Photos by Kathy Reed and Tim Weight
By Josh Yoder
UNIVERSITY PARK – WE ARE getting ever so closer to the upcoming Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions are coming into the 2022 season looking for improvement after going (7-6) overall and (4-5) in the Big Ten a season ago. But nonetheless, Head Coach James Franklin is eager to get to work.
“Been pleased with camp so far, its gone well. Mannie has done a really good job coming in and getting adjusted,” Franklin said. “Obviously the time that we spent at the retreat kinda going through things, how we operate, not only from a daily schedule but also from a philosophical prospective that has been helpful.”
“Obviously year two with coach Yurcich has been helpful as well. Continuing to build in the area of special teams with Coach Stacy, been pleased with all those things,” Franklin continued. “Like I said at media day, I think we have more depth than we had for the last two years for a number of different reasons but overall, I’m pleased. Appreciate everyone coming and covering Penn State Football.”
One of the main focuses during the press conference were questions on the offensive side of the ball as in the Big Ten, Penn State struggled offensively throughout the 2021 campaign finishing ninth in the conference in scoring offense. But the Nittany Lions were not in the top fifty in the nation.
A large part of that were the struggles to move the ball on the ground and issues from the offensive line. Which coach Franklin did not shy away from and assures that he and his coaching staff are looking at every single detail.
“On offense, its been the offensive line for a couple years now. So again I’m not going to sit here and pound the table about this is the year,” Franklin said. “Because that hasn’t necessary played out the last couple years. I’m going to take a more measured approach here and let them and let us prove that to you.”
One of the key figures coming into the season offensively is the return of Parker Washington who is looking to fill in the gap left by former Penn State and now Washington Commander wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
“He’s done a nice job obviously being with Jahan was helpful to him and his development and seeing the things that Jahan did and he has made a number of plays here,” Franklin said. “Great ball skills, great body control, really intelligent guy. I know Sean has a lot of confidence in him and so does coach Yurcich and myself as well. I think he’s going to have a big year for us.”
Now on the flip side of things, Penn State was tied for third place along with Minnesota in the Big Ten in scoring defense. The Nittany Lions along with the Golden Gophers were again tied for sixth in scoring defense for the entire nation.
However, that was under defensive coordinator Brent Pry who is now the head coach of Virginia Tech. But joining the staff this season will be Manny Diaz who was just coming off a stint of being the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. When asked about differences between the two, Coach Franklin did not see that big of a difference.
“I think its more subtle and again that’s why we went in that direction,” Franklin said. “At the end of the day we’re going to hire the best defensive coordinator out that we possibly could. But being able to find someone who is from a similar background, similar is philosophies is helpful. You just don’t want to start over.”
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One of the things that Coach Diaz emphasized on was continuing the great tradition of solid Penn State defense and is looking to be the defense through the secondary.
“One thing that’s made Penn State great defensively through the years is limiting big plays,” Diaz said. “Make people drive the field and then being really good in the red zone, all of these things require you to be strong in the secondary.”
But Coach Diaz doesn’t just believe in forcing turnovers, he wants his defense to be able to get offenses in those situations to help create the turnovers. But also wants to see his defense, be aggressive and get after it.
“I think every defense coordinator across the country tries to preach the same thing. I don’t think anybody is saying let’s not get turnovers,” Diaz said. “But you have to do a great job versus the run. You got to create negative because you got to put people in long yard situations.”
“This is a FACT!” Diaz continued. “The most turnovers happen on third down and long because the offense has to put the ball in basically harm’s way.”
The Nittany Lions will open the 2022 season on the road against the Purdue Boilermakers on September 1 at 8 p.m. on Fox. Let’s go State!