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Penn State’s James Franklin talks about players opting out of the Outback Bowl

At a news conference Wednesday, the Nittany Lions coach didn't seem to fully embrace his players' absence but supports them while being excited for his younger players

Penn State coach James Franklin during the game against the Auburn Tigers on Sept. 18.
Penn State coach James Franklin during the game against the Auburn Tigers on Sept. 18.Read moreScott Taetsch / MCT

TAMPA, Fla. – Penn State coach James Franklin says he knew some players would opt out of Saturday’s Outback Bowl matchup against No. 22 Arkansas, but that doesn’t mean he has fully embraced the concept.

“We’ve never seen this in college football, right? We’ve never seen people not playing,” Franklin said Wednesday at a joint news conference with Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman. “It happened a little bit last year. We thought we were done with it. It’s happening again this year.

“I don’t really kind of want to get into it because I can’t really speak for other people, what they are doing. For us, we want to play.”

The Nittany Lions (7-5) lost a fifth starter from the defensive side of the ball, and sixth overall, on Wednesday when redshirt senior tackle Derrick Tangelo announced he would skip the game and focus on preparing himself for the NFL draft.

Tangelo joins end Arnold Ebiketie, his fellow Penn State graduate transfer, along with safety Jaquan Brisker, linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith and wide receiver Jahan Dotson on the opt-out list.

Franklin said he has never had a player opt out in his 11 years as a head coach, three at Vanderbilt and eight at Penn State, although linebacker Micah Parsons decided not to play during last year’s COVID 19-affected season.

» READ MORE: Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, formerly of Temple, declares for NFL draft and will skip Outback Bowl

“It’s challenging,” he said. “What I would say is, I’m focused on the guys that are in our locker room. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy and excited and supportive of the guys that are not. But I’m excited about the guys that are in our locker room and I’m excited about the guys that are going to have bigger roles.

“At the end of the day, the reality is you’ve got to find a way to get it done. As one door closes, another door opens. It’s an opportunity for another player. I think it’s also going to give us a really good kind of picture of what our future is going to be. Guys are going to get a bunch of reps in this game that maybe hadn’t throughout the season. There’s some challenges, [but] our guys are excited.”

The coach added that the information on the players who opted out “is new for you guys [reporters], it’s not new for us. We’ve been planning and preparing for this for a while.”

Franklin faces an interesting decision at linebacker replacing two departed starters. Freshmen Kobe King and Jamari Buddin each have played in four games this season, with King’s last game having been on Oct. 2 against Indiana. Under NCAA rules, they will lose their redshirts if they play Saturday, and have their first year of eligibility count.

Franklin wouldn’t tip his hand but admitted that he has spoken to players and their parents in situations such as this.

“We’ve been very strategic about playing guys in four games, playing some guys in three games, saving a game for a bowl, things like that,” he said. “As the season went on, we had the flu spike, other things, it was hard to do that. So yeah, we have some guys that we’re going to have to burn their redshirts for this game.”

The coach also said that safety Jonathan Sutherland, who will return for a sixth season next year, will switch over to linebacker for Saturday’s game.

On the topic of the recent COVID-19 outbreaks that have forced the cancellation of five bowl games so far, Franklin said he continues to emphasize to his players the need to make sound choices to stay healthy.

“We’re just going to do everything we possibly can, like we have all year long, to keep our guys safe,” he said. “I do think we’re at a point in the season where they’re kind of sick of listening to me. We’ve been pounding these messages home all year long.”

The 6-foot-2, 308-pound Tangelo, who transferred to Penn State from Duke after the 2020 season, became the primary anchor in the middle of the defensive line after PJ Mustipher was lost for the year with a knee injury suffered at Iowa. He finished 10th on the team in tackles with 29, with five tackles for losses and two sacks.