In his fourth year at the helm of Penn State football, James Franklin feels comfortable. Who could blame him? His squad is 5-0 and ranked No. 4 heading to Northwestern this weekend.
But the comfort level of a fourth-year coach is different from that of an 11th-year coach, someone such as Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern. Even that’s almost triple the time Franklin has been in Happy Valley, he’s beginning to relate to the veteran.
“We’re starting to get to the point where we have a staff that has been to these locations a few times now,” Franklin said. “We understand the different venues, the different programs. We understand what Iowa is all about. We understand what Indiana is all about. We understand what Northwestern is all about. And that helps.”
In his “veteran” talk, the coach mentioned quarterback Clayton Thorson, a junior threat who stands at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, almost identical to Penn State’s backup, Tommy Stevens (6-5, 228).
Thorson played in 13 games in his freshman and sophomore seasons and has started all four games this year. He is averaging 7.5 yards per passing attempt and has recorded 1,061 passing yards, compared to Trace McSorley’s 1,352.
“They play hard,” Franklin said of the Wildcats. “They’re smart, and they’re talented.”
Even though Northwestern is 2-2 this season, with its losses coming against Duke and No. 9 Wisconsin, the Wildcats have won each of their last two meetings against the Nittany Lions. In their last matchup, in 2015 at Ryan Field, Northwestern won by a field goal.
Franklin said his coaching staff is starting to reach a veteran status — although he’s not quite at Fitzgerald’s level.
“They’re a veteran program with a veteran coach and a veteran quarterback,” Franklin said of the Wildcats. “Typically, when you have those things, you got a chance.”
“So we better be ready.”