Penn State with reason to celebrate as tireless recruiting efforts pay off on Signing Day

Penn State with reason to celebrate as tireless recruiting efforts pay off on Signing Day

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State lost a battle for the services of Mark Webb, a four-star wide receiver from Archbishop Wood, but won enough other skirmishes that Nittany Lions coach James Franklin declared this year’s recruiting cycle a success as National Signing Day wound down Wednesday.

So much so that he planned to have all his assistants over at his home outside State College later in the day.

“We’re going to get after it pretty good,” the Langhorne, Pennsylvania native promised during an afternoon news conference.

They had certainly done so on the recruiting trail, bringing in a 21-man class ranked 12th in the nation by, 14th by and 15th by 247Sports. Rivals and 247 had the Lions third in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State and Michigan, while also put Maryland ahead of PSU.

The class is headed by Lamont Wade, a cornerback from Clairton, Pennsylvania, and the only five-star recruit in the bunch. And it was completed when another corner, Tariq Castro-Fields of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, announced for PSU (over Alabama and Maryland) exactly two minutes before Franklin began his presser.

The Lions also secured a letter of intent Tuesday from Corey Bolds, a three-star defensive tackle from Paramus, New Jersey. He opted for PSU over Rutgers and Minnesota.

This comes on the heels of Ellis Brooks' flipping his commitment from Maryland to the Lions on Monday. Brooks, an inside linebacker from Richmond, fills a gap in the class created when another 'backer, Dylan Rivers, decommitted from PSU in favor of Virginia Tech.

As for Webb, he committed to Georgia months ago. The Lions, nonetheless, stayed on him. He visited campus this past weekend, and on Tuesday the coaching staff sent a photo to Webb’s dad, Mark Sr., showing everyone wearing a Penn State jersey with the younger Webb’s No. 81 emblazoned upon it.

Mark Sr. told Tuesday that his son was “overwhelmed” by the pitch and would “sleep on it” before making a decision.

Ultimately, the younger Webb stuck with the Bulldogs after “hard and resilient soul-searching,” as Mark Sr. tweeted to Franklin and his staff Wednesday morning. Webb went on to thank the coaching staff, as well as the fans and alums “for welcoming us with such warmth.”

Franklin and his assistants pride themselves on their doggedness, as well as their ability to build relationships. The staff, he said, hadn’t taken a day off since July. And when asked how many miles he had flown in the last month, he couldn’t even hazard a guess.

“Half the time I didn’t know where I was going,” he said. “I got on the plane, and when it landed I got off and started talking about Penn State.”

He often had the Big Ten championship trophy (or, at least, the silver football portion of it) in tow. And while in his opinion the Lions’ title helped “a little” in the recruitment of Wade, one of four early enrollees, Franklin believes it will have more impact on recruits the next two years.

Josh Gattis, the offensive recruiting coordinator, thought otherwise — that it had to help with this year’s haul.

“When we first got the job (in January 2014), we were selling them on a vision,” he said. “This time around, we were able to go in with a championship trophy and show them that the process works.”

Franklin did admit that the Lions are at “a different place” than when he arrived three years ago. At that point, the roster was threadbare because of the NCAA sanctions resulting from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. Now the Lions are reaching the point where they have solid prospects all over the depth chart.

“Now,” Franklin said, “it’s going to be iron sharpens iron (in practice). … It’s not like we have glaring holes now like we did before.”

That’s particularly true along the offensive front. Franklin has often mentioned that he had just nine scholarship offensive linemen at his disposal when he was hired. Now there are six on the roster with starting experience, and a bevy of promising guys waiting in the wings.

Four incoming recruits — Mike Miranda (an early enrollee), C.J. Thorpe, Desmond Holmes and Rob Martin — will only add to the line’s depth.

“I think our offensive line will be a strength moving forward,” Franklin said.

Franklin and defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith are particularly high on Thorpe, a four-star guard from Pittsburgh.

“I think C.J. Thorpe is one of the best players in this recruiting class,” Smith said. “He’s going to have an immediate impact.”

