Penn State’s James Franklin warns team to ‘flush’ distractions
The question was one Micah Parsons didn’t expect.
But Penn State’s sophomore linebacker thought quickly on his feet and gave a good answer, anyway.
The storyline this week for the No. 10 Nittany Lions is how they will react to their second road game of the season Saturday night when they venture into the noisy, cramped confines of Kinnick Stadium to play No. 17 Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are infamous for painting the visiting locker room pink — even the urinals — to supposedly soften the mood of the opponent.
Parsons was asked what he would do to get inside the head of an opponent if he was designing a stadium, and he said, “Ants in the room.”
“Some bugs. I get creeped out by bugs.”
Coach James Franklin made it clear pink doesn’t bug him or, by extension, his team.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “One of the better stories in college football. We’re going to embrace it.”
Another potential distraction this week is HBO’s “24/7 College Football Show” that followed Penn State players around campus last week as they prepared for the Purdue game.
The show, modeled after HBO’s popular “Hard Knocks,” will air its Penn State segment at 10 p.m. Wednesday.
“Get some popcorn, watch it, enjoy it, flush it,” said Franklin, noting his players can watch after they finish their “academics.”
Then, he issued a plea to anyone coming across one of his players the next day.
“I would appreciate it, if you see our players around campus, that you don’t mention it,” he said.
The week might be littered with distractions, including the letter from a fan criticizing safety Jonathan Sutherland’s dreadlocks. But all that matters to Franklin is preparing for “Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa,” he said, repeating the name several times Tuesday during his weekly news conference.
Penn State (5-0, 2-0) sits on the threshold of a season-defining stretch of four games, and Franklin doesn’t want anything getting in the way of his players’ focus.
After Iowa, Penn State comes home to play No. 16 Michigan before traveling to Michigan State on Oct. 26 and undefeated Minnesota on Nov. 9. The Iowa and Michigan games will be nationally televised by ABC.
It starts at Kinnick Stadium, where the stands are so close to the benches that fans almost can reach out and touch the players.
The noise factor can throw off a team’s rhythm, so Franklin plays a pre-recorded din during practice to prepare his players.
“It comes pretty darn close to not being able to hear yourself think,” junior defensive end Shaka Toney said of the noise at practice. “I want to put earplugs in, but everyone knows you can’t play football with earplugs in.”
Toney has been one of the top players on a Penn State defense that is second in the nation in average points allowed (7.4) and No. 1 in sacks per game (five).
“It’s a nice thing to know, but that’s not our goal to lead the nation in sacks after five games,” he said.
Toney recorded three of the Nittany Lions’ 10 sacks last week against Purdue. Still, he wasn’t satisfied.
“I had an OK game,” Toney said. “Yeah, I got to the quarterback, but I could have done more, ran to the ball more, been a little bit more violent in my strike.
“I don’t think I played my best game yet, honestly. I have to be more consistent every single down.”
The 10 sacks were one short of the school record but far short of the team’s goal, Toney said.
“Our goal every game is to sack the quarterback when he drops back,” he said.
In other words, every time he drops back.
“We all know that’s unrealistic, but that has to be in your mind.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .