One of James Franklin's post-game statements last weekend after Penn State's latest crushing loss could have been quite surprising to someone who follows sports: "Goal-setting — I don't believe in it."
Franklin wasn't pleased with how the Nittany Lions prepared for Michigan State in the week prior to their 27-24 loss to the Spartans in Lansing on a walk-off field goal. He wanted his team to focus on the task at hand — the next game — instead of fixating on long-range goals of championships.
Three days after walking out of Spartan Stadium with his team, Franklin explained that in his seven years as a head coach, setting goals to him was "a powerful, useful took for some people. But it's not something that I've ever used for the leadership position.
"For us it's about our formula of how we do things, not necessarily setting a goal," he said. "I think what I learned early on as a head coach is you set a goal that some people may see as a fairly aggressive goal and then you reach that goal. It's human nature to take a deep breath and feel like you've arrive. Now you can reset another goal. But I don't think it has the same type of effect.
"I'd also make that argument if you set a goal and that goal is not longer obtainable any more, then that has an impact as well. So I'm a big believer in you wake up every single morning, you maximize the day, you prepare the best you possibly can. You do all the things necessary to put your program and your organization and your team in the best position to be successful.
"So you focus on the formula, not necessarily on the goals and things like that because goals in a lot of ways can limit you at certain times."
Franklin does have a weekly goal — to be 1-0 by week's end, which the Nittany Lions (No. 14 in College Football Playoff rankings, No. 16 in AP poll) will attempt to achieve Saturday against Rutgers at Beaver Stadium. He indicated there has been more attention to detail this week because "when you lose two games by a total of four points, it doesn't take much."
Former Penn State and NFL star Matt Millen, the analyst for Saturday's telecast of the game on the Big Ten Network, said he doesn't feel Franklin is totally against setting goals.
"I think the goal-setter part that he was probably talking about was, I think it's understood without being said what they want to accomplish," Millen said in a telephone interview. "I think when you start talking about it so much, sometimes it becomes a distraction instead of a goal.
"Wanting to win the national championship, wanting to win the Big Ten championship, those are the goals, they're understood. But if you start beating them to death, then you lose sight of how you get to them. But those goals can only be attained if you put the work in. So to me, it's probably more of, 'Look, let's just grind, things will take care of themselves, we're not even going to talk about it.' I've been around that understanding many times."
Franklin said Penn State has been practicing well and has its collective focus on Rutgers. Wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins said the narrow losses to Ohio State (39-38) and Michigan State do not mean much to the Lions because they're looking ahead.
"The games are in the past," he said. "Losses are in the past. Wins are in the past. What matters now is Rutgers."
By The Numbers
Number of consecutive games in which Saquon Barkley had scored a touchdown, a streak that ended last week against Michigan State.
Yards needed by Barkley to join Evan Royster as the only two players in Penn State history to attain three 1,000-yard seasons.
Average yards of total offense gained by Rutgers, ranking the team 126th of the 129 teams playing in FBS.
Three Things to Watch
Rutgers has been relying on the running game of late and that means handing the ball off to Gus Edwards, a 235-pound fifth-year senior and Miami transfer who rushed for 109 yards last week in the win over Maryland.
After being bottled up on the road by Ohio State and Michigan State, Saquon Barkley could use a big game rushing to make he and his teammates feel better, and to give his flagging Heisman Trophy chances a boost.
Penn State coach James Franklin talked in the past week about his team being more physical, so it'll be interesting to see if their offensive and defensive lines have received the message.