Simpson draws rave reviews

A capsule look at James Franklin’s weekly news conference:

About the Panthers: Needed OT to beat FCS opponent Youngstown State, 28-21, last week. … Allowed 311 yards passing and 418 total yards in that game. … Lost last year’s starting RB James Conner and QB Nathan Peterman to NFL. … New starting QB Max Browne spent three years at USC before transferring. He was the Trojans’ starter to begin last season but was benched after three games in favor of Sam Darnold, who led USC to the Rose Bowl and a win over PSU. … RB Qadree Ollison had 22 carries for 91 yards last week, while WR Quadree Henderson had nine carries for 77 yards.

High praise for Simpson: Hollidaysburg Area High School product Zach Simpson played on offense for the first time in his career Saturday as PSU’s backup center. Franklin gushed over Simpson when asked about him Tuesday. “I’m a huge fan of Zach Simpson,” Franklin said. “He’s a guy that showed up here with very little fanfare. All he’s done since the day he’s got here is put his nose down and got to work academically, athletically. He’s one of those guys that earned everybody’s respect very early on with that approach. You know, I’ll never forget (former D-tackle) Anthony Zettel all the time talking about him saying, that guy is going to play here, that guy is going to end up being a good player here, (Austin Johnson), all those guys. Just the way he battled. So he’s got a bright future. We’re very, very glad he’s here.”

Why did Barkley return kickoff?: It raised a lot of eyebrows Saturday when PSU used Saquon Barkley to return the second-half kickoff with the Lions up 35-0. There’s no doubt PSU is going to try and get Barkley some extra stats when possible for the Heisman race, but that situation seemed risky to some. Not to Franklin. “Barkley, we had it scheduled that he was going to return the first kick of the game,” the coach said. “That’s what we had decided to do. We didn’t get a first kick of the game until the second half. I know everybody keeps talking about that they felt like the game was in hand. Well, if anybody watched college football this weekend, I don’t know if you necessarily could say that. I’m very comfortable with that, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Pitt presents challenges: Like we saw last season, when the Panthers ran for 341 yards on PSU’s defense, Pitt does some different things in its ground game that are tough to stop. “Very challenging offense,” Franklin said. “Probably more similar to a Stanford, Michigan State style of offense. Multiple personnel groups, multiple formations, unbalanced, shifts, motions, trades. I think that’s something that we’re going to spend a lot of time working on this week defensively, base 4-3 defense.”

Qadree or Quadree?: It’s not a very common name, but Pitt has two offensive players with the same name, just spelled differently, RB Qadree Ollison and WR Quadree Henderson. It’s Henderson, who gained 77 yards on nine carries last week, who is a big concern to Franklin. “Quadree Henderson, in my opinion, is the issue in the game,” Franklin said. “He’s the guy you go into the game and you say, who’s the guy that can be a game changer or a game wrecker, however you want to describe it. He’s that guy. So we have to have a plan for him to try to limit the impact that he’ll have in this game.”

Long and short of it: Franklin’s press conference had to be the longest of his PSU tenure for a Tuesday, lasting about 50 minutes. He had a lot of long answers.

— Compiled by Cory Giger

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