Penn State head coach James Franklin made national headlines after the Nittany Lions' narrow loss to Ohio State when he said his team was too comfortable being a great program and needed to become more "uncomfortable" to rise to an elite level.
Eleven days later, at his weekly teleconference, Franklin spoke less about the comfort of his players and more about what they had to do to make the program better.
"We're at a point in our program, we have to fight for every little gain we possibly can find, and it's not going to be in one specific area," Franklin said Tuesday. "Can we improve 1 percent in nutrition? Can we improve 1 percent in sleep? Can we improve 1 percent in scheme? Can we improve 1 percent in terms of practice, effort, focus in meetings, in taking notes and all those types of things?
"That's really where we're at. So we spend a lot of time talking about that and challenging each coach, including myself, and the players to all look at it that way. How can we get 1 percent better in multiple areas? There's tremendous value in that."
Franklin didn't want to review old news, the disappointing 27-26 defeat against Ohio State on Sept. 29, and preferred to look ahead to Saturday's matchup against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium.
It's a similar setup to last year; the Nittany Lions lost a 39-38 heartbreaker at Ohio State and traveled the following week to East Lansing, where they had to endure a 3 ½-hour weather delay and lost to the Spartans, 27-24, on a field goal on the game's final play.
At least this season, the Lions had a bye week between the games. They enter Saturday's contest as the No. 8 team in the Associated Press poll, and winners of 24 of their last 28 games.
"I'm very, very pleased with the direction of the program and where we're going, but we've got to fight to get to that next level … that next stage," Franklin said. "It's not going to be any one moment where you have this 'A-ha' moment and the light goes on. It's that daily grind on little things that most people overlook.
"I think we're headed there. All signs show that, but it's still going to be a lot of heavy lifting."
Franklin said redshirt freshman wide receiver/kick returner K.J. Hamler and third-year sophomore defensive end Shane Simmons are expected to be in the lineup against the Spartans.
Hamler left the Ohio State game early in the fourth quarter after a hard hit that resulted in the ejection of Buckeyes defensive back Isaiah Pryor for targeting. He is averaging 23.7 yards per pass reception, fourth in FBS.
Simmons, who was expected to be part of the regular rotation at defensive end, suffered an unspecified injury in training camp and has yet to play this season.
"He's a guy this spring and summer we were really excited about and he has not been available up to this point," Franklin said. "We'll see how much he plays, but even if he can give us 10 to 15 plays on Saturday and play those reps at a really high level, then I think it's a win for us."