Penn State’s James Franklin talks OL struggles, the challenges of a big recruiting weekend, more as Michigan nears

Penn State head coach James Franklin during practice on Sept. 27, 2017.Joe Hermitt |

Penn States James Franklin is happy with how his team has practiced so far this week, knows that his offensive line can be better, and is ready for this weekend’s visit from No. 19 Michigan.

Those were the highlights of the fourth-year head coach’s chat with the media on Wednesday after practice, his last, besides a radio show appearance on Thursday, before the Lions host the Wolverines at 7:30 p.m. inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

"Today just being out here not watching the film yet, I was really pleased with how we practiced," Franklin said, and that is typically the case following midweek drills.

"I like where we’re at right now. We have to finish the week off the right way, but right now, I like where we’re at."

It should be a comforting tone for those who worry about how the atmosphere of practice is the week of a big game; this group is generally pretty lighthearted and not wound tight before no matter the opponent, and that seems to be the case this week.

Many fans, on the other hand, are high-strung about the offensive line, the second-most in the Big Ten with 16 through six games. Franklin has been pretty adamant about not expecting any big changes personnel wise, but did hint at some other potential surprises coming out of the bye with a need to battle a very talented Michigan defense.

"Obviously whenever we give up more sacks in a game then we get, we didn’t meet one of our objectives, so there’s no doubt about it," Franklin said. "That’s been a conversation for the early part of the season We have to run the ball better and have to protect better, consistently. I think there are some things that we are doing this week that will help with that."

Will Fries was listed as the starting right tackle, but Franklin said that Chasz Wright will play as well. No other situational rotations are otherwise expected across a group that has seen Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Connor McGovern, and Brendan Mahon start consistently from left tackle to right guard in Big Ten play.

"It’s not as simple as one thing," Franklin added.

"It’s a combination of factors that go into it, but I see us improving. There’s some things we are going to do scheme-wise to help out with that as well. The game of football is won and lost up front."

Finally, Penn State hopes to win this one at scrimmage and across the board, of course, and it also wants to win in the stands, where upward of 100 recruits are expected.

Unsurprisingly, that big a crowd, along with a game of such magnitude, means the coaches are pulling double duty, though.

"It’s a organizational nightmare, because you don’t want to say no to anybody, but how do you make sure that all these kids that come have a good experience?" Franklin asked.

He can only hope for the best, on the field and in recruiting circles, as his Lions look to improve their record to 7-0 this weekend.

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