Building Momentum

Managing emotions plays a key role anytime the Nittany Lions travel, like they did last weekend to Columbus. Penn State hits the road again this week, with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Maryland. Photo credit: Steve Tressler.

James Franklin remembers how things used to be.

The day before a game, players and coaches would quiet down, tighten up, and get emotionally juiced 24 hours before kickoff. The idea being that you needed to be laser-focused that far ahead in advance.

This is going back to Franklin’s days playing high school football, and college ball at East Stroudsburg, and even as recently when he first became a college head coach.

Times have since changed.

Through talking with people and looking at studies, Franklin said this approach has shifted over the last 10-15 years.

“You don’t need ’em locked in mentally and emotionally and physically that long before the game, where there’s no talking on the bus ride to Maryland, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Franklin said Tuesday afternoon during his weekly press conference. “So, what we do is we build up. You should be able to feel a difference. Say you got a Friday dinner and you’re playing a Saturday night game like we had last week — the Friday night dinner should still be focused, but guys should be enjoying themselves with their positions and going through their test and tip sheets.”

Onward State photographer Mira DiBattiste captured the scene at Ohio Stadium as Penn State football arrived.

That evolution continues the next morning, with Franklin saying team breakfast should feel different than dinner, with the intensity naturally increasing up until when the team leaves the hotel, when Franklin says the team should be totally locked in on the bus ride over to the stadium.

The speed at which the intensity rises can change depending on kickoff time. At Wisconsin, for example, kickoff was at 11 a.m. local time. That’s a difference of eight-and-a-half hours from Saturday in Columbus. Think of it this way: You act differently if you’re flying out at 6 a.m. the next morning, then if your flight leaves in the afternoon or evening.

“I’m focused and not doing too much and staying calm,” offensive lineman Rasheed Walker said of his night-time routine before a game, which includes studying the aforementioned test and tips sheet. “When I wake up the day of the game, I wake up and I’m tuned in.”

Something that James Franklin emphasizes is consistency in all areas of his program, including pregame preparation on the road. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Of course, there’s a human element at play. Looks can sometimes be deceiving, and reality may not match up with perception. It’s why they play the games, as the saying goes, which is one major reason why college football is beloved on a level rarely seen in other areas of society, at least across the entire country.

This juxtaposition can also be bewildering for coaches in charge of leading their teams onto the field. Franklin recalls speaking with fellow coaches in his profession, both new to the game and more experienced, when they’ve seen their teams appear to be too loose leading up to a game, and then the players go out and play their tails off (Franklin’s words). The exact opposite can be just as true, Penn State’s head coach said.

So, for a guy who’s a big believer in routine, what’s there to do? Stick to a familiar approach, prepare the same way, and account for the unexpected as much as possible.

“It’s kind of hard to read and there’s so many different factors that kind of go into that,” Franklin said. “That’s why we try to keep our process as consistent as we possibly can.”

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