complete player than he’s been in the past. He’s over 250 pounds. He always was a pass rusher, but now we think he’s going to do a really, really good job playing the run, as well.”
Just don’t plan on Simmons being an every-down factor quite yet. Franklin said he expects Simmons can give the Nittany Lions between 10 and 15 high-level plays.
Franklin went into more detail on the decision before the Ohio State game to move backup guard C.J. Thorpe to the defensive line, where he made his debut as a tackle against the Buckeyes.
Bottom line is, the Nittany Lions had “a more urgent, pressing need” at defensive tackle than they had for a prospect to develop at right guard behind starter Connor McGovern. And Franklin added that the coaching staff saw the potential of moving Thorpe a while ago.
“We talked to C.J. this summer about it,” Franklin said. “We have some veteran players who have played a lot of football, and then we kind of have a gap of some young players that haven’t played a whole lot of football [at defensive tackle], and he is a big, strong aggressive, powerful, violent kid with a motor.
“You could see that on offense, and that’s why the offensive coaches weren’t real [happy] about losing him.”
Thorpe is now listed as a third-string tackle behind starter Robert Windsor and redshirt freshman Fred Hansard, but he’s expected to work his way into the rotation on a more regular basis. Still, Franklin said Thorpe’s “greatest long-term potential” remains as an offensive player, and he could be switched back there after the season.