Franklin says Penn State will play an aggressive style

Nittany Lions QB Christian Hackenberg was recruited by James Franklin when he was at Vanderbilt. "If you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance," Franklin said.
Nittany Lions QB Christian Hackenberg was recruited by James Franklin when he was at Vanderbilt. "If you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance," Franklin said. (Associated Press)
Posted: January 13, 2014

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - James Franklin set records as a young quarterback at East Stroudsburg, but his offense at Vanderbilt wasn't known for its explosive nature.

So what should the Nittany Lions look like on offense when Franklin takes over on the sideline for the 2014 season? How will his experiences playing and coaching quarterbacks help in the development of last year's freshman phenom, Christian Hackenberg?

"I recruited Christian out of high school," Franklin said. "I've got a very, very good relationship with him. I'm going to meet with probably him and his family in the next 24 hours.

"If you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance. I don't care if it's Pop Warner, if it's Little League, if it's high school, college, or NFL. If you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance. And from what I've seen, he's got a chance to be pretty good."

Franklin set school-passing and total-offense records at East Stroudsburg with the aid of his improvisational skills. In 1994, his final season, he was nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded to the best player in Division II.

In his career as an offensive coordinator, he coached a pair of NFL players, quarterback Josh Freeman and wide receiver Jordy Nelson, at Kansas State; and wideout Darius Heyward-Bey at Maryland, where Franklin learned from veteran head coach Ralph Friedgen.

Now he gets to work with the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hackenberg, who met or even exceeded expectations in his first year on campus, completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns under the tutelage of Bill O'Brien.

Now O'Brien, who may get to coach a quarterback picked as the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft, is with the Houston Texans.

Franklin said Penn State will run a multiple pro-style offense, defense, and special teams.

"I'm not a guy that's going to pigeonhole what we're going to do," he said. "I think my philosophy is, you go out and hire really smart people, and you have a system that has flexibility to take advantage of all your strengths and hide your weaknesses. That's what we're going to do."

Franklin also said that Penn State will be "aggressive in everything we do.

"When we get off the bus, we'll be aggressive. The way we call the game, we'll be aggressive. I think that's very, very important," he said. "I think the fans want to see an exciting style of defense. I think the fans want to see an exciting style of offense and special teams."

At Vanderbilt, he was an aggressive play-caller and - O'Brien fans will love this - a gambler when it came to fourth down. The Commodores converted 22 of 28 fourth-down attempts in 2013, with their 79 percent figure second in the FBS.

But the offense wasn't very dynamic, even though Vanderbilt set a school record in 2012, averaging 30.0 points per game and broke it this past season at 30.1, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews caught 112 passes for 1,482 yards last season, finishing fifth in the nation in both categories.

The Commodores were 93d nationally in total offense (366.9 yards per game) last season and 80th (379.7) the year before. Their third-down conversion percentage of 33 percent was mediocre.

Still, they were effective in the red zone, converting 89.3 percent of their opportunities from inside the 20 for a touchdown or a field goal. They had 37 touchdowns on 56 trips.

In its Compass Bowl win over Houston, Vanderbilt scored the final 17 points of the game but did not complete a pass the entire second half.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Matthews is a likely high-round NFL draft pick. ranks him as the No. 8 wide receiver and a potential second-round pick. The service has Penn State's Allen Robinson in the No. 5 slot and a late first- or early second-round selection.

Last year, running back Zac Stacy, the first Vanderbilt player to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, was a fifth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams and finished with 973 yards on the ground.

Franklin's quarterback, senior Austyn Carta-Samuels, ranked 34th nationally in pass efficiency, completing 68.7 percent of passes for 2,268 yards (226.8 per game), 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.

Defensively, Vanderbilt proved to be a sturdy unit in an explosive conference. The school ranked 23d in both total defense (355.9 yards per game) and in pass defense (207.3). The Commodores allowed 24.6 points per game, putting them in 46th place in the FBS, and forced 29 turnovers (tied for 14th).


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