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Devil’s in details as Penn State gears up

When Penn State last played at Heinz Field, they came out flat, making a multitude of mistakes and looking very much unprepared for what Pitt threw their way.

Trace McSorley and the offense look to the sideline for the play at practice Wednesday night. --Jarrod Prugar/DKPS

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Renegade” and other songs blasted through the speakers during Penn State’s weekly media availability at the Lasch Football Complex on Wednesday night as they prepared for their game against Pitt at Heinz Field on Saturday.

The music, used to simulate what will be a loud, raucous environment in prime time this weekend, is just one of the many ways head coach James Franklin is making sure his team is ready for what’s to come against the Panthers.

When Penn State last played at Heinz Field in 2016, they came out flat, making a multitude of mistakes, fumbling the ball and looking very much unprepared for what Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi threw their way, stuff they weren’t able to see on film.

“We also know playing these guys, just like they did last year against Youngstown State, they play very vanilla in that game and they save some things,” Franklin said. “Like today, we know we’re going to see some things we didn’t see on tape. We had a whole, multiple periods today on Cover-3, repped the heck out of Cover-3, probably had the best period of our day against Cover-3 in practice. There’s going to be something that shows up in the game that we’re not prepared for, and we’re working some of those things and going from there.”

Not knowing exactly what’s coming can cause coaches fits, and that’s nothing new to the game of football, but where the difference truly is made is how well a team prepares for the unexpected and how they react to it.

“You can’t chase ghosts. You do all your research, you do all the studying you possibly can, you watch as much tape, you ask as many questions, then you prepare for what you think you’re going to see in the game,” Franklin said. “You save those other things, and you talk to your guys. Look, something’s going to show up in the game that we’re not expecting, and that’s where we have to follow our rules and trust our training.”

What they do know is Kenny Pickett will be leading the way for Pitt, and he’s a player with not much game film as he has started only two games in his career. But with the minimal amount of film, it plays right to the way the Nittany Lions analyze opponents.

“Typically, we do a four-game breakdown anyway on anyone you play. We have three games of him for this season. We really have about the same amount of games to watch on him as we have on any of our opponents,”

In the words of cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, Pickett is “slippery,” but the defense is more than ready for whatever comes their way when the Panthers are on offense.

“He can make things happen outside the pocket,” Castro-Fields said. “He’s really going to be a good test for us down the field.”

From head coach James Franklin:

• On the performance of Ricky Slade and Micah Parsons: “I thought pretty good. I thought Micah did some good things with limited reps. I thought Ricky did some really good things in limited reps. I think both of them showed that they deserve more reps, and that will gradually grow. I’ve been really impressed with the whole freshman class, but I think those two guys have handled what we’ve given them so far really well.”

• On practice this week: “I thought (Tuesday’s) practice was excellent. Today, I thought we had a few issues with the noise. We had it really loud to be prepared for that. I was kinda bouncing back and forth between offense and defense today, so I’ll have a better idea. I felt like this Tuesday and Wednesday had been better than last Tuesday and Wednesday.”

 On getting better each week: “What gives us confidence is in my going on eight years (of coaching) now, we’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten better each week, we’ve gotten better pretty much every day. We haven’t been perfect, there’s been some times where we haven’t played as good as we wanted, but we corrected the issues on tape, learned from them and grew. I got a lot of confidence that we’ll do that again. We’ve got a really good staff; we’ve got good players. We gotta force feed that maturation, we’ve got to force feed the experience as much as we possibly can, so we can play fast.”

 On intensity at practice and game day: “What I try to do, from my perspective, I’m more intense in practice than I am in games. You very rarely see me yell or go crazy or berate a kid on the sideline. I usually bring him up, try to cover my mouth, talk to them without embarrassing them on national television. We’re going to be intense in practice and those types of things, but I don’t do that during the game, so my point is, we’re pretty intense in practice to create that sense of urgency, but I think if you act like that on game days, you’re going to get guys who are hesitant and are concerned and don’t handle things well. I think if players see poise and confidence from our coaches and our veteran players, like Trace (McSorley), it seeps down to everybody, but if they see us panicking or see our veteran players panicking, then we don’t have a chance.”

• On different journeys: “Everybody’s journey is different. Everybody looks at Saquon Barkley, he shows up, he plays as a true freshman, starts game four, drafted No. 2 overall. Not everybody’s journey is going to go that way. That doesn’t mean everybody’s journey can’t end up like that, at some point. It might take five years for some guys, it might take five years, then three years in the NFL to get there, or whatever it is. There’s different paths.”

More from Castro-Fields:

• On what went well Saturday: “We rallied together, kept our composure trying to get that overtime stop, which was really big.”

• On adversity: “We just gotta learn to keep our heads up when adversity comes, ’cause it’s going to happen. It’s tough to see, but we corrected a lot of things on film for Saturday.”

• On how games help young guys: “I think the game helps the most. I know for me, I wasn’t comfortable last year until the fourth game. That’s where I really established myself. I think the game really helps, because the speed is really different.”

• On Parsons: “He’s a freak, and he knows he’s a freak. So I think he looks comfortable out there to me. As far as getting off blocks and getting to the ball, you can just see it. It makes me want to lift weights more, run harder to get to the ball faster before he does.”