Five takeaways from James Franklin’s weekly press conference Tuesday:
1. QB starter a mystery: Penn State starter Sean Clifford was pulled in the second quarter of last week’s loss to Nebraska, in lieu of backup Will Levis. Clifford did not return, and Levis seemed to spark the Nittany Lions, who won the second half, 17-3.
Franklin said he hasn’t decided who will get the nod for Saturday’s game with Iowa at Beaver Stadium. Clifford has started every game since the beginning of the 2019 season with the exception of the regular-season finale with Rutgers, when Levis started as Clifford rested a best-up body.
“Obviously, we had some conversations about it this weekend,’’ Franklin said. “With not only the coaching staff but also with Sean and Will.
“Will came in and did some good things and put himself in this position and he’s earned it, no different than Sean earning the ability to be our starting quarterback last year.’’
2. Depth chart update: Penn State played last week without veteran CB Tariq Castro-Fields, usually a starter.
“He was medically unavailable,’’ Franklin said. “I don’t want to get into specifics, but I also don’t want you guys to think he was suspended or anything like that.’’
Castro-Fields was in uniform Saturday, and Franklin said he was hoping to get a game-time decision that he was available.
The depth chart for Iowa released Monday night included a shift in the offensive line that happened during the Nebraska game: R-freshman Caedan Wallace is now No. 1 at right tackle, with senior Will Fries moving to right guard and C.J. Thorpe moving from starting right guard to the second team.
“He just continues to gain confidence,’’ Franklin said of Wallace. “He is big (6-5, 315) and powerful and light on his feet. Also, he’s got an older, experienced guy (Fries) right next to him.’’
3. False positives: Franklin revealed that his players and staff have had 39 false positive tests for the coronavirus.
“That’s 39 people missing practice,’’ he said. “We’re at a higher rate than anyone else in the conference, and (we’re) trying to find out why.’’
The most recent testing numbers reported by Penn State’s athletic department, for the week of Oct. 31-Nov. 6 in all sports, showed 2,285 tests and six positive results. Penn State has not reported a football player missing a game due to COVID-19.
4. Red zone blues: Penn State’s last four offensive plays at Nebraska, from a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line, were three incomplete passes and a sack.
The Lions’ last four plays of its previous drive, from first-and-10 at the Nebraska 11, were four incomplete passes.
Red zone success, and/or execution, and/or play-calling, were an issue.
Franklin suggested part of the problem was a skill still in the developmental stage for Levis and perhaps also Clifford, putting touch on passes.
“Rather than driving the ball across the field, it’s dropping the ball into certain zones and certain areas. There’s no doubt we have to improve there.
“Earlier in the season, I thought it was that we weren’t running the ball effectively. We ran the ball better Saturday, but you have to be able to do both.’’
It must be noted that with the game on the line Saturday, Penn State didn’t try to do both.
5. The psych lab: Amateur psychologists in the media, the fan base and even within the team have had a field day lately analyzing a struggling, underachieving team.
Franklin was asked Tuesday what he thought of the mental and emotional state of his squad.
“It’s hard right now to do that,’’ he said, “just because there are so many, many things going on.
“I will say that, from what I’ve seen, this team cares deeply about one another. This team battles for four quarters. We showed that last week, and gave ourselves a chance to win at the end.’’