Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State – 35, Washington – 28
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Penn State head coach James Franklin and student-athletes Marcus Allen, DaeSean Hamilton, Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley.
COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, I want to give a lot of credit to the University of Washington. Got so much respect for their program, for their university, for Coach Petersen. They’re doing a fantastic job. And we were fortunate to get out with a win.
I’ve been doing this long enough, I know if you turn the ball over you’re going to have a hard time winning. And we were very fortunate to get away with a win with the amount of times we turned the ball over today.
Something that we take a lot of pride in. We’ve been one of the better turnover-ratio teams in the country. And we just were a little sloppy with those things today.
But at the end of the day I think the thing that swung it in our direction was third down on offense. We were fantastic on third down on offense today. I thought our offensive staff, obviously, Coach Moorhead was fortunate enough to become a head coach and go to Mississippi State, and we wish him nothing but the best.
We made a decision and stayed internal. And I thought our guys handled it really. Ricky Rahne, our offensive coordinator. Josh Gattis, our passing game coordinator. Matt Limegrover, run game. And obviously getting Tyler Bowen back. I thought those guys did a fantastic job.
Defensively we were able to make them one dimensional. We were really able to suffocate the running game early on. The double pass, I think, is something that kind of got them going. They got some momentum after the double pass that they threw.
But overall I thought we played really good in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams. Big factor in the game was limiting the impact that their punt returner was going to have in the game.
It helps if you don’t punt. We didn’t punt very much. And then when we did I thought Blake did a great job of banging the ball deep down in the corner with enough hang time that they had to fair catch it.
So there were some things that we went into the game really talking about needing to do and I thought we did it.
So overall, we love the Fiesta Bowl. We’re 7-0. It’s a tremendous game. We were treated unbelievably well all week long at the hotel, the Princess. The Fiesta Bowl hosts, Frankie Fiesta, was unbelievable all week long.
We had a great experience. Obviously it’s easy to say that after a win, but really the entire experience was fantastic and we’re very appreciative.
If you look at the stuff we talk about, I know I’m talking a lot, field position, we won that. That’s always the thing that we talk about each game. Turnover battle we lost. Penalty battle we won. That was something we were both two of the most disciplined teams in the country. We were able to win that battle. And then the explosive play battle we won. We had 11 explosive plays to their five. So the turnover ratio was the big one, but we were able to do pretty well in the other categories.
Q. Can you just comment a little bit after they came out in the third quarter, scored right away, then you were able to come back and get the lead back up to 14. How critical that possession was right after they scored in the third quarter?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, it was really, really important, because momentum was starting to swing there. Then the next drive we go down, had a chance to score again go up by 21. And then we had the turnover down there.
But I think we moved the ball really well all night long. I actually think if we didn’t turn the ball over, it could have been a very different game.
But they did a great job. They ran the ball well. They got their hands up and batted some balls down in some of our RPO game. When they weren’t able to get to the quarterback they were able to get their hands up and be disruptive.
I’m pretty proud. I thought we got our running game going against the defensive line, against a defense that was one of the better run defenses in the country. Have so much respect for their two interior defensive tackles.
I thought we had a really good play that took advantage of angles and leverage. And they do a really good job on the perimeter of trying to get the ball in space, out where we had a decent amount of grass and space to work with. But they do a great job on the perimeter.
It’s one of the things I mentioned during the game — we’re going to study what they do defensively on the perimeter because I think they do a really good job with those two D tackles inside making it difficult, and then how they defeat blocks and how they play perimeter runs. So a lot of respect for them.
Q. Your offensive line had some tough moments this season with consistency. 545 yards, I think, of offense it was against a very staunch defensive line. How do you think they did, and how do you think your new offensive coordinator did? Did he pass the audition?
COACH FRANKLIN: Very good. Matt Limegrover, he’s a great coach. He’s an unbelievable father. He’s a better person. He just kept working with those guys. The thing I love about Matt is he stays positive.
There’s outside noise. There’s critics. And Matt just keeps loving those kids and keeps coaching them and keep working hard with them. We’re still fairly young up front.
And they just got better as the season goes on. That’s something I take a lot of pride in as a head football coach. You look over our years — my years as a head coach — we pretty much have been able to get better as the season goes on and kind of keep chipping away at it.
And I thought Matt did a great job there. I thought the combination of Ricky Rahne, I thought he called a really good game today. I thought Josh Gattis had a big part in that as well in our passing game.
Matt Limegrover — we do it by committee. Obviously we had a lot of success this year on the offensive side of the ball, but it was a lot of people that had a part in that. And then bringing Tyler Bowen back home, who knows this offense and knows our culture and how we do things was great.
So the next step for us is to go hire the best running backs coach in the country to come and complement the rest of the staff that we have and I’m going to fight like hell to keep this staff together.
I owe her a dollar because I cussed. I said hell. I’m going to fight like crazy to keep our staff together because I think we’ve got a fantastic group of staff — the coaches are — off the field, administrators, our strength staff, and the same thing with our players.
