STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As is the custom for James Franklin, he was mostly unwilling to talk about injuries to his players, in this case, those from Saturday’s loss to Iowa.
But when someone asked him Wednesday night to comment on Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz’s thoughts about his fans booing Penn State players going down with injuries after a play, saying “they smelled a rat,” Franklin eagerly pulled notes out from his pocket and started speaking.
For the next five-plus minutes, the coach of the Nittany Lions, his voice frequently rising, asked fans of Penn State and Iowa to “take their fan hats off” and listen to his thoughts about “what I believe and what I think” about the continuing controversy and “what’s good for football in my opinion, college football.”
“I’ve got tremendous respect for the University of Iowa,” Franklin said at his weekly post-practice availability. “I’ve got tremendous respect for their fans. It was a hell of a game in a tough environment. I’m not making excuses. I’m just stating how I see the facts.
“Let’s talk about injuries. Put yourself in the shoes of a parent. Your son is down on the field for an injury and the stadium is booing them. We didn’t just boo that, we booed balls falling off tees in the wind [prior to a kickoff]. I don’t know who we were booing for that. We weren’t gaining an advantage off that.
“But your son is down on the field with an injury and I just told you [defensive tackle] PJ Mustipher is done for the year and we’re booing. Is that good for college football? Is that good for college football? From a strategy standpoint, would it be strategic for us to tell people PJ Mustipher to go down and fake an injury? One of our best players? One of our starters? One of our captains? Does that make sense? If you were going to do it, you wouldn’t do it with your starter, your captain.”
Franklin announced earlier that Mustipher, who had been named Wednesday as a semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award given to the nation’s top offensive or defensive lineman, would miss the rest of the season. He did not specify the injury, but Mustipher appeared to injure his left knee on the fifth play of the game.
At his weekly news conference Tuesday, Ferentz called the booing “probably a reaction to … there were a couple guys that were down for the count and then were back a play or two later. Our fans aren’t stupid, they’re watching, they know what’s going on.”
In addition to Mustipher, quarterback Sean Clifford, safety Jonathan Sutherland and running backs Devyn Ford and John Lovett did not return to the game after being injured.
Franklin did not discuss their status other than to say of Clifford, “He’s doing everything he possibly can to get back as soon as he possibly can and go from there. What he’s dealing with is not uncommon at the quarterback position.”
Three defensive players — end Arnold (A.K.) Ebiketie, safety Jaquan Brisker, and tackle D’Von Ellies, who replaced Mustipher — left the game with injuries but eventually returned.
“Would it make sense for the backup defensive tackle — we’ve already lost our starter — to send him out of the game for a play? I don’t think so,” Franklin said. “A.K., maybe our best defensive player, and his [injury] probably looked the worst. He went down, maybe it was because he plays so hard, he was cramping. But am I going to tell A.K. to go down and not play a play on defense? Does that make any sense? Brisker, he went down twice against Wisconsin. They didn’t boo him.”
Franklin said in his 11 seasons as a head coach — eight at Penn State and three at Vanderbilt — staying down after plays to slow the opposing offense “has not showed up.” He said the strategy doesn’t make sense against a team that huddles before a play as Iowa does.
“So it was a physical game,” he said. “And how it may have looked, I get it. I’m telling you, we don’t coach it, we don’t teach it. And did it look that way because there were a bunch of injuries in the game? I get it. There was a bunch of injuries in the game. But 70 percent of our guys never returned.
“I wasn’t attacking the University of Iowa. I’m trying to protect college football. I don’t think that’s the right thing for our game. I’ve got tremendous respect for their program, for their head coach, who’s been doing it a long time.
“But I felt like after the game, I had to say something because when I’ve got my starting D-tackle PJ Mustipher, down on the field and he can’t play for the rest of the season; he’s my captain, and they’re booing him? I don’t think anybody would feel good about that.”