Lions prepare for first Friday night regular season game in 36 years

By Derek Levarse - [email protected]
Penn State coach James Franklin has aimed to keep practices as similar as possible to a normal week while preparing for a very rare Friday night game. - Joe Hermitt | AP photo, The Patriot-News

James Franklin hates the idea of playing on a Friday night. But he feels good about his team has dealt with it.

Penn State will take the field for a Friday regular season game for the first time in 36 years when the Nittany Lions travel to Illinois for their Big Ten opener. Franklin has repeatedly said he thinks Fridays should be reserved for high school football and dislikes having routine broken for his team.

So he has tried to keep things as normal as possible for his players and staff.

“I think we have a really good plan for it,” Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I felt good. I thought (Monday’s) practice was excellent. I thought Sunday’s practice was excellent. I like where we’re at. We’re not talking about this week any other way than this is game week. I do not like talking about it any different than that, because I think it has a psychological effect and we won’t do that.

“We’ve got the same amount of days to get ready that Illinois does. So I kind of voiced some of my thoughts before this week started. But now that it’s this week, this is game week for us.”

The main difference is that players typically have Monday as an off day, and that was lost in the short week. Other than that, the practices were run the same way.

“I don’t think its much of an adjustment for us,” senior captain Nick Scott said. “Nothing to my knowledge has changed for us. Everything is pretty much the same.”

“It’s game week,” fellow senior Mark Allen said. “We just approach it the same. This is what we were dealt. They had the same week as us.”

Penn State’s last Friday game in the regular season came against Pitt in the Lions’ national championship 1982 season. So it wasn’t as though there was a recent precedent to follow.

As head coach at Vanderbilt, Franklin had played in two Thursday night games, but both came in the season-opener, making for an easier situation.

“We’ve embraced it,” Franklin said. “I think we got a really good plan from our strength staff, as well as our administrative staff, as well as our sport scientists and studying all these things. I like our plan. I feel good about it.”

Infirmary report

Both quarterback Tommy Stevens and cornerback John Reid were in uniform and went through warm-up drills against Kent State but did not play as they recover from undisclosed injuries.

Franklin said both should be available to play Friday. Of course, it remains to be seen how much either will play or in what roles, especially with a potential top-10 showdown with Ohio State set for next week.

Stevens, who retains his special “Lion” designation on the depth chart as well as being the second-team quarterback, has yet to play this season. His role in the offense as an extra all-around weapon in the offense had grown as last season went along, but an apparent foot injury has sidelined him.

”I will share this with you — if we needed Tommy last week we could have played Tommy last week,” Franklin said. “So we’re just being a little more cautious than probably we need to be.”

Reid started at corner in the opener against Appalachian State but exited the game in the second half and hasn’t played a snap since. Other than saying that he has been banged up — Reid missed all of 2017 with a knee injury — Franklin has not given details on whether Reid has been dealing with a new issue or is still battling effects of the old one.

But he should play on Friday.

”Yeah, we expect John back (this week),” Franklin said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he will start. Sophmore Tariq Castro-Fields has impressed in Reid’s absence, providing tight coverage and tackling very well — according to Pro Football focus, he has allowed just 7 yards after the catch this season.

Freiermuth impressing

Penn State’s latest depth chart elevated true freshman Pat Freiermuth as one of three possible starters at tight end along with junior Jonathan Holland and sophomore Danny Dalton.

Holland has started all three games this season. Dalton had been second in line but missed the Kent State game with an undisclosed injury, though he was in uniform.

Freiermuth took advantage of the extra snaps and made an impression, making a tough, leaping grab for 23 yards on the sideline. He also has done well enough as a blocker that the Lions have used two-tight-end sets far more frequently than in recent seasons when depth at the position was a problem.

The 6-foot-5, 258-pounder helped open holes on Trace McSorley’s red zone touchdown runs on Saturday and also cleared some space for Miles Sanders’ winning score against Appalachian State.

“Freiermuth is extremely good. I noticed that from camp,” Allen said. “He’s taken advantage of everything, every rep he’s had, and it’s carrying over. And he’s getting more. And I have always told the coaches that in the past that he looks good and he’s showing it again. And it’s always good to have a good blocker.”

Penn State coach James Franklin has aimed to keep practices as similar as possible to a normal week while preparing for a very rare Friday night game. State coach James Franklin has aimed to keep practices as similar as possible to a normal week while preparing for a very rare Friday night game. Joe Hermitt | AP photo, The Patriot-News

By Derek Levarse

[email protected]

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse

Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse