STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – James Franklin is still looking for the best of both worlds for his Penn State offense.
The first-year coach wants at least eight "explosive" plays of 20 yards or more each game; the Nittany Lions are averaging just over six.
He also wants a go-to running game to complement quarterback Christian Hackenberg's passing. At just 101 yards per game and 3.1 yards per rushing attempt, Penn State has yet to establish the run.
The Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1) are continuing to search for an offensive identity heading into Saturday night's game at Michigan (2-4, 0-2).
"What you have to be careful of is, now you've become too conservative in how you're calling the game and that can make you a little bit predictable as well," Franklin said Tuesday.
"To create explosive plays, there's usually some risk associated with it in terms of play-action or drop-back or holding onto the ball a little bit longer. Now you have a chance for negative yardage plays and it puts you in third-and-long and it makes it difficult to sustain drives."
Penn State won four straight games to open the season but was upended 26-9 by Northwestern prior to a bye week.
Michigan, which has lost consecutive games to Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers, lost No. 1 running back Derrick Green to a broken shoulder. Coach Brady Hoke has been under fire because Michigan has lost nine of its last 13 games,including a 26-24 setback to Rutgers last Saturday while Penn State rested.
Franklin said the extra practice time afforded by the off week was productive. Instead of expanding the Lions' playbook, he reeled it in a bit.
"We've been taking the approach the last couple weeks that less is more," Franklin said. "We want to make sure that we start getting good at some things and that's really in all three phases."
Franklin said a good ground game is footwork, fundamentals and experience. The Lions are working on the first two but have little of the third, he said.
"We have to commit to the run game and we have to be patient, and there may be what people would call an ugly three-yard run," he said. "Those are beautiful."
Franklin said Saturday's game will be his first visit to The Big House. He said that won't change his team's preparation.
"I want them to experience that and I want them to have fun with that, but it's not like we're going to talk about it differently or approach it differently," he said.