Chris Petersen, James Franklin Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Joining us is Chris Petersen from University of Washington and James Franklin from Penn State.
Coach Petersen has been here before. A lot of you will remember his first voyage to the Fiesta Bowl back in 2007 when he led Boise State to an exciting win over Oklahoma at University of Phoenix Stadium. He also came here for the Cactus Bowl with the University of Washington in 2015.
Coach, if you could share some thoughts and memories of being here in the Fiesta Bowl and Cactus Bowl in the past, as well as this season with the Huskies.
COACH PETERSEN: I can’t tell you how excited and honored we are to come back here. There’s no better bowl. I’ve been to a bunch of them. The way we were treated — I’ve been to two Fiesta Bowls; we also played TCU down there a few years after we played Oklahoma. When we heard today that we were coming back, there was a lot of jumping around and smiling faces, until we found out that it was James Franklin’s Penn State Nittany Lions. Then we said, uh-oh, be careful what you wish for.
We have so much respect for (the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl) and we have so much respect for the program, of Coach Franklin, that it’s like this is what college football is all about. This is what you play so hard during the season for to go to a big-time bowl game like this and play against another really, really storied, great program.
We couldn’t be more thrilled on our end. You made our whole month and really our season to be able to come to a game like that. Our kids are extremely, extremely thrilled to be a part of this.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Franklin, Penn State has a perfect 6-0 record in its Fiesta Bowl history. They first came here in 1977 against Arizona State, it was the first of three in a five-year stretch for the Nittany Lions. I think most college football fans will remember the 1987 game here between Penn State and Miami, a 14-10 win that secured Penn State’s national championship. Coach, welcome back.
COACH FRANKLIN: We are honored and humbled to be a part of this game. Our players, our coaches, the administration — President Barron; Sandy, our athletic director. We couldn’t be more excited. We’re blessed for this opportunity, great way to end the season.
Very much like Coach Petersen talked about, you’re playing in a big-time bowl game in a great venue. But you’re also having to face a very, very challenging and difficult opponent.
I’m a huge fan of Chris Petersen personally and professionally. We both have some people that we’ve worked with that have tremendous respect for each other, got tremendous respect for him and what he’s been able to accomplish.
It’s going to be a great opportunity. I think it’s always good for the players and the coaches from different staffs and different conferences to be able to get together. Looking forward to watching the tape and know it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us.
But we’re just very appreciative of the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Appreciative of the opportunity to represent the Big Ten and looking forward to getting out there as soon as we possibly can and start preparing.
Q. James, what are your connections with Chris, and also can you tell me how much have you seen of his team’s play just casually?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, first of all, me and Coach Petersen, we’ve been on the Nike trip for a couple of years, so not only have I gotten to know coach and his wife, but my wife got to know him and his wife well. So that’s always great. I’ve just followed his career on top of that, and obviously at Boise and now at the University of Washington. I have a lot of respect for him.
There’s a guy I hired a few years back by the name of Bush Hamdan, who was a graduate assistant for me, who played for Coach at Boise.
Whenever you hire people from another organization, another school, you make calls. Bush and me have become very, very close. And Bush just speaks the world of Coach Petersen. And that’s helpful. You see good people in this profession and you watch them be successful. We’ve been able to watch Washington a little bit on tape with Rutgers and some other things, and obviously on TV.
When you’re on the East Coast and you get done, the games that you can always watch is the Pac-12 games. So that’s always exciting to be able to watch some of those games and they’ve played extremely well. Looking forward to the opportunity and looking forward to the chance to spend some time with Coach.
Q. Chris, coming into today there was talk, of course, about Washington being (inaudible). That you were going to end up being in the Fiesta Bowl, something you followed up with the whole day or just when the announcement came out it happened and that was it?
COACH PETERSEN: You cut out on me for half the question. But I think I got it. No, we had no idea — you never know where you’re going. We were out practicing and I try not to worry about those things.
I thought it was going to be another one or two bowl games that they’re talking about us during the week going to. I had no idea it was going to be the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State.
I mean, it’s a great day around here. Like Coach Franklin says, we’re so humbled and honored to be a part of this thing. We couldn’t be more thrilled. We had no idea we would be headed in this direction.
Q. Coach Franklin, during the season, you played Michigan when they were the number one rushing defense and you played Michigan State when they were the number one rushing defense and now you’re playing Washington and they’re the number one rushing defense. How did you handle the challenges earlier, and how about this next challenge coming up against Washington?
COACH FRANKLIN: That sounds really exciting. The football gods are with us, no doubt about it. But it’s too early to say, obviously, we haven’t studied their tape enough to talk about that.
In the Big Ten, I think this is a conference that really prides itself on playing really good defense. You look at the rankings and statistics, there’s a lot of teams in this conference that are leading nationally.
It’s a challenge. I think those challenges also present opportunities to get better and really test yourself and see how good you are. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. It’s funny because I read an article about Washington’s defense I thought was really good a couple of weeks ago that I forwarded to all of our coaches about how they play nickel and how they’ve had different guys playing at nickel position.
One guy is 6’3″ and one guy is 5’9″ but have been very successful. Their defensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake, I know him very well and been very impressed. Our time kind of goes back. We’ve got connections from his time in Tampa Bay, if I remember correctly.
But it’s going to be a challenge. They are big. They are strong. They are physical. They are fast. And they take a lot of pride in how they play defense there, them and the Seattle Seahawks. They’ve got it rolling on the defensive side of the ball and obviously doing a great job on offense as well.
So it’s going to be a challenge, but I know our guys will be excited about it. Hopefully we’ll get some guys back and be as healthy as possible for the game, because late in the year we’re all banged up. So we love for Washington to be as healthy as they possibly could be and Penn State to be as healthy as we possibly can be and go out there and put on a show and have a lot of fun.
Q. Chris, two on Bush Hamdan; number one, is he going to be joining you guys right away or does he wait until the Falcons season is over. And number two, I assume you haven’t seen a ton of tape on Penn State’s offense. But seventh in the nation in scoring and just your first kind of — your first take on what you think the challenges are that those guys will pose for you in the game?
COACH PETERSEN: Yeah, first, Bush, no, he will not be with us for the bowl game. He’s got a season to finish himself. So he’ll come join us when they’re done there.
And secondly, like Coach Franklin, I haven’t had a chance to look at anything Penn State. I’ve seen them on TV. Everybody was talking about those guys competing for a national championship, those type of things. Yeah, you’re talking about them being seventh in the country in scoring. The one thing I had heard about, maybe more in depth, before today was how good they are on defense and the type of defense they’re playing.
So it’s that same old thing. Get excited about going to a game and then you figure out your opponent and you’re excited about that. You put the tape on and you’re, like, uh-ho, here we go, we gotta figure some things out.
And you know you’re getting that type of opponent. I already know that without putting the tape on. You don’t go to a game like that without playing a really, really good program.
Q. Will Lubick call the plays in the Fiesta Bowl for you?
COACH PETERSEN: We’re figuring that all out as we speak.
Q. I wonder if you could comment on the fact that neither the Pac-12 nor Big Ten had a team in the final four and if you think this bodes any changes for the playoffs down the road or do you think it’s just one of those years?
COACH PETERSEN: I don’t really think about that. I mean, we just don’t. We have no control over that. I mean, the guys that are making those decisions, I think everybody would like to see a bigger tournament. But how exactly you get that done and be fair and equitable to everybody is to be determined.
But I think that’s probably the main thing. And you knew that was coming. You start with four and everybody is going to say we need to get to eight or to 16. Seems like everybody else does it.
But, again, we lose no sleep about that around here. We just try to do the best we can and at the end of the season we look where we are and say, where and who are we going to play?
COACH FRANKLIN: The same with us. We’re excited about the Fiesta Bowl. Been part of the discussions these past two years. We had a great experience last year and look forward to having a great experience this year in the Fiesta Bowl. It’s a bowl I’ve not been to. I’ve been to a lot of bowls in my career. And this isn’t one of them. So we’re excited about that.
So the playoff debate is something, just like Chris mentioned, you look at basketball, their tournament, and whatever it is, 64 teams or whatever gets in, and 65, 66 and 67 aren’t happy that they didn’t get in.
So it’s a challenge. But for us we’re just blessed to play another game together with our seniors and with this team and continue to build it.
Q. Chris, could you talk about for somebody, like Penn State fans who don’t get to see Pac-12 teams that much, what your offense is like?
COACH PETERSEN: You cut out for me, talk about the three names we have here, is that what you’re saying?
Q. Gaskin, Brown, Pettis, describe the offense top to bottom.
COACH PETERSEN: Well, you know, we’ve along the way lost some guys. We’ve lost some really good players we won’t have back for this game, and so we’ve kind of been proud of the guys stepping up along the way. Lost a couple of wideouts. We’ve lost a tackle that are good players, and guys have really stepped up and really battled. But you know, our offense, we kind of figure out — we’re kind of multiple. We do different things, depending on the team we’re seeing, try to put ourselves in a position to be very successful.
We don’t pigeonhole ourselves into one thing. But we’ll figure it out. I think that’s one of the reasons we kind of like what we do, we don’t just lock in and say this is what we do. We do what we need to do to win the game or give our kids the best chance to win the game.
