Penn State coach James Franklin said he was "a little edgy" at practice Sunday, one day after his team defeated Villanova 38-17. He brought that edginess intentionally, "for everybody to make sure that we're not satisfied or complacent with where we're at."
Evidently, the decision made an impact. Franklin called the session "really good," and one of his captains saw a difference as well.
"Sunday was great, it was phenomenal," Penn State defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said. "I think it was the best Sunday we’ve had all season, just from a focus standpoint, in our walkthroughs and our lifts and our meetings. So I definitely think we started the week off right."
Why the edginess? Well, Franklin left Beaver Stadium on Saturday a bit critical of his players for having enjoyed "people patting them on the back" this season. The Lions (4-0) reached No. 4 in this week's AP Top 25 and are being listed in some circles as a College Football Playoff contender.
But Franklin wasn't ready to stamp his team as a contender Saturday, especially considering that it ran for 18 yards in the first half and allowed two late touchdowns to the Wildcats. So how does the coach, who wants to be "strategic and intentional about everything that I do," treat a team that he felt lacked edge?
By bringing it to practice himself the following day.
"I think coming in on a Sunday, you can be pretty aggressive in trying to get the things that need to get cleaned up after a win," Franklin said at his weekly press conference. "People are less defensive and more open to hearing the feedback, constructive criticism, whatever it may be.
"... I feel like our players bought into that and understand that. I hear the veterans saying that to young guys after the game. Those Sundays are really important. To me, there’s a big difference between corrections and, you just got beat by another really good player. Any signs of effort issues, that can never be tolerated. Or guys who are doing things outside the system. Those things cannot be tolerated."
Mustipher, a captain and three-year veteran, said the team's young players continue to learn about the impact their practice habits can have on games. After the Villanova game, several players called last Wednesday's practice disappointing, a sentiment that Franklin shared.
With Indiana visiting Saturday, Mustipher said he felt that the team grew from that lapse.
"You could definitely tell that we wanted to have a better week than we had last week," Mustipher said. "Last week, it wasn’t terrible, but we have a standard in our program that we have to uphold every day, and we didn’t feel like we did that last week. So it was a learning opportunity and it was really good for us. It’s early in the season, we’re still learning some things, and using that as a lesson for the rest of the season was great."
Since Monday is the players' scheduled off day, Franklin said he wants to see them respond again Tuesday and Wednesday, which are Penn State's primary practice days each week. Asked what playing, and practicing, with edge looks like, Franklin described it like this.
"I’m looking for fanatical effort, which I think we’ve done a really good job of playing with really good effort, and I’m looking for an amount of aggressiveness that is right up to the edge of what is legal and appropriate from the snap of the ball until the whistle is blown," Franklin said. "Nothing viewed as dirty, nothing that's going to create penalties after the snap. But when people watch us play, they see a team that plays with tremendous effort and aggressiveness from the time the ball is snapped to the time the whistle is blown."