Coach Bill O'Brien Teleconference
Q. What did you do to gain the players' trust after you were hired, and how long did it take for them to buy into everything?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I think it has a lot to do with the staff. I don't think it was just me, obviously. I believe that one of the first things that I tried to do was put together the best staff that I could, and I think we did that, including Fitzy (Craig Fitzgerald) and Timmy Bream, we brought in guys that had coached at different levels and guys that were honest guys; guys that have been through some tough situations in their careers.
Because we knew it wasn't going to be easy. And they came in and they bought into what I wanted to do, and then we translated that to the players.
I can't say enough about these players. These guys are -- the guys that stuck with us. They're tough kids. They're smart. You just have to always tell them the truth. And as long as you do that, whether it's something that maybe they don't always want to hear or it's a positive reinforcement, these guys really appreciate that. So that's just really what we try to do every day.
Q. In the win over Iowa, you were able to play a lot of guys. But you couldn't get Steven Bench in the game. I know you're a one-quarterback guy, I wonder if you wish you could have played him a little more in the season or are you going to seek a redshirt for him this year?
COACH O'BRIEN: In the Iowa game, I guess you can disagree with me, I don't really care, I felt the game was not really in hand like everybody else thought. I felt like Iowa was still in the game. Maybe I could have gotten Steven in.
But I think Steven realizes that we're trying to win the football game, do what's best for the football team at that point in time. So I stuck with Matt (McGloin) throughout the whole game. And if we have a chance to put Steven in at some point during the year, then we'll do it.
But at the end of the day we're going to do what's best for the football team and trying to win the football game.
Q. Bill, did you have a chance to see the size of the campout over at Gate A yet and what does that say that they're already on a Monday night or a Tuesday morning?
COACH O'BRIEN: I'll tell you what, I can't say enough about our student body. I've been over there before, I think it was the Northwestern game, and obviously there's more kids there now.
I mean that's just what this place is all about. Student body that works hard in the classroom, supports their football team and all their athletic teams. It's unbelievable.
People were right when I first came here, they told me you haven't seen anything until you run out for a game or you witness the support of the student body.
And they're exactly right. This is a special place. And one of the reasons why it's a special place is because of the support of the student body.
It gives our players a ton of energy, and on Saturday we just want them here early. We want them to wear white. And we want them to be respectful but very, very loud throughout the whole game.
Q. During the Caravan, you called Ohio State, Penn State's biggest rival. What did you come to learn about this game in your time at Penn State?
COACH O'BRIEN: I don't remember exactly saying that during the Caravan but if you say I said it, then I probably said it.
I think every game we play is a very important game here at Penn State. You know, and I would say that for every team. I remember back in New England, Bill (Belichick) would always talk to us all the time about you only play once a week. So you practice for five days, and then you lay it on the line Saturday.
And this year we only get the chance to lay it on the line 12 times; 12 Saturdays. So every game for us is a very, very big game. The Big Ten is just, in my opinion, a tremendous conference that has great head coaches and tough teams.
And we're playing probably the best team in the Big Ten this week, with a great head coach in Urban Meyer. A very well-coached team and we're just going to do the best we can in practice this week and try to make sure that we play a good game on Saturday night.
Q. Last couple of games you guys gave up a punt return for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown. When those kind of things pop up in the middle of the year, how hard is it to handle that or fix that, and how are you going about that?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, that wasn't very good football. I believe that we're better than that. I think in the Iowa game we somewhat relaxed on that play, and we've spent a lot of time over the past day and a half correcting that.
And our players on the "Hit" squad, the kickoff team, they've done a really good job all year. They really have, except for that instance right there.
So hopefully they'll rebound with a better effort, because they need to. Ohio State's kickoff return team is very, very good and explosive. I think they're second or third in the Big Ten in kickoff returns. Got a big...they're very good.
And then with the punt return against Northwestern, we needed to tackle better. We needed to take better angles. We needed to punt the ball better. We've continued to work on that.
So we're working extremely hard to get those things fixed.
Q. Your tight ends played very well against Iowa. Are you pleased with the way everyone at that position has taken to your offense as the year has gone on and what more do you expect as the season continues and they get more experience on the offense?
COACH O'BRIEN: I believe that position, just like all the positions on the football team, all the coaches on the team have improved, including myself, have improved every week. That's what we try to do. We try to get better every single week. And those guys, those four guys have improved every week. And that's what we're trying to do as coaches. That's what we're trying to do as players. And if we can continue to do that, then hopefully good things will happen and the tight end position is a great example of just trying to get better every week.
Q. Urban Meyer in his press conference yesterday talked a lot about how talented you guys are and how you have some, some future NFL players on your team. And I guess he's trying to be the underdog a little bit, make sure he's the underdog a little bit. But is it possible that in all the talk of what your guys have had to overcome and overachieve and so forth that maybe your guys are a little underrated athletically in terms of talent?
COACH O'BRIEN: Let me say, first of all, that obviously I have a lot of respect for Coach Meyer and what he's done in his coaching career and what he's doing at Ohio State. I can tell you Ohio State is the most talented team we've played to this point in the season. They're an excellent football team.
They're 8-0. And they have very, very good players at every position. As far as our own team, I do believe that we have some guys that we think can play on Sundays. Having experience in the NFL, I have an idea what I'm talking about there. And I do believe there are some guys that can play in the NFL.
And I've said that every week that I believe that our players, especially the last five weeks, have played well. It's not about coaching.
Coaching has something to do with it, but at the end of the day it's about the players going out there and playing well. If you don't have good players, you're not going to win. It's about good players.
So it's about recruiting, continuing to recruit good players, because that's what we have here right now. So I do think we have some guys that can play on Sundays. And I think Ohio State does, too.
Q. A lot of the talk about Ohio State the last few weeks has been centered around some of the injuries that have affected their linebackers. They're playing a true freshman kid over there; they have a fullback there, too. What do you notice from that group on film, and have you seen some of those guys that had to step in and improving over the past few weeks?
COACH O'BRIEN: I know they've had some injuries over there, but I can tell you that even with the injuries, it doesn't really matter. It's just a matter of reloading. They have very good players. (Ryan) Shazier is an excellent player; active, instinctive player. (Storm) Klein and (Zach) Boren are good Mike linebackers. Josh Perry is the freshman playing one of the outside linebacker positions and is a very good player. Up front, everybody knows John Simon. I think he was All-American last year; All-Big Ten. (Johnathan) Hankins on the inside and (Garrett) Goebel, (Nathan) Williams.
In the secondary I think they're very physical -- (Bradley) Roby, (Christian) Bryant, (C.J.) Barnett, (Travis) Howard. This is a good football team. So this is a big, big challenge for us as a football team, and we've got to have a great week of practice and we've got to come in here ready to play. We can't turn it over. We can't commit stupid penalties. We've got to play well on special teams because the first mistake you make you're not going to have a very good chance to win the game.
Q. In regard to Mike Farrell, is it difficult to appreciate if you're not a coach or a player how difficult it is to play both tackle spots during the course of the game, and through the first seven games has he maybe been the most unsung guy on the team?
COACH O'BRIEN: Mike Farrell is one of those guys that I talk about a lot, like a lot of these guys, especially in this senior class. When I took the job here, it's just really a lot of fun to coach guys like this, because they're very bright guys. Mike is a very smart guy; works extremely hard. Mike, in spring practice, he had an okay spring practice. He and I both sat down after spring practice, and he and I knew he could play better. And I told him that over the summer I wanted him to have a great summer, concentrate on football. Maybe take some things off his plate a little bit and put everything he had into football. Because I felt like he could have a future in football.
And he did that. And he met it head on this summer and he came back in great shape, and he's athletic, and he's big and tough and he can play both sides.
So it is a luxury to have a guy that can swing, you call him a "swing tackle," a guy that can go and play right tackle and left tackle, and it's just like a lot of guys in the senior class, and I'm very -- like I've always said, I'm very proud to be their coach.
Q. You've faced some running quarterbacks this year. Has anybody been kind of close to what Braxton Miller brings, and how do you prepare for him?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's the best -- and with all due respect to all the others -- because there's some good ones there, too, believe me, but this guy's an excellent player.
The thing about him is he throws the ball well, too. He can drop back and throw it. He can make a play with his feet. The read option is a huge threat.
And all we can do -- one of the keys to the game is to do the best we can to contain him and tackle him. At the end of the day he's going to make plays. And when he makes a play, we have to play the next play. We have to keep him out of the end zone the best we can. And we've got to make sure that we know, look, the guy's going to make some plays, let's make sure we limit that and get ready to not dwell on the big play that he just made and try to play the next play. So this is an excellent player who has had a heck of a season.
Q. One of the biggest improvements in the five-game winning streak is third down defense. What can you attribute that to, did you change anything in practice?
COACH O'BRIEN: After the Ohio game, especially in the Virginia game, both sides of the ball. We knew that we had to improve on third down, whether it was on offense or defense. So we did just put a bigger emphasis on understanding the yardage needed. We call it the sticks, seeing the sticks and making sure you understand what the team needs, understand the scheme that you're in.
We made a bigger emphasis probably during the week of watching more third down tape cutups and making sure that guys -- and along with the red area, too, because we had to improve in the red area on both sides of the ball, too.
So I think at the end of the day it's about emphasis, and that's really what we tried to do is maybe just emphasize it a little bit more.
Q. I know it's 12 one-game seasons, but they've been one of the flagships in the league. Can you put in perspective what this game means to your program at this point and whether it has any recruiting implications?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I think you're right, like you said, it's 12 one-game seasons. And this is a big game. For me to sit up here and say it's not a big game, that's crazy. This is Ohio State, a great tradition, great players, great head coach, great coaching staff.
So, it's a big game. At the end of the day recruiting is about the fit; what's the fit? And there's differences between Ohio State and Penn State. The setting of the school. The coaching staffs, you know there's differences, just like there is with any school. And every school's great in my opinion.
We don't go out there and do anything but talk about Penn State when we recruit. So recruiting at the end of the day to me is more about a fit. And it's not all about just winning the game and that's how you're going to beat them in recruiting. To me that's not really what it's all about.
But as far as playing football goes, this is a great college football game in what will be a great college football atmosphere against a team that has the same type of tradition and history as Penn State. So to me that's what college football is all about, the game itself.
Q. Following up on Mark's question a little bit about Braxton Miller. Can you talk about the pressure he'll put on your defensive ends to try to keep them contained in how you deal with that?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, that's very difficult. Very, very difficult. You have to do the best you can in practice to try to give them a picture of that, which obviously the picture in practice won't be anything like what it is on Saturday night. But at least you try to give them a picture.
In many ways your defensive ends -- defensive tackles, they have to be very disciplined in how they rush the passer, whether it's four-man rush or five-man rush or twist or whatever it is, they have to be very, very disciplined in how they rush the passer.
And if they can do that, they have a chance. But, again, at the end of the day this guy's going to make plays. And we're not going to shut this guy down totally. This is an excellent football player, and we just have to make sure that we show up and do the best we can on Saturday night.
Q. Some of your guys over at Twitter are wishing you a Happy Birthday. Any special plans today?
COACH O'BRIEN: Actually, I don't know, I'm not a big birthday guy. I'm not -- my wife will list all the things I really don't enjoy: Birthdays, weddings, theme parks, the beach. Not a big beach guy even though I love Cape Cod but it's really at 5:00 at night.
But no, I found out it was my birthday when my older brother texted me. He said: "Happy Birthday." And that's when I figured it was my birthday. But, thank you; there's no special plans.
Q. One of the things I've heard a lot from your players over the streak is how much fun they're having, simply how much fun they're having. After what they went through in the off-season, I guess how important was it to sort of instill that attitude again with these guys, simply having fun on the football field?
COACH O'BRIEN: Winning is fun. And so winning, like we said a lot of times, winning cures a lot of ills. And it's fun to win. That locker room, after some of these wins, it's been some of the most memorable post-game locker rooms in my career. I've been in AFC Championship winning locker rooms, that says a lot. What we try to do -- football, especially as you get into midseason, can be practice, drudgery.
So you try to change it up a little bit and make football practice competitive and maybe blast the music a little bit and do some things to do the best you can to make it fun but at the same time get your work done.
So hopefully we've done a good job of that. And I'd say this, too. It's been a lot of fun coaching this team. Like I say, no matter what happens, this is a great group of kids that come to practice every day. It's been fun to go out to practice every day.
Q. Urban Meyer said yesterday that Beaver Stadium, he was told by his other coaches it was the loudest stadium in the Big Ten. And you were saying earlier how it was a special place to play. Can you talk about the atmosphere for Saturday night how important it is for fans lined up already for Saturday?
