Penn State Football: Bill O'Brien Prepares for next Big Hurdle
The 43-40 overtime victory over Michigan might be hard to leave behind, but with Ohio State coming in less than two weeks there is no time for O'Brien to celebrate.
Much like the week before, O'Brien has put the previous week behind him and is focused and ready to go for the next challenge.
"Yesterday what we did is we went out there and had a scrimmage with our younger guys," O'Brien said Tuesday during the Big Ten conference call with reporters.
"We tried to get some improvement there and then our older guys conditioned and that was about it for them. We’ll practice today, tomorrow and probably Thursday. A four overtime game; it was a long football game. The biggest goal for us this week is to get healthy."
O'Brien also touched on two-minute drills, media relations, pep talks and more.
Q: If we can go back to the game-tying drive (against Michigan), you got the ball with 50 seconds left. Did you tell Christian anything in particular? What are your thoughts and concerns going into that drive?
Coach O’Brien: Oh yeah, we go over the situation that we’re in. We had no timeouts; we needed a touchdown to win. We talk about the plays, the coverage’s that we expect. This is something I’m sure a lot of programs do. This isn’t unique to Penn State, but we practice the two-minute drill every single day … Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, so we try to mix up the situations. Hopefully two or three times during the year those situations come up and our players have an idea how to react, and then they have to go out there and execute. We were fortunate enough to do that on Saturday.
Q: Of those three passes that Christian completed during that drive, which one was most impressive? Or if you need to pick two, go right ahead.
Coach O’Brien: I don’t know. I think they were good reads. I think you’d have to say on all three of those, the first one to Allen, he made an incredible catch, got to give credit to Allen. Brandon Felder went up and got the ball on the second one. Then obviously, Allen on the last one down to the half foot line there, did a great job. So I’d have to give the credit there to the receivers that went up and made those plays, Brandon and Allen.
Q: There was a report about the local radio show that that fans were instructed not to ask about the Indiana game a week or so ago. Could you comment on that, and maybe general thoughts on interacting with fans in those kind of forums?
Coach O’Brien: I don’t know about that, I heard that too, and whether that happened or not, it didn’t happen when I was there. And I will tell you, any question anybody wants to ask me, they can ask me. I’m going to answer it however I feel like answering it. So I’m not sure if that happened; I’m not in charge of my radio show, but if that did happen, I’ll make sure that that doesn’t happen again. My thoughts on those things, it’s a free country, I’ve said that before and anyone can ask any question they want, and certainly I can answer it any way I want to. So, I apologize if that did happen, but I wasn’t there. When I was there, that wasn’t said. So hopefully, if it was said, it will never happen again.
Q: Coach, kind of along that line, what kind of influence did Bill Belichick have on you in dealing with the media? The only reason I ask that is he’s got a unique relationship in dealing with the media that is maybe not the norm.
Coach O’Brien: I think everybody has to be themselves, that’s all I try to do. I try to answer the question to the best of my ability. I just try to be myself. What I think I learned from Bill I’ll keep between Bill and I. I observed, obviously, a lot of different things at New England and learned a lot of things there and contributed my share, also. I just try to answer the questions to the best of my ability and I also really respect the media. If you just look at the local media here. The beat writers here, some of these men and women here, I really respect. I’m not going to get into all the individual names, but I appreciate the job they have to do and I try to answer the questions to the best of my ability.
Q: You’ve seen a lot of games, obviously, in your career, and obviously when you look at film after a game you’re evaluating, looking for good things and bad things, but are there any plays from that game that are going to stick in your memory banks for a while? Just as a guy who said, “I was there when that happened.”
Coach O’Brien: That’s a great question. I don’t know, I’d have to really probably have to wait until the end of the year because really, our staff, our players, we’ve moved on. We’ve got to start getting ready for the best team in our conference, Ohio State. But, yeah, there are certain plays. Obviously, the throw and the catch by Allen, the throw from Christian to Allen there at the end of regulation; Billy’s (Belton) fourth and one run, those are two plays. I think (Anthony) Zettel’s interception early in the game, the strip sack that we had on them at one point. I think there are four or five plays that stood out, and those are some of them.
