While he wants his players to enjoy the experience the trip to Ireland will bring, Penn State coach James Franklin was adamant that the team’s priorities remain Saturday’s game against Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic.
“Number one, we’re going to play a game and so is Central Florida,” Franklin said in Tuesday’s teleconference. “We’re going to deal with all the same issues, flying to another country and the time zones and all of those things. So I think that’s helpful. It’s not like you’re flying somewhere and playing a team in their element.”
The coach acknowledged the unique setting of traveling 3,300 miles to play in another country. Still, he wants a game-day approach to the trip.
Penn State goes to Ireland: Your home for complete coverage
“This is not going to be a once‑in‑a‑lifetime experience. For us, this is a business trip to go play a football game no different than if we were playing at State College High School,” he said. “But this trip is not about enjoying the countryside. This is an opportunity to take a special trip. I think it’s going to be great for the fans, but we’re going to play a football game. There will be some activities we have, but very little of that.”
Franklin added that the he hopes the trip provides enough of a experience that players will graduate with “a meaningful degree from Penn State so they can afford to go back at some point on vacation with their family or their friends and enjoy the countryside.”
Of course, since Franklin’s mother is originally from England, and his parents were married in Ireland, he has ties to that area.
“I’ve got family in England that I haven’t seen in over 15 years that are coming to the game, so I’m going to see them on Thursday at the hotel, and I’m excited about that,” he said. “They’ve never met my wife before, so I think that’s going to be really cool.”
Franklin called that the good part of the trip. When asked the bad part, his answer was short and to the point: “There are no bad parts. It’s awesome.”
Easier day planned for Wednesday >> With the Nittany Lions scheduled to leave via charter late Tuesday evening, Franklin said that activity will be limited on Wednesday.
“We’ll have a walk‑through‑type practice on Wednesday because it’s hard to go there and have a full‑speed practice after flying all night,” he said.
Concerned with Knights’ experience >> Franklin said that experience is a huge factor in facing Central Florida, which returned nine starters on defense from the team that beat the Lions , 34-31, last season.
“I think more than anything, they play like a veteran team,” he said. “They’re fast, they’re aggressive, they don’t give up a whole lot of big plays. George O’Leary is I think one of the better defensive coaches around, and it’s been that way for a long time with him. So I don’t expect a whole lot of new.
“Coming from the state of Florida always gives them an advantage because there are going to be some kids in their backyard that have come to camp and are maybe under-recruited that are big time players. I think whenever you have 250 or 350 Division 1 prospects in your state, there are some built‑in advantages with that, and that’s what you see across the board on their team. They have big, strong, athletic guys, and the experience allows them to play fast as well.”
Interesting in-game match-up? >> Central Florida receivers against Penn State’s secondary, even with Knights’ redshirt freshman quarterback Pete DiNovo making his collegiate first start.
“Basically all their wide receivers are back from last year, and put up big numbers and have made big plays,” Franklin said. “I think that’s always obviously helpful when you have a young quarterback, having guys that are going to make them plays … Also, they are not little guys. They’re big, strong, explosive players.”