We got great players here that really get what college athletics is all about — getting a great education, playing big-time football. I’m so proud because the people at the hotel and the people at the bowl couldn’t have been more complimentary of how our guys conducted themselves all week. It’s what this is all about — to prepare young men to go on and be successful in life.
And you’ve got to win games. I get that. But as long as you keep winning games, that allows you to continue to have an impact on young people and developing them so they can go on and be great fathers and husbands and CEOs and leaders.
But our staff’s been great. And the reason the staff is so important is because our players are more important. And I want to make sure that we keep these men that I know are going to have tremendous impact on our players.
Q. You guys were one yard away from finishing this game on offense, how much did you discuss passing, running the ball on that drive? Can you let us in on what the call was on fourth and one before the penalty? And then how much you agonized over the decision — whether to kick it or go for it?
COACH FRANKLIN: We were going to run the ball. We were going to run the ball in that situation. Felt like we had a really good call. They were smart. It’s something that we talked about with the officials. They made a move call to stem their front, which is perfectly legal.
And when you’re smart, you save it for that situation — a critical third and one, a critical fourth and one, because if they feel like you are simulating the cadence, they’re only going to let you get away with it once.
They’re well-coached. They saved it for that situation. They made a move call. They say a man flinched. I didn’t see it, but they said he did. It took us out of that situation and we had to kick the field goal there. Four-minute offense is something that we gotta improve on.
I thought we did a great job tonight and had a chance to finish. In that situation, it’s something that we’ve got to continue working on and continue growing at. But it sure would have been great to end it on our terms. But we have so much confidence in Brent Pry and our defensive staff and Tim Banks and Sean and Terry. Those guys do such a great job that I knew they were going to go on the field and get the job done, especially when our offense forced them to burn all their timeouts. So now they’re in a tough spot. And our four-minute offense was able to do that. But defensive guys just played lights out all night long.
Q. James, Shareef Miller didn’t play the first half. Shaka Toney didn’t play at all. What was their story; were they suspended?
COACH FRANKLIN: That was the rotation we had. That was the rotation we had for the game.
Q. Saquon, what’s going through your mind right now as you assess your performance tonight and your future?
SAQUON BARKLEY: The things going through my mind right now is I’m excited. I’m happy that we were able to send the seniors off on a good note. Talking about that fourth down situation, I can’t get that third-down situation out of my head. I gotta eliminate that in general. I’ve got to find a way to reach and get that other yard.
And with that decision, I’m not really focused on that. I’m just living in the moment and enjoying it and cherish this moment with the seniors especially with guys like Ham. And those guys are so special and I’m so thankful to call those guys my brothers and my teammates.
Q. What does this game mean to you guys, what does it feel like?
MARCUS ALLEN: I say this just means just getting Penn State back where we were, back where we’re supposed to be, as far as we had a chip on our shoulder coming into this game.
I know the defense and offense kept on harping on playing our butt off and just remember what happened last bowl game. And I’ll just say this is just fantastic. And I’m ecstatic.
DAESHAWN HAMILTON: Just trying to document all the stuff since I’ve been here like a decade. (Laughter) this is my last days here, just enjoying the time with the team and trying to document all the good moments we’re having. And obviously finishing the season with a win it really means a lot. And it was really important to everyone on the team, not just the seniors. So that’s all I’m trying to do is live in this moment and enjoy it all.
Q. James and Trace, I think Trace was 12 for 12 passing on third downs and you guys were 13 for 17. How does that speak to your competitiveness? And how does it affect play calling when you have that much confidence in a guy that he’s going to do the right thing on a third down situation?
COACH FRANKLIN: I thought that was something the last couple of years that we really wanted to improve on and emphasized it in the offseason.
I think it always starts like it always does is up front. I thought for the most part we protected really well tonight. And we got a bunch of really talented skill players that if they’re matched up in man coverage, they’ve got a chance to win. Ham did that a number of times tonight.
And they’re smart enough to find space in zones and Trace, I can’t imagine there’s a better quarterback in the country in terms of decision-making and leadership and toughness. He’s very accurate.
And I think the combination of Trace and these guys, as well as our offensive staff, working together to come up with a plan. I know Saquon and Ham and I know Trace had a lot of input in the game plan with the amount of time we had. And our coaches did a fantastic job and the O line protected and the receivers made plays.
So we were very efficient. We executed. But, yeah, that’s something that we emphasized this entire year and we gradually kept improving on it. And I think that was really kind of — before you came in, Trace, I was saying that was probably the thing that negated the impact of the turnovers.
If we didn’t turn the ball over today I think it would have been a much different game, but the third down success that we had allowed us to overcome the turnovers.
TRACE MCSORLEY: I’ll echo what Coach said. Our offensive line did a tremendous job the whole game but really on third down. (Indiscernible) say, third down, we’ve got to pick this up.
They had a different sense of urgency to themselves on the third downs. And then you’ve got guys like Ham and Saquon, they did a great job separating versus man. We knew that was going to be a challenge this week that they were going to come up try to press us at the line and not give us a lot air, suffocate the air out of the zone. And we’d have to win against man and be accurate with the ball. And that’s something our receivers did a great job getting open and making plays on third down.
