Penn State's Franklin promises more balanced offense
Coach James Franklin said he thought Penn State played "the most complete football game" in all three phases going back to last season in Saturday's 28-3 win over Rutgers.
He also promised a more balanced offense "will happen" despite quarterback Christian Hackenberg again passing for fewer than 200 yards, but Franklin said he will not force the issue.
"It's going to evolve," he said of the passing game Tuesday. "We've shown we can do those things in the past. We've got the wide receivers. We've got the tight ends to do it. It's gonna be a gradual thing that we're gonna allow to grow over time."
Penn State rushed for 330 yards against Rutgers, but Hackenberg was just 10 of 19 for 141 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Completing 49.4 percent of his passes, he has yet to exceed 200 yards in any of the three games so far.
Nevertheless, Franklin said, "I am really proud of Christian and how he's handling everything. I think he's doing a great job. ... There's no doubt we want to continue to grow our passing game. We have the ability to do it. We've all seen it in the past."
Franklin said Hackenberg did an excellent job of checking into specific plays designed to counter Rutgers' blitzes. Nearly all "accounted for major runs and touchdown runs," he said.
Saturday, Franklin noted that Hackenberg is "managing the game really well," a statement that drew some attention because it often seems to be a backhanded compliment, at best, the kind not usually applied to a big, strong-armed quarterback who comes out of high school as a five-star recruit, and in his freshman season, throws for nearly 3,000 yards with 20 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions.
Hackenberg seemed unfazed by Franklin's assessment.
"That's the role I've been asked to play and I've don't think that's a bad role at all," he said, adding, "It has a negative connotation at times, but I think it's efficient football for what we need to do to be successful."
Attention-getting: Penn State ranks second in the Big Ten and fourth nationally with 10.3 tackles for loss per game. The Nittany Lions' 4.33 sacks per game ranks second in the conference and third in the nation. But defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, an All-American candidate, has no sacks and 2½ tackles for loss so far.
Last season, after moving from defensive end, Zettel wreaked havoc on opposing offenses with eight sacks and 17 total tackles for loss, but Franklin seemed wholly unconcerned by the numbers.
"There's no doubt he's got people's attention," said Franklin, speaking of opposing offenses. "We go into games doing the same thing. Is there a guy on the team we're playing this week — offensively, defensively or special teams — that we feel like if we're not aware of them or have a plan for them, can they they change the game singlehandedly? And that's, I think, Zettel.
"People make sure they have double teams, and they are chipping him, and they're getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly, all those types of things. So I think that's probably the biggest thing. We love Anthony. Anthony's doing a great job."
One beneficiary is Zettel's running mate at defensive tackle, Austin Johnson, who leads the team with 21 tackles, including 2½ sacks and 5½ tackles for loss.