Thorpe’s dad, Chris, played at PSU in the '80s, and his older brother Niko is a linebacker at Fordham, having been recruited by current Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead when he was the Rams’ head coach.

“He’s a grown man,” Franklin said of the younger Thorpe, who carries 300-plus pounds on a 6-4 frame. “He’s an offensive lineman with a nastiness to him. He wants to finish you.”

Thorpe flirted with UCLA and Michigan in the weeks leading up to signing day, but his dad said last week that his son never really wavered; rather, Chris merely wanted his son to weigh all his options. 

Franklin seemed to concur.

“You say we had to fight for him at the end,” he said. “I don’t know if that was necessarily the case.”

Some other notes from Signing Day:

• Wade “will have the opportunity to play both sides of the ball,” Smith said, but in spring practice he will concentrate on defense.

“We just want to get him to where he knows the system defensively,” Smith said, adding that Wade “brings the ability to play the nickel position.”

Wade also played running back in high school.

• Hippenhammer, a switch-hitting shortstop, will get the chance to play baseball, according to Franklin.

“That’s something selfishly as a football coach, I want him to play football,” he added.

But he also called baseball coach Rob Cooper “my guy,” and said they worked hand in hand in Hippenhammer’s recruitment.

“If it works out (that he can double up), great,” Franklin said.

• Yetur Matos, a defensive end from Fredericksburg, Virginia, “may be the sleeper of the class,” in Franklin’s opinion. He timed out well, the head coach said, and will add strength to his 6-5, 245-pound frame.

• Jonathan Sutherland, a safety from Alexandria, Virginia, is a hitter. In fact, Smith said, “He’s much like Marcus (Allen), but he’s not as big as Marcus.” Sutherland, who carries 195 pounds on his 6-foot frame, is also a good cover guy, in Smith’s estimation.

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008


That’s why football is a week-to-week game. Forget about momentum.

Temple found that out the hard way. After coming alive in a big road win over East Carolina last week, the Owls were humbled when a fourth-quarter rally fell short Saturday in a 28-24 homecoming loss to Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Owls had one final shot at the victory with a drive in the final minute, but a Logan Marchi heave to the end zone was broken up.

The loss dropped Temple back under .500 at 3-4 (1-3 American Athletic Conference). UConn moved to 2-5 (2-2) with the victory.

• Say what you want about Temple quarterback Marchi (and you surely will after this game), but the guy is a fighter. Whether things are going his way or not, he continues to try to search for his receivers and attempt to squeeze the ball into those windows on the field. He made it two consecutive games with 300-plus yards passing as he was 33 of 54 for 356 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday.

• The game marked Temple’s first homecoming loss in nearly a decade. TU hadn’t suffered a homecoming defeat since a 7-3 loss to Western Michigan on Sept. 27, 2008. On that day, former Eagles DB Jaiquawn Jarrett was beaten in coverage on a double move in the third quarter for the game’s lone touchdown. Coming into Saturday, the Owls had won eight straight homecoming matchups by an average margin of 19.3 points.

• There was a rare sighting for Temple at the Linc: a rushing touchdown from a tailback. In fact, there were two. David Hood, who became the first Owls tailback to score on a run this season in last week’s rout of East Carolina, punched it in from one yard out to open the scoring in the first quarter. Ryquell Armstead weaved his way into the end zone for a 10-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.

• Delvon Randall is simply a playmaker. The Owls’ leading tackler, Randall added another five stops in Saturday’s win. The junior DB also made a beautiful play along the sideline in the first quarter when he undercut an out route for an interception. It marked Randall’s third straight game with a pick. The Owls only have four interceptions this season and Randall has three of them.

• My colleague Greg Paone touched on college football’s targeting rule a couple of weeks ago (see story)We agree on pretty much all of the nuts and bolts of the rule. I’m glad it’s in place to protect players from violent and unnecessary hits. However, the more I see it called each week — and it seems like there is at least one in every game now — the more I’m starting to dislike the implementation. Temple defensive lineman Sharif Finch was ejected for targeting on Saturday when he went high on Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs on a third-quarter touchdown pass. Shirreffs sold the hit by jerking his head back as he fell to the ground, but it was definitely worthy of a penalty. Was it a late hit? Yes. A bone-headed hit? Absolutely. But one worthy of Temple losing a top defensive player for the remainder of the game? I don’t think so.