Q. Saquon, you made that last loop with the fans. I talked to some of the fans, we know what it meant to them. What did that loop mean to you and why did you decide to do it?
SAQUON BARKLEY: To show respect to the fans. I think we have the best fans in college football. And it goes to show you this game and how much of an impact they have on the game and how they travel with us.
I just want to say thank you to the fans, and like I said this team, this 2017 team will never be back together. The seniors will go on and play football or go on and be successful businessmen or whatever they pursue in life. And they’re right with us the whole ride.
So I just want to say thank you to the fans. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who did it. I think Ham and Mike and a whole bunch of other guys did it, just to show appreciation to the fans, that we’re so thankful for all the support they had for us the whole year through the ups and downs.
DAESHAWN HAMILTON: You’re more important than us, though. (Laughter).
SAQUON BARKLEY: Don’t listen to him.
Q. Saquon, on the 92-yard touchdown run, what did you see when you got the handoff and take us through what happened when you finally broke into the (indiscernible)?
SAQUON BARKLEY: First of all, it was a great play by Coach Rahne and the offensive staff. We designed something to get the defense looking to the sideline. We kind of picked that up watching film.
And once we did our little fake cadence, they looked to the sideline, we said we’ve got them off the line, did a tremendous job. First of all, they did a tremendous job the whole game. The whole week we heard how big their defensive line was, how good a good defense it is, running game, only gave up 96 yards average. We got 92 on one play.
So we got — we just split like the Red Sea and your job as a running back is to make your guy miss. I was able to make that guy miss. I gotta finish a little better on that play, kind of got above my head a little bit, but we finished it and got in the end zone.
Q. DaeSean, could you describe Trace’s performance from your perspective, only nine incompletions on almost 350 yards. He threaded the needle to you a couple of times. What was it like, he seemed he was really in the groove for you guys as receivers?
DAESHAWN HAMILTON: Trace was slinging it today. Hitting any receiver. And receivers as well did a great job getting open. And Saquon did a great job taking off first downs for us when the defense was taking things away from us downfield.
Trace was really just distributing the ball like he always does and finding the open guy. And our offensive line, like they’ve been saying, did a great job protecting him all game, giving him a clean pocket and allowing him to step up and make plays.
COACH FRANKLIN: The one thing I would say about that, I think that’s one of the things we do a great job of. These guys are unselfish. So we don’t have one receiver with 100 receptions that’s leading the conference, but it makes it really difficult to defend us because there’s so many guys that can hurt you, our tight ends, our receivers, our running backs, in the passing game, in the run game.
And Trace just does a great job of going through his progressions and taking what the defense gives.
Q. DaeSean, after every big play you had today, they seemingly went to a cut of your family in the crowd and your brother. The first time he was eating a bunch of popcorn that was over his face. The second time he was eating ice cream. For you, what was it like to have such a big game on a big stage, and does your brother embarrass easily?
DAESHAWN HAMILTON: You should see the things he eats at home. The first couple of years obviously growing up he used to only eat McDonald’s every day. But having a big game like this on the big stage, and obviously, like I said, getting a win with this team, means a lot.
For my brother and for the rest of my family, had a lot of people come out, and for them to see me play well today and to see us end the season with a win, it was really special.
Q. Coach, after the last year’s bowl game, after losing that lead, when Washington starts to come back in the second half, how much is that affecting your mentality and your game plan with last year’s bowl game in mind?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think our coaches and our players, we thought about last year’s bowl game in the offseason and how we attacked the weight room and how we attacked morning workouts and spring ball and summer camp and things like that.
I don’t think it impacted us more than that. It was motivation for the offseason that we wanted to have a better season this year and finish stronger and grow from it and learn from it and evolve.
And I think this team is a team that believes in themselves. Starting last year, once we kind of got on a roll, this team believes they’re going to win every single game they play against every single opponent.
And you look at our season, there were some ups and downs and twists and turns and adversity. But these guys never stopped believing in one another. And I think that confidence comes from how hard they’ve worked and how hard they prepared and how much they’ve sacrificed to get to this point. They believe in each other. The coaches believe in them in more ways than just football.
And I think that’s what you see on the field. You watch us play: We play an exciting brand of football. The guys love playing together. The coaches love watching them play. It’s a party.
I wish you guys could come in the locker room after the game. It’s unbelievable. So we enjoy — in football you work really hard year-round. But as much as it pains them to say it, 90 percent of it we enjoy and love, at least I’ll say that. I hope you guys feel that way.
Q. Marcus, what happened on that trick play, where were you and what were you thinking?
MARCUS ALLEN: I was running to the ball. (Laughter).
COACH FRANKLIN: The one thing I would say about that, I wouldn’t describe it as a trick play. The last play of the game, we work on that every single week with our offense. Our defense watches it.
The last play of the game, you can’t come down with it. You gotta understand that they’re going to keep tossing that ball around and try to keep it alive. That’s the only chance they have in that situation.
We worked at it every single week. I think our guys understood it. They did a really good job of executing it, but we just kept running to the ball and finish.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations.