James Franklin

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No. 10 Penn State swarms No. 17 Iowa, 17-12, to remain undefeated

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A night game in Kinnick stadium is not supposed to be easy for visitors, but No. 10 Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) won their second consecutive night game in Iowa City in three years Saturday night. In a defensive battle, Sean Clifford and a strong display by the Penn State defense held off No. 17 Iowa (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) to remain undefeated. The game was put out of reach with a 17-6 score when Noah Cain took a pitch to the left side of the field for a touchdown. Penn State went on to win 17-12.

This was a tough defensive battle form the start. Clifford had a rough start to the game before he settled in during the second quarter. A.J. Epenesa of Iowa was in his face for much of the night, but the Nittany Lions protected the ball well and went 60 minutes without a turnover. Iowa, on the other hand, could not do the same in a game where possessions came at a premium.

Penn State appeared to take advantage of the first turnover of the game when Clifford connected with tight end Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown over the middle of the Hawkeyes defense late in the third quarter. But a video replay review ultimately overturned the call on the field and marked the ball shy of the end zone. Penn State would still manage to tack on a field goal, but the decision by the replay officials seemed to puzzle many watching the game.

According to David Jones of The Patriot News, the official word in the press box regarding the video replay ruling was it was a judgment call.

Penn State later picked off Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, which setup Cain to give Penn State some much-needed breathing room in the fourth quarter. After not throwing an interception in Iowa’s first four games of the season, Stanley has now thrown four in the last two games as Iowa’s offense continues to struggle against good defenses. They’ll have some time to figure that out before a road trip to Wisconsin in what should be a big game in the Big Ten West, although Iowa is already two games behind the Badgers in the loss column.

Stanley did give Iowa some late life though when he fumbled a snap and recovered for a first down and then tossed a deep ball to Brandon Smith for a remarkable touchdown catch (which was upheld by video review).

Penn State was able to run the clock out after recovering Iowa’s onside kick attempt. Cain picked up some big yardage in crucial situations to help milk the clock as he climbed over 100 rushing yards against a stingy Iowa defense. And in doing so, Penn State secured the first road win against a ranked opponent in the career of James Franklin. Franklin was 0-11 on the road against ranked teams in his career dating back to his time at Vanderbilt, and Penn State was 0-6 in those situations under their head coach.

Penn State will return home for what could be another tough defensive battle. The Nittany Lions host Michigan next weekend in a primetime showdown in front of a whiteout crowd. the game will carry a lot of weight in the Big Ten East as Michigan has already suffered one conference loss and Ohio State is leading the pace in the Big Ten. Iowa will stay home next week for their own division matchup with Purdue.

Pat Narduzzi surprised nobody asks him about James Franklin’s comment about sign stealing

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Earlier this week, Penn State head coach James Franklin noted the Nittany Lions had changed up some of their signals for plays this season because a former player is now on the opposing sideline. That opposing player is John Petrishen, who plays for the Pitt Panthers. No big deal, right? Of course not, but Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi wasn’t about to let that comment go without a response.

While meeting with the media on Thursday, Narduzzi was probably hoping somebody would bring the subject up to him. After nobody did, Narduzzi prompted the discussion himself.

“We haven’t been thieves, I guess,” Narduzzi said. “But usually the people who are paranoid are the people stealing them.”

Before we go any further, let’s just agree that it is perfectly acceptable to steal an opposing team’s signs if it gives your team an advantage. It is on your coaching staff and players to modify any signals the moment you feel they have been figured out by the team on the other side of the field. There is nothing wrong with it, and teams should be doing what they can to steal signals as much as possible. With that out of the way, Narduzzi seems to feel Franklin was suggesting the Panthers would use the intelligence that came from a former Penn State player to their advantage (again, there is nothing wrong with doing that, nor is there anything wrong with trying to counteract that scenario).

Narduzzi made it a point to note Penn State has a former Pitt football staffer on the Penn State staff now (Eric Thatcher).

