Saturday Akron’s ‘Super Bowl’
STATE COLLEGE — A capsule look at James Franklin’s weekly news conference.
Opponent: Akron (0-0)
Kickoff: Saturday noon, Beaver Stadium
About the Zips: They’re coached by Terry Bowden, Bobby’s son, who once was head coach at Auburn from 1993-98. … Finished 5-7 last season, dropping their final four games after a 5-3 start. … Picked to finish fourth in the MAC East. … Finished 84th in country in total offense last year (387 yards per game) and 73rd in scoring (27 points per game). … Defense was abysmal. Finished 114th in nation a year ago, allowing 466 yards and 33.6 points per game. … Starting QB Thomas Woodson and RB Van Edwards return. … LB Ulysses Gilbert is team’s best player.
Lions won’t overlook Zips: This is a big money game for Akron and huge opportunity to shock the world. Franklin knows how important it is for his players to not take this opponent lightly. “They are excited. This is their Super Bowl,” the coach said of the Zips. “I’ve been a part of these (big vs. small contests) in the past, and I think our coaches and our players also have seen enough upsets.” Franklin showed he’s done his homework as he rattled off numerous upsets in recent years by MAC teams: “Northwestern last year losing to Western Michigan, Purdue losing to Bowling Green, Maryland losing to Bowl Green, Indiana losing to Bowling Green, Northwestern to Northern Illinois, Purdue to Central Michigan, Purdue to Northern Illinois, Iowa over Northern Illinois, Central Michigan over Iowa, Ball State over Indiana, Ohio over Penn State in 2012. That’s just from 2012 to 2016 MAC teams that have beat Big Ten teams.”
Not the sentimental type: The last time these teams met, it was Franklin’s first home game as Penn State’s coach in 2014. The Lions had beaten UCF in Ireland, then played the Zips at Beaver Stadium. Franklin was asked if he has special memories of that last Akron meeting. “I know it was three years ago. It seems like 10 years ago. It seems like forever ago,” he said. “I’m not a guy that really remembers. I know people that can remember scores of high school games and remember scores of previous seasons and things like that. I’m not really that type of guy. … I remember the emotion of running out through the stadium, through the gates for the first time.”
Pick your poison: RB Saquon Barkley is PSU’s star, and everyone knows it. But QB Trace McSorley had a superb 2016 season, and Franklin was asked how teams will approach facing PSU’s offense. “I still think you have to go into it saying … you try to take their strength away,” he said. “So whether it’s a player or whether it is a style of play, whether it’s running the ball or passing game, you try to make people one-dimensional. I think we go into it every single week; if we’re playing a defense and they have a defensive end that you think is a game-wrecker, you can’t allow that guy to wreck the game. You have to have a plan to limit the impact he’s going to have. … If you had to choose between Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, I think most people are going to say they are going to try to eliminate Saquon Barkley as much as they can and make Trace beat you.”
Third-string QB: True freshman Sean Clifford has apparently beaten out redshirt freshman Jake Zembiec for the third-string quarterback job, based on the depth chart. “Clifford is a guy that we were excited about coming in,” Franklin said. “Probably was much further ahead than we had anticipated mentally. Has really picked this offense up quickly. Asked a lot of questions, is locked in, takes great notes, is right on Coach (Joe) Moorhead and Trace (McSorley’s) and Tommy (Stevens’) hip all the time. … He probably runs better than we anticipated, as well. Shows really good athleticism, and he’s kind of got some of the ‘it’ factor.”
— Compiled by Cory Giger