And so that’s kind of what we do. We have other players, our tight ends have been solid. Those guys have battled all year long. And we’ve had some young wideouts get involved that are growing and getting better.
We’ve had some besides Gaskin, we have some other running backs that have done a nice job getting involved, spelling him so he doesn’t have to have so many carries that he can’t hold up by the end of the year.
Q. Coach Franklin, where was Coach Hamdan a GA for you? And with your history with Jimmy Lake, what will Bush and Jimmy be able to give insight with the way you coach in preparation for the bowl game?
COACH FRANKLIN: Bush was a graduate assistant for us at the University of Maryland and did a great job. And we’ve stayed very close and very tight ever since. My wife was talking to him the other day, I had a conversation while I was on the road recruiting with him as well. Got a very close relationship with his family, mom and dad.
And Coach Lake, I just know kind of through the profession. So I hope this week we probably won’t spend a whole lot of time talking because we’ll be on the other side of the sidelines now.
But I don’t know if there will be a whole lot of perspectives those guys will be able to give on us now other than the tape and what the tape says that we’ve evolved so much since our time at Maryland and what we do offensively.
So I think more than anything it’s I’ve got so much respect for the University of Washington. I’ve got so much respect for Coach Petersen, and got an unbelievable staff there. And Coach Petersen knows better than I, he’s getting a great one back in having Bush come back and work for him.
He’s a great person, great football coach and this is a people business. When you can get people around you that are loyal and are passionate and passionate about the right things — kids, development and education and our game of football — then that’s what makes it great to wake up every single morning and go to work. So I’m looking forward to seeing all those guys and I’m looking forward to seeing Coach Petersen.
Q. James, when you saw the rankings come out today are you feeling justified that the committee was consistent in how it made its decision this year as it did last year with you guys and Ohio State or are you more agitated in the sense that the conference title game winner for the Big Ten for a second straight year didn’t qualify for the final four?
COACH FRANKLIN: To be honest with you, just like Coach Petersen, we were in practice. I got off the practice field, had some meetings with some players and I was in a meeting, my phone started buzzing, people said congratulations on the Fiesta Bowl. I didn’t really know at the time, to be honest with you.
So kind of like Coach talked about, we focus on the things that we can control. We have had a great season. We look back, is there a couple of plays we’d love to have back, a couple of games we’d love to have back, yeah. But I’m focused on Penn State and playing the best we possibly can play every single week and helping our guys develop and excited about playing in the Fiesta Bowl.
More than that, I don’t have a whole lot of concerns. Obviously I think those things are for a conversation probably at another time. But we’re really excited about the Fiesta Bowl. We’re excited about the opportunity we had last year.
Q. I guess to that point as a follow-up, this is a good matchup between two Power Five schools that didn’t get their conference champion into the playoff. Is it bothersome for the second straight year that a Big Ten Championship game winner didn’t get into the semifinals at least?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, again, I think you asked that earlier. We’re excited about playing, we’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl. It’s going to be a great opportunity. It’s going to be a great experience. And they are a very good football team and they’re a very good program but that’s what happens. You play a New Year’s Six bowl game, you’re going to play great opponents. We’re excited about playing Washington. We’re excited about playing the Pac-12, and it should be a tremendous challenge.
And the other things, I’m not a part of that decision-making process. I’m not a part of those types of things. And, again, I’m focused on doing everything we possibly can to go to the Fiesta Bowl and be successful.
We’ve got one last game together with this 2017 team and our seniors and we’re really focused on that. The other things, we have no influence over and no control over. So we spend very little time thinking about it.
Q. Chris, I know you don’t normally talk about injuries and stuff, but seeing how banged up the team was during the season and by the end of the year, how important was it to get a New Year’s Six bowl where you have more time to rest, more time to get these guys fresh? Are you feeling pretty good about that part of this?
COACH PETERSEN: It’s interesting, because so many of these injuries have been season-ending injuries. I don’t know exactly what we’ll get back. Couple guys got dinged in the last game and we might get those guys back.
But, yeah, we’re certainly proud of how the next man just stepped up and we still played pretty good. There wasn’t a huge drop-off and we did lose some real firepower. We lost some firepower on the defensive side in the secondary and those kids stepped up and battled and didn’t miss a beat.
Like we said, we lost Trey in the line and couple of receivers and those young guys stepped up and we still were productive, did what we needed to do. So that was satisfying.
But I think what James is saying, I think everybody’s tired at this point in the season. And if you’re not injured and out, you’re at least sore and really glad that you don’t have to practice all the time and can kind of refresh and recharge once we get ready to kind of make a push to get the bowl practices going for real.