“I haven’t said anything about [that],” Narduzzi said, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He sat in the defensive meeting rooms for two years. Did you guys know that? Eric Thatcher’s in recruiting, and I’m sure he’s a ball coach this week trying to fill them in on what we do. A 35-year-old guy or a 21-year-old guy that’s been playing one position, I don’t think [Petrishen is] worried about offensive signals or defensive signals. … It’s a funny subject.”

It is a funny subject. It is so ridiculous, there is a reason nobody felt the need to bring it up to Narduzzi, perhaps.

“Our eyes are on our kids,” Narduzzi said. “Signals, I mean, I could have their notebook. If I had their notebook sitting right here, which, maybe I do. I don’t know. I could have their notebook, but that ain’t gonna help me win a football game. I can promise you that. OK? Defensively, your hands are tied. You can’t steal signals. That’s me. Maybe I’m just a dumb defensive coach. OK?”

Well, if that doesn’t open up a can of worms, what will?

Penn State and Pitt resume their petty rivalry this Saturday in Happy Valley. It will be the 100th all time meeting between the two schools and there is no telling when the in-state rivals will meet again with no future dates locked in against each other.

Asked about NFL, James Franklin says he’s in ‘unbelievable situation’ at Penn State

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Penn State head coach James Franklin is no stranger to hearing his name thrown about for a number of various coaching rumors. Despite saying he is comfortable in his current position with the Nittany Lions, Franklin remains a coach he gets his name thrown through the wringer when it comes to figuring out potential candidates for open jobs at other college football programs and in the NFL. This week, in a radio interview in Philadelphia, Franklin once again had to tell a radio host in an NFL city that he is comfortable where he is at Penn State.

“I’ve kind of been through that when I took the Penn State job,” Franklin said to 94 WIP morning show host Angelo Cataldi this week (as transcribed by PennLive.com). “I had four or five interviews in the NFL, one or two that I took, and three or so that I turned down once I took the Penn State job.”

Franklin was on the show to discuss a handful of Penn State players that have been added to the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles. A question about a possible NFL future was sure to pop up though.

“This is an unbelievable situation for me and my family.”

Franklin was hired by Penn State after the program lost its last head coach to a job in the NFL. Bill O’Brien left Penn State after two seasons to coach the Houston Texans. O’Brien had never shied away from suggesting that coaching in the NFL was the highest rung on the coaching ladder and it was expected O’Brien would be somewhat likely to leave for the NFL if the right opportunity came his way. Sure enough, it did and Penn State went looking for a head coach to replace him. That ended up being Franklin, who also has some experience in the NFL.

It is worth a general reminder that college football coaches will tend to say things that suggest they are in a stable position and have no interest in leaving their current position. Any inkling there could be thought about leaving for another job would ultimately harm recruiting efforts, so coaches almost have to say they are happy where they currently sit. But it’s also worth noting Franklin is well-paid at Penn State and there may not be too many jobs he would leave the program to take on.

Who will be the next first-time college football national championship coach?

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On Monday night, Virginia and Texas Tech will battle for the men’s basketball national championship. A victory will clinch the first national championship as a head coach for either Virginia head coach Tony Bennett or Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard. But if you want college basketball coverage, our friends over at College Basketball Talk have you taken care of. Here, we’ll take the football angle and try to determine what college football coach will be the next to win his first national championship.

First, a refresher of the recent history of championship head coaches. Unless you’ve been sleeping under Howard’s Rock, you know the last four national titles have been split evenly by Nick Saban of Alabama and Dabo Swinney of Clemson. Swinney is the most recent coach to win his first national championship, having done so three seasons ago with a victory over Saban’s Crimson Tide in the 2016 season. Before Swinney, the most recent coach to win his first national title was Jimbo Fisher, then at Florida State, in the 2013 season in the final BCS Championship Game before the College Football Playoff took over. Since the 2010 season, the only other coach to win his first national title was Gene Chizik at Auburn, doing so in the 2010 season with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton topping the Oregon Ducks in the BCS Championship Game.

