Penn State Football Team’s Personality Meshing With O’Brien’s
Ten percent luck, twenty percent skill.*
Four games into the 2012 season and four games into the Bill O’Brien Era, Penn State is finding itself.
“When we walk off the field,” says cornerback Stephon Morris, “we want them to say, ‘That was a tough game, a tough team – they gave it everything they had.’ ”
For his first 36 weeks on the job, that has been Bill O’Brien's credo.
O’Brien is the kind of coach who wears sweats and a ballcap during games, and fist-bumps players as they come off the field. His big-dimpled chin, balding scalp, thick body and eyes often shadowed by the cap give him a Broderick Crawford kind of feel.
He is a players’ coach. (And students’, too – after his Thursday night radio show two weeks ago, O’Brien picked up the check for a busload of Nittanyville kids who had come for ribs and OB’s ribbing.)
He’ll turn 43 in just about a month, younger than all but three of the 10 coaches on the Penn State staff last season. He’ll drop an F-bomb during practice, loud enough to be heard above the six sideline speakers that blare Yes and Eminem.
“Coach O’Brien is a punch-you-in-the-mouth attitude kind of guy,” says linebacker Glenn Carson. “It’s rubbing off on all the players. We’re becoming coach O’Brien’s team. He’ll fight for us, which makes us want to fight for him.”
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will.
Still, the Nittany Lions have never lost a sense of self. Or their history.
“At the end of the day, we just play hard-nosed football,” says Adam Gress, a starter at right offensive tackle the past two weeks. “That has been the tradition here for a long time. I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Adds Matt Stankiewitch, a senior and the line’s anchor in all ways possible at center: “I grew up blue collar. And that’s who we are and that’s how we play. We keep our mouths shut, although Matt (McGloin) is a little different.”
Same for the defense, says safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who’s from the Bronx. “We try to be dominant, and that’s traditional Penn State football. We harp on it in practice, but it’s already in our minds.”
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain.
“We have a group of guys who just love football, who love to play,” says Carson. “Everyone who’s here wants to be here and wants to come out on Saturday and play.”
While the Nittany Lions continue to embrace the old style of Penn State football, they have taken to O’Brien in a way that belies his brief stint at Dear Old State.
Part may be circumstance, but most of it’s OB’s stance. The former New England Patriots offensive coordinator stands up for his players, as well as standing behind them. They’ve noticed.
“He’s a Bawstin guy,” says Gress, giggling a bit as he effects a pretty decent accent. “He’s a good dude. He really wants us to win. He wants what’s best for us. His confidence really rubs off on us. That’s a good thing.”
O’Brien is a dichotomy of sorts. A defensive player at Brown, he’s known as an offensive savant. He’s a sharp guy whose humor can be scissors through paper, but he revels when his defense rocks.
He’s part-smashmouth, part-swashbuckler. In demeanor, confidence and heritage, McGloin is his kind of quarterback. And that OB has unleashed McG to a per-game tune of 37 pass attempts – on pace for 444, which would be a PSU single-season record by 42 tosses – has endeared him to the Scranton Gunslinger.
“Coach O’Brien has done a great job with our offense,” says McGloin, who threw for 318 yards against Temple, the third 300-game he’s rolled in his career. “We can only go as far as he takes us, and right now he is doing a great job of leading us each week.”
Like his mentor, McGloin is quick to be critical of himself while doling out praise elsewhere. While the Nittany Lion defense ranks 24th nationally in both points allowed (15.25 per game) and turnover margin, the offense is batting only .500 on red zone TDs.
McGloin’s a former baseball player, so he knows all about averages. He was so feisty on the diamond that twice as a high schooler his coach sent him home. In the middle of a game. And the coach was his brother.
So we know that McGloin, for all his deserved accolades after guiding his offense to 491 yards and 27 first downs against Temple, isn’t easily satisfied. He graduated in May with one degree and is going for another. But even moreso he’s getting his masters in quarterbacking this fall, and he knows an average score of 22 points per game is reason for concern.
“In terms of an identity, I’d say our offense is still unknown,” McGloin says. “Our offense is doing great things, but we are still hurting ourselves and leaving plays out there on the field.”
An identity? O’Brien kind of scoffed at the question on Saturday.
Penn State’s identity, its personality, in 2012 is simple and straightforward -- the antithesis of its offense. O’Brien’s answer to the query came minutes after the Temple game was over, although it would have been the same in April or in August or on Almost Any Day.
“The identity of the team,” O’Brien said, “is a bunch of really resilient, tough kids that love to play football and love to go to school at Penn State.”
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name.