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Penn State Football: Bill O’Brien’s Hidden Summer Advantage Prepping for His Opening Games

by on June 08, 2012 6:04 AM

With the 2012 season opener a dozen weeks away, Bill O’Brien and his staff are admittedly already at work for the initial slate of Penn State’s games.

“In June we’ll be getting ready for training camp,” O’Brien said during the Coaches Caravan, “and prepping for our first three games – Ohio, Virginia and Navy.”

That trio of foes may not be as easy as it looks. Combined, they went 23-16 in 2011, and went to two bowls.

Ohio was 10-4 in 2011, losing in the MAC championship but beating Utah State in the Potato Bowl. The Bobcats have all five offensive linemen back and are coached by veteran Frank Solich, who was last in Beaver Stadium in 2002, when his Cornhuskers lost, 40-7 to Penn State. Kickoff for that game is noon on ESPN.

Virginia was 8-5 in 2011, losing 43-24 to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. (Current Lion defensive coordinator Ted Roof was Auburn's DC in 2011, but left on Dec. 8 -- prior to the bowl game -- for a similar post at Central Florida.) Over the final five regular-season games last season, the Cavaliers won four times – including big wins on the road at Miami (Fla.) and Florida State. ABC will televise the noon start.

And while Navy was 5-7 last season, it won four of its last five games. The Midshipmen have established a winning tradition, with eight consecutive winning seasons before 2011, and they went 19-8 in 2009-10. Kickoff will be 3:30 p.m. on ABC regionally and ESPN2 outside the ABC coverage area.

The new Nittany Lions staff, however, has an ace up its sleeve that almost never existed in the Paterno Era: a number of assistants coached against two of those teams in 2011, even though none of the opponents were on Penn State’s schedule.

So not only will they break down video of Ohio, Virginia and Navy during the summer, they will also use their personal experience from the 2011 season to get their new team — Penn State — ready.

Here’s a breakdown:

Ohio University -- John Strollo, who coaches Penn State’s tight ends, faced Ohio while he was the offensive line coach at Ball State last season. It was the seventh game of the 2011 campaign, and Ball State won, 23-20.

Penn State assistant Charlie Fisher, who coaches the PSU quarterbacks, also faced Ohio last season. Fisher was passing game coordinator and quarterback coach at Miami (Ohio) in 2011, and in the last game of the regular season, Miami fell 21-14 to the Bobcats.

Navy – The Midshipmen traveled to Columbia, S.C., early in the 2011 campaign and almost escaped with a win, falling 24-21. In that game John Butler, Penn State’s secondary coach and special teams coordinator, coached the Gamecocks’ special teams and outside linebackers. Also, Penn State director of strength and conditioning, Craig Fitzgerald, was at South Carolina last season; he held the same position with the Gamecocks

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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