There are certainly some obvious candidates to be the next coach to win his first national title. The conversation likely has to begin with Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma. In his first two seasons as head coach of the Sooners, Riley has taken two Big 12 championship teams into the College Football Playoff with a Heisman Trophy quarterback, although the Sooners have yet to win a playoff game. Each time, Oklahoma was eliminated by the national title runner-up. It doesn’t look as though Oklahoma is going to be slowing down any time soon, although the competition just in the conference may improve and make a playoff run a tad more difficult. Tom Herman at Texas could be the most likely coach out of the Big 12 not named Riley to win his first national title.

There are still some coaches to watch in the SEC as well. Kirby Smart has already taken Georgia to the national title game, where they lost in overtime against Alabama two seasons ago. He will certainly be in the mix to win his first national title. He’s even taken out Riley and Oklahoma! Dan Mullen at Florida could be a coach in the running as well, although there may still be some work to do in Gainesville before Florida can crack the four-team playoff field. Or will the football gods align the fates just right for Ed Orgeron to take LSU the distance?

The ACC is tough to find a coach you can feel has a great shot to be the next coach to win his first national title, especially with Clemson continuing to roll for the foreseeable future. The Pac-12 looks like a difficult spot too considering the quality of play in the conference recently. The thought of Mike Leach being the next to win his first national title is fun to dream about though.

But what about the Big Ten? Ryan Day is taking over as head coach of a playoff-worthy candidate at Ohio State this season. Jim Harbaugh should have another strong Big Ten contender to work with this upcoming season. James Franklin and Penn State have a couple hurdles they need to prove they can clear again before making their case, but all three coaches would certainly be on the radar.

Or, if you dare to do so, do you think there is a Group of Five coach out there ready to make the jump to a power conference program and guide them to a national title in the next few years while Saban and Swinney go another couple of championship rounds? Call your shot in the comment section or on Twitter.

James Franklin says Tommy Stevens to open spring as QB 1 at Penn State, but competition is on

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With Trace McSorley moving on from the Nittany Lions after starting the past three seasons, Penn State head coach James Franklin isn’t quite ready to anoint the next starting quarterback. He did, however, say Tommy Stevens will begin the spring at the top of the depth chart.

“Obviously we’re not in a situation to name a starter really at any position,” Franklin said on Wednesday when addressing the media on signing day, according to Lions 247. “But, yeah, when we start out, you know, you’ve got to put them in order. So Tommy will be No. 1 and [Sean Clifford] will be No. 2 and [Will Levis] will be No. 3 and so forth down the line.”

We probably shouldn’t read too much into this statement, as Franklin is committed to competition at a number of positions beginning this spring. A final decision may not even be made at the end of the spring if the level of play between Stevens and Clifford (and Levis) is fairly even. But somebody has to take the first reps in the spring, and that will fall on Stevens.

This hardly a shocking development in Happy Valley. Stevens had been the primary backup to McSorley each of the past two seasons and he had been projected to be the most likely successor at the position once McSorley graduated. Stevens underwent offseason surgery that left him unavailable for Penn State’s bowl game. As Franklin suggested in December, the timing of the surgery for Stevens was discussed, and it is expected Stevens will be available to participate in spring practices.

Stevens appeared in seven games for Penn State last season, in which he completed eight of 11 pass attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown with an interception. Stevens also carried the football 28 times for 118 yards and two touchdowns and he caught two passes for a total of two yards as he was sparingly used in other positions on the field with McSorley.

Clifford may have the best shot to push Stevens for playing time. The former four-star recruit appeared in four games last season for the Nittany Lions, sometimes entering a game before Stevens was given a chance to play. By appearing in just four games, Clifford can preserve his redshirt year and still has four years of eligibility to use. Clifford could likely be the successor to Stevens if he doesn’t impress enough in the spring to make a case for the starting job right now.