When the Ohio State football team rolls into town on Saturday, Penn State coach James Franklin knows which player to keep a close eye on.
And when it comes to that particular player, he knows the numbers down to the last detail.
“Joey Bosa, No. 97, is the guy that jumps out to us the most,” Franklin said at a Tuesday press conference. “He’s a 6-foot-5, 280 pounds defensive tackle and has a team-high nine tackles for a loss and five and a half sacks.”
It was a good try by Franklin, but he didn’t quite have Bosa’s measurables correct. The sophomore defensive lineman is actually listed at 278 pounds on the OSU roster.
But outside of that two-pound difference, the first-year Penn State coach had Bosa’s numbers spot on. He also knows exactly how the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native stacks up against other players in the Big Ten.
“He leads the Big Ten in tackles for a loss and forced fumbles, and is No. 2 in sacks,” Franklin said.
The praise for Bosa didn’t end there. Franklin said he has a “rare combination” of strength and athleticism that makes him difficult to stop.
“Those guys are hard to find and they don’t come around very often,” he said. “I think that’s what makes him a challenge. Obviously, we need to be aware of him.”
Bosa is no stranger to coaches singing his praise, as he was a big name in college football even as a high school athlete at St. Thomas Aquinas. He said he knows what coaches — even from opposing teams — have to say, but added he simply tries to block it out and stay focused.
“I just don’t really pay attention to any of it,” Bosa said Wednesday. “I just keep working, keep doing what I do and try to get better every day.”
No matter whether Bosa listens or not, Franklin knows his game inside and out. But there’s one portion of No. 97’s play the Nittany Lions’ coach failed to mention: his sack celebration.
In recent weeks, Bosa has been seen shrugging his shoulders and putting his hands out to the side after taking down an opposing quarterback. Immediately popular with the Buckeyes’ fan base, Bosa said the celebration came from “nowhere” at all.
“(It) just happened,” he said. “And I guess a bunch of people like it, so now I feel obliged to, like I have to do it every time I get a sack.”
While Franklin didn’t mention the celebration, Bosa said his own coach — Urban Meyer — took note during the Buckeyes’ win against Maryland on Oct. 4.
“Maryland, I held it too long apparently, ‘cause coach Meyer got on me a little bit about how Oregon lost about that excessive celebration,” Bosa said. “So I have to flash it really quick now.”
But if he wants more reasons to flash his celebration, Bosa will have to continue finding ways to get to the quarterback. He said part of keeping up his production is making sure that he stays energized.
How active he can be is up to how many snaps defensive line coach Larry Johnson — who was an assistant at Penn State for nearly 20 years — leaves him on the field for, Bosa said.
“He holds me in for as long as he wants,” he said. “Obviously rotating helps me being fresh. I want to rotate because it will give me rest and let me play at 100 percent.”
On Monday, Johnson said he does what he can to keep his top defensive lineman fresh throughout each contest, and added that could benefit the Buckeyes in the future.
“When you have good players, it’s tough to take those guys out,” Johnson said. “Right now I’m just trying to rest them. You think about last week, Joey Bosa played 51 plays, opposed to playing 67 plays. That’s going to help us down the road.”
For the Buckeyes, the next stop down the road is in State College, Pa., where they are scheduled to play the Nittany Lions on Saturday at 8 p.m.
But if the Buckeye faithful who make the trip to Penn State want to catch a glimpse of Bosa’s celebration, they’ll have to keep a close watch, because he said it won’t happen more than once.
“At least once a game,” Bosa said. “If I get more (sacks) than one, I’ll have to do something else.”