• Speaking of Shirreffs, it’s easy to see why the Huskies have the best passing offense in the AAC. He didn’t show it with yardage in this tilt (just 105), but he was able to connect on three touchdowns through the air. He also added 39 yards on the ground, including a key run up the middle late in the fourth quarter.

• The Owls simply aren’t a good enough team to overcome 12 penalties for 117 yards.

• Like any other major college football game around the country, Saturday’s matchup at the Linc had scouts from NFL teams listed to attend. Of course, the Eagles were listed for several scouts in their home stadium. While the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were also among those expected to have representatives at the game, there was only one other team labeled for more than one scout besides the Eagles — the New York Giants. At 0-5, they can certainly use all the help they can get right now.

• Temple will look to rebound when the Owls travel to play their final non-conference opponent in Army at 12 p.m. next Saturday.

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

USA Today Images

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

Temple (3-3, 1-2 American) vs. UConn (1-4, 0-3 American)
Lincoln Financial Field, ESPNews
Noon Saturday

Last time out
Temple beat East Carolina, 34-10, last Saturday.

UConn lost to Memphis, 70-31, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Last week, quarterback Logan Marchi finally got on track with his first 300-yard game of the season against East Carolina. This week, the redshirt sophomore will face UConn, the team he initially committed to in high school under former coach Paul Pasqualoni. Marchi was then denied after a coaching change was made. The Huskies have the worst passing defense in the AAC, giving up 399.8 passing yards per game, and have allowed 19 touchdowns through the air in 2017. If Marchi can play well for a second week in a row, look for Temple’s offense to put up some points. 

Another matchup to look at is UConn’s passing attack against Temple’s defense. The Huskies’ boast the best passing offense in terms of yards in the AAC, averaging 325.8 yards per game, but have only scored nine touchdowns this year. Temple, on the other hand, allows the eighth-most passing yards in the conference (253 yards per game), but is ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 26 points per game. Connecticut must convert drives into touchdowns against this Owls defense if it wants to compete.

What it means
Temple’s hopes to reach the AAC championship game might not be realistic anymore but its bowl hopes are still alive. A win against UConn would put the Owls just two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible, which after their start would be good for Owl fans.

Series history
Temple holds the 12-5 series advantage over Connecticut, and is currently on a three-game win streak.

What’s next?
Temple travels to Army.

UConn hosts Tulsa. 

Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) at Columbia (4-0, 1-0 Ivy)
Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
1:30 p.m. Saturday

Last time out
Penn lost at Central Connecticut State, 42-21, Saturday.

Columbia defeated Marist, 41-17, Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn’s strength is its rushing attack. They rank second in the Ivy League averaging 204 yards per game on the ground. Karekin Brooks has 543 yards rushing and five touchdowns so far this season. Getting the ground game going will be key for the Quakers this week.

Columbia defense has been strong so far this season. The Lions rank second in the Ivy League in total defense only allowing 316 yards per game and are third in the Ivy in pass defense. The Lions allow 194.8 yards per game through the air.

Series history
This is the 96th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 73-21-1 advantage and have won the last 19 editions.

What’s next?
Penn hosts Yale.

Columbia is at Dartmouth.

Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA)
Bridgeforth Stadium
6 p.m. Saturday

Last time out

Villanova defeated Maine, 31-0, Saturday.

James Madison beat Delaware, 20-10, Saturday.

Scouting report
Villanova has allowed just 1.6 yards per carry and 52 rushing yards per game this season. The Wildcats boast a strong scoring defense as well, the best in the Colonial allowing only nine points per game.

James Madison boasts the second-best rushing offense in the CAA averaging 223 yards per game and is second in scoring defense. The Dukes allow just 10 points per game to opposing offenses. Look for this game to be defensive showdown.

Series history
This is the 26th meeting between the teams. James Madison leads the series 14-11 and won 20-7 last season.

What’s next?
Villanova hosts Elon next Saturday.

James Madison travels to William & Mary next Saturday.