Neil Rudel on PSU: James Franklin takes aim at Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
STATE COLLEGE — James Franklin has been consistent in always wanting to keep the focus off injuries.
He succeeded Wednesday night.
Franklin only confirms the status of injured players if they’re out for the season. He did so with senior defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher, who was one of several Nittany Lions hurt in last week’s loss at Iowa.
Mustipher was playing “at an elite level,” Franklin said.
The coach shed less light on quarterback Sean Clifford, who was knocked out in the second quarter against Iowa with what appeared to be an upper body injury, perhaps ribs or shoulder.
Clifford may have a chance to play again this season and “is working as hard as he can to get back as soon as he can,” Franklin said while also noting that backups Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux “have been splitting reps” during this week’s open date in preparation for Illinois on Oct. 23.
Clifford was not present for the portion of Wednesday’s session open to the media, but Franklin sounded as if Clifford’s season is not over.
“What he’s dealing with is not uncommon at the quarterback position,” he said. “Nothing’s been decided or determined.”
Franklin was less vague about comments from Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who accused Penn State’s players of faking injuries during the game.
Iowa fans repeatedly booed Penn State players who were injured Saturday, and one of Ferentz’s assistants flopped on the sideline in mocking demonstration.
Franklin criticized the action after the game, but Ferentz piled on during a press conference Tuesday, saying maybe Iowa’s fans “smelled a rat.”
“Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt,” Ferentz said. “But I think probably (the booing) is a reaction to, there were a couple of guys that were down for the count and then were back a play or two later. Our fans aren’t stupid. They’re watching, they know what’s going on.”
The comment enraged Franklin, who read from a prepared rebuttal Wednesday night.
He said several of the injured Lions — Mustipher, Clifford, tailbacks Devyn Ford and John Lovett and safety Jonathan Sutherland — did not come back after their injuries.
Jaquan Brisker and Arnold Ebiketie both went out but are two of the team’s best players.
“From a strategy standpoint, that doesn’t make sense,” Franklin said, his voice rising several times. “Plus our defense was playing lights out.”
Franklin encouraged passionate fan bases, who have flooded social media, to “take your hats off” and look at it rationally.
He said his teams have never been accused of the tactic, not against Iowa or anybody else in his 11-year coaching tenure.
Besides, he said, teams that use the tactic do so to slow down spread offenses that use an up-tempo style, which Iowa doesn’t.
“It was a helluva game in a tough environment,” he said. “I’m not making excuses.”
Franklin said he respects Iowa, its fan base and Ferentz’s tenure, but he believes the lack of sportsmanship tainted the game, and the fallout remains in his craw.
“Put yourselves in the shoes of a parent. Your son is down on the field with the injury … and your stadium is booing him,” he said. “P.J. Mustipher is out for the year with an injury, and we’re booing. Is that good for college football?”
Neil Rudel covers Penn State football and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.