Penn State head coach James Franklin held his first regular season media availability Tuesday afternoon in Beaver Stadium — where he still declined to name a starting quarterback. But with four days to go until the season opener against West Virginia, Franklin did discuss the performance of presumed starter Drew Allar, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich moving up to the coaches’ booth this season and more.
Here are our takeaways from what the Nittany Lion head coach had to say.
No starting quarterback named
Penn State will take the field in four days and right now it seems it will do so without a publicly announced starting quarterback.
Franklin declining to name a starter comes one day after West Virginia head coach Neal Brown declined to name his own starting signal caller. Franklin said he didn’t see an advantage to making a public declaration.
“I think more times than not, we try not to put that information out there ‘cause I don’t necessarily see the value in it,” he said. “For me, the most important thing is the guys in our locker room, whether it’s from a leadership or a chemistry standpoint. We got that. So all the other stuff out there in the universe or in the internet or wherever else, I don’t think that has a huge factor for us, so. That’s why we typically try not to do it.”
While the decision may not be public, it seems clear which direction it is heading. Sophomore quarterback Drew Allar is the frontrunner and has been all summer. He played during his freshman season and played well, giving him the leg up entering the offseason.
Allar is impressing
Allar’s performance from last year has carried into the offseason and now the preseason as he prepares for what will likely be his first career start Saturday night under the bright lights of Beaver Stadium.
Franklin said the sophomore has taken care of business thus far leading up to the game.
“He’s been really, really good. His decision making has been good,” he said. “His completion percentage has been really good. Then another thing that’s really cool is having all this data, then you’re able to go back and compare to historical data. You’re able to compare is to Trace McSorley, to Sean Clifford, so on and so forth. I think there’s a ton of value in that in terms of trying to get an idea of how you are in camp. ... I think what we do defensively, testing protections in terms of pressures and disguising coverages, it’s challenging for a young quarterback. I think all those things have been really valuable, and hopefully will put our QBs in the best position to be successful. But I think Drew has had I would say a good camp, a camp that’s given himself, his coaches and teammates a bunch of confidence.”
One of the most important aspects of his game this year will be his ability to avoid turning the ball over. That can be a common issue for young players — and especially first-time starters — when they’re early in their careers.
While it can typically be a problem, Franklin said it took some time heading into training camp for him to even turn the ball over.
“I want to say that we got to like practice 13 or 14 I think before we had a turnover, an interception, specifically with Drew,” he said. “That’s valuable in terms of evaluating the quarterbacks, especially with the type of defense that we’re going against every single day, then also just the style of defense that we play, not just the personnel but the style of defense we play.”
Allar was used to having his offensive coordinator on the field last season with Mike Yurcich staying on that level in order to communicate with his quarterbacks. That will not be the case this season as Yurcich will now head up to the coaches’ booth and view the game from above.
Franklin said that’s the best place for him to view the game and the trust in the rest of the coaching staff and their ability to interface with the signal callers allows Yurcich to make the transition.
“It’s probably one of the things I’m most excited about,” he said. “As an offensive coordinator specifically, there’s no better place to call the game than in the booth. Controlled environment. You got your notes out. You can see it all. You’re not relying on somebody else to echo information to you that maybe you can’t see across the field. The corners’ alignment, the far safeties’ alignment. You’re able to rely on your vision and your information. Still going to be people up there helping him. I also think it’s Mike’s respect for our staff and our assistant coaches that there are strong voices, including (graduate assistant) Danny (O’Brien) on the sideline, to manage that.”
Green lit freshmen
Franklin named the four freshmen who have the green light heading into the season, meaning they’re unlikely to redshirt this year. All four are defensive players, with one linebacker in Tony Rojas and three defensive backs — safety King Mack and cornerbacks Elliot Washington and Zion Tracy.
Their contributions will likely involve work on more than one unit.
“These guys have shown that they’re the closest not just to play on defense but also have significant roles on special teams,” Franklin said. “I think that’s one of the big things out there for recruits and players, whether it’s in college or even in the NFL.”
Mack will likely enter the rotation with Keaton Ellis, Zakee Wheatley, K.J. Winston and Jaylen Reed at safety, where they’ll all be competing for playing time. Rojas should have a chance to contribute at the outside linebacker spots behind Curtis Jacobs and Abdul Carter, while Washington and Tracy are both candidates to be in the two deep at cornerback.
One of the players the latter two will be playing alongside is cornerback Cam Miller, who has emerged as a quality backup behind Kalen King and Johnny Dixon.
Miller has earned a larger role after already establishing what it took to see the field as a true freshman last season.
“Cam is a young man that I just have so much respect for,” Franklin said. “We just got done talking about him as a coaching staff and adding him to our leadership council. He’s just a very driven, motivated, high-production, low-maintenance young man that is maximizing his Penn State experience. He’s a guy that I think is going to probably start on four units on special teams, which I think is very telling. I think he’s a young man that’s going to play a bunch for us on defense, as well. So just he’s a guy that’s really earned everybody’s respect within the program, enough that he was able to play as a true freshman last year.”