Q: Christian as you well know, is now half way through his first year. I was wondering if you could assess him overall; what you’re happy with and where there’s room for growth.
Coach O’Brien: I believe he’s improved every week. Like I said, I think I said this a couple weeks ago, every time he sees something, it’s basically the first time he’s seeing it at the college level. Now we head to Ohio State, and he’s playing a game in one of the most famous stadiums in the history of college football. So that will be new for him. I think he’s improved every week, I think he’s a focused guy. I believe we just always have to continue to improve with his accuracy and his mechanics and his knowledge of the offense. I think he’ll do that. I’m very pleased with where he is right now.
Q: A drive like he had at the end of regulation, he’s always seemed like a confident guy, but what can that do for a young quarterback when you do something like that?
Coach O’Brien: I think it’s probably a better question for him, but I can tell you, obviously anytime you win a game like that and have a drive like that it helps your confidence. It helps you the next time when something like that, a situation like that, comes up. You’ve already accomplished that type of situation. So it helps you when it comes up again. Again, I think he’d probably be best to answer that, but I’m sure it helps in his development.
Q: I wondered if you could just talk for a moment about Akeel Lynch, how has he done so far the first half of this year? What does he need to do better to get some more playing time?
Coach O’Brien: He’s doing well. He practices hard, he’s a great kid, he’s a great teammate. I think in the last game we had an idea going in that we were going to rotate three backs, and then once we had Billy in there, we felt like Billy was doing some things really well, so we didn’t really want to take Billy out. That’s the decision that I made; that’s my decision. It’s not a reflection on Akeel Lynch. We think the world of Akeel Lynch, and we’ll continue to work him into the lineup.
Q: Coach, some of the players talked about Michael Robinson and Matt Millen stepping in to talk to the players last week, and just talking about coming out and starting fast, that’s something we obviously felt from your team getting the 21-10 lead at halftime. Can you just talk about the importance of starting fast like you did against Michigan from here on out.
Coach O’Brien: I think Michael Robinson spoke to the team on Thursday or Friday. Matt Millen, he was here doing the game, he didn’t speak to the team; he was working. But, I think it’s important to start fast. I mean, every time you come out you want to try to start fast. You’re not trying to start slow, so I think it’s important, and a lot of it has to do with the opening script on offense and defense. A lot of it is coaching; we’ve got to continue to find ways to move the ball down the field early or to stop people early. I think if we do that, our players understand the game plan then, we’ll start the games better and better as we move on.
Q: Coach, this season obviously getting to watch Christian Hackenberg and his development, but could you talk about what other aspects draw you to the college game. So many people talk about your NFL versus your college history. What draws you to this game of college football?
Coach O’Brien: I really enjoy watching 18, 19, 20, 21-year old guys improve. I enjoy watching these guys get their degrees. I enjoy scenes like Saturday night, in Beaver Stadium with a 108,000 fans, and the student section. I enjoy the student body here at Penn State. Obviously I’ve said this time and time again, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the National Football League, always will. I have a lot of respect for college football and what it’s meant to me in my career and the people I’ve met because of both leagues. I just think the coaching aspect, here at the college level, is fun for me. I’ve enjoyed my 18 games here to this point.
Q: Could you also talk a little about your defensive effort, especially against the run. You held Fitzgerald Toussaint to just one yard a carry, Saturday. Can you talk about what that does for their confidence?
I think the players went out and executed a really good game plan put together by John Butler and the defensive staff. Our players played extremely hard; Michigan’s players played extremely hard. It was a very, very hard-fought game. Our defensive players, I thought really played with great intensity and effort the whole night. Obviously, going forward we have to continue to do that. I give a lot of credit to our coaching staff on that side of the ball led by John Butler.