ANN ARBOR, Mich. — James Franklin was the offensive coordinator at Maryland in 2009, the same season that Don Brown served as the Terrapins' defensive coordinator. Now the Penn State head coach, Franklin said he has a lot of respect "personally and professionally" for Brown.
The two men will be on opposite sidelines Saturday at Michigan Stadium when the fifth-ranked Wolverines host No. 14 Penn State, and Brown and the members of his defense could be armed with some bulletin-board material provided by their opponent.
During his weekly post-practice availability Wednesday with reporters, Franklin volunteered that Brown's unit, particularly his secondary, likes to bend the rules a little.
"They hold. They grab. They hold. They tug. They pull," Franklin said. "They get called for it a decent amount, but they also get away with it a lot more."
Franklin said the Michigan cornerbacks play a style in which "they're going to run with you and be in your hip.
"While they're in your hip, they're grabbing your pants; they're grabbing your hip," he said. "Very rarely is it the jersey because you see the jersey. They're well-coached at it."
Franklin said his team's mentality all week has been fighting through whatever fouls there might be. He directed the secondary on the Penn State scout team to grab and hold receivers in practice because he wants it to be "harder than it's going to be in the game."
"One of two things have got to happen," he said. "We've got to fight through it and make the play, or we've got to fight through it so hard that the holding or the pull or the tug becomes obvious and it gets called. So that's our challenge this week."
Michigan was penalized nine times for 99 yards in its last game against Michigan State two weeks ago. The Spartans picked up five first downs via penalty.
The accusations might fuel some extra fire in the Wolverines during the game. They were quoted earlier this week in the Detroit News discussing their unhappiness with Penn State's calling two running plays last year in the closing seconds near the Michigan goal line instead of just taking a knee with a 29-point lead.
At his weekly teleconference Tuesday, Franklin was complimentary of his former colleague, saying the Wolverines lead the nation in total defense because of Brown's style of being "greedy."
"Most defensive coordinators will give you something while trying to take another thing away," he said. "Don does not want to give up a yard in the game. He tries to take everything away from you. That's how they play."
Quarterback Trace McSorley said he noticed in watching tape that the Michigan defense plays "with a lot of attitude, a lot of swagger [and] physicality."
"Everyone flies to the ball 100 miles an hour from the snap to the echo of the whistle," he said. "They're playing hard. They're playing aggressive. They kind of come out with the mentality that they're going to be the hammer."
Penn State at Michigan
Saturday, 3:45 p.m., Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Records: Penn State, 6-2, 3-2 Big Ten, ranked No. 14 by the AP; Michigan, 7-1, 5-0, ranked No. 5.
Coaches: Penn State, James Franklin (fifth season, 42-19); Michigan, Jim Harbaugh (fourth season, 35-12).
TV/Radio: ESPN; WNTP-AM (990); WNPV-AM (1440)
History: Michigan holds a 13-8 lead in the series. Penn State won last year's meeting, 42-13, at Beaver Stadium. This is the 10th time in which both teams have been ranked in the top 25 on the day of the game.
Three things to watch
Penn State needs a clean game. The Nittany Lions are eight games into the regular season and continue to make mistakes that usually are seen in the first week or two. They yielded two (two!) safeties last week because of errors on the punting unit. Iowa earned two first downs after facemask and offside penalties against the Lions. Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders failed to connect on a handoff in the red zone and lost the fumble. No one is expecting mistake-free football Saturday, but it won't take that many unforced errors to sabotage their chances at a victory.
How is McSorley? The Penn State quarterback didn't offer much about his injury from last week, probably to his knee, other than to say, "It's feeling good." There is no doubt he will play but the mystery is whether he'll have full freedom to move about against Michigan's fast and hard-hitting defense. The Wolverines secondary plays an aggressive man-to-man that might open some running lanes for McSorley, but that could result in television viewers covering their faces in their hands when he gets hit. James Franklin said that his team doesn't call plays for a specific runner, that it's determined by what McSorley reads, but Sanders must get more carries.
Time of possession. In their last two games, the Nittany Lions have been on defense for 100 plays by Indiana and 88 plays by Iowa. Now they get to face a Michigan team that averages 34 minutes, 18 seconds in time of possession (36:46 in Big Ten games). The Lions' task is to do a better job of getting off the field on third down and forcing more turnovers against the Wolverines, who have committed seven this season. They managed to intercept Iowa's Nate Stanley twice last week but they claimed no fumbles. How's this for a statistic: Penn State opponents have fumbled 18 times, but the Lions have recovered just four of them.