COACH O'BRIEN: This is without a doubt the best college football environment in the country. There's just absolutely no doubt about it. And obviously I'm very biased. But having been here now for a certain amount of home games and watching that student body and listening to our fans and knowing that there's 108,000 people going to be here Saturday night, I mean, this place is going to be loud. And everybody's going to be wearing white. And the other thing about our fans, which I like, is they're very respectful, I think. They're loud. They cheer for their team. But that's what needs to continue here. They need to be very respectful because this is an excellent Ohio State team coming in here.
And our team just really wants them to show up early, be in there for warm-ups. It really gets our guys jazzed up in there when they're in there are for warm-ups. Our guys, they love that.
If we can get them out of the tailgating maybe early and get them in the stadium early, get 108,000 in there for warm-ups, that would be pretty neat. That would be pretty neat. So it's a very special environment. It meant a lot to us in the Northwestern game and I'm really looking forward to leading the team out there on Saturday night.
Q. As a first-year head coach, did you think that you might have a little bit of element of surprise on some of these teams that you hadn't played, and now that we're halfway through the season, do you think that some teams maybe have some film on you and might be able to figure some things out as opposed to that element of surprise?
COACH O'BRIEN: Sure, anytime you have a new coaching staff where, "what film do you watch? Do you watch New England film? Do you watch Auburn film? Do you watch South Carolina film?" Yeah, I'm sure there's some of that as an opposing -- I've been on those type of staffs where you have to try to figure out who is, where they're coming from, and that's not easy. So, yeah, there's probably some of that. But I don't think at the end of the day we do anything that's really that complicated, I really don't. I think we just try to play hard and compete.
And I'm sure guys figured stuff out right after the Ohio game. And we just need to keep competing and playing hard and not turning it over, don't commit penalties, do the best you can on special teams and hopefully we can continue to play well.
Q. With the NASCAR offense, how tough is it for you to have to come up with a play in such a short period of time after you've run the previous play and what are some of the factors that go through your head when you're evaluating what play you need to call?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, number one is you try to, you do get into a certain rhythm. So one of the things that any coach will tell you that runs that type of up-tempo offense is first down is really important.
Because if you can gain positive yards on first down, then your second and medium call or second and short call, you can call it whatever you want. That's a play caller's dream. That's really the most important thing.
Because once you get a good gain on first down, then you're right away into a play-calling rhythm. And after that, for anybody that's called plays, that's really what it's all about, and it's not that difficult. But as far as what I'm looking for and all those things, I mean I'm not telling you (laughter).
Q. What do you think the guys who left the program are missing out on, and what do you think guys considering leaving the program are going to miss out on in the future?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think it's a fair question. I really do. But I'm just here to talk about our football team and playing Ohio State and again I've really enjoyed coaching these kids that stuck with us, and it's a great group of guys.
It's a group of guys that have obviously been through a lot but have played extremely hard and are reaping some of the rewards of all the hard work that they've put in to playing here at Penn State.
And at the end of the day, like I always say, I think this is a very special place to play college football because you can earn a phenomenal world-renowned degree, and choose from 100-plus different majors, and your degree can take you anywhere in the world and any occupation, any graduate school, and then on top of that, you get to play football in front of 108,000 fans on national TV every week.
So to me it's a very special place to play football.
Q. On the flip side of that question. For the kids that did stay -- and after the way you started this year, 0-2 - does it make you feel good they'll have the opportunity that they'll have on Saturday night in front of all these fans to play an undefeated Ohio State team?
COACH O'BRIEN: I would definitely say that these guys have earned the right to play in this type of game. They've put a lot of time in. They've been through a lot. They've done it. Everything that we've asked them to do, they've done.
Be on time. Practice hard. Lift hard. Run hard. Compete. They've done it. And so they've definitely earned the right to play in this type of a game in front of 108,000 fans, and I really -- you know, I obviously expect 108,000 fans there, and I think our fans will be very, very supportive of our team on Saturday night.
Q. Can you describe kind of the evolution of this NASCAR offense and where it might be headed? Is the end goal to have it, to use it every time the clock's not stopped?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I was just saying to the staff earlier, sometimes I have some deja vu moments where I'm sitting there and we're game planning and I think about, well, I remember in 2000 at Georgia Tech we did things with George Godsey, our quarterback, that are similar to this.
I can tell you when I worked for Mark Whipple at Brown we ran a no huddle. When I worked for George O'Leary at Georgia Tech, we did this. When I worked for Ralph Friedgen, the offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, we ran a wishbone no huddle. That was awesome. We were in a wishbone no huddle. If you know anything about football, that was pretty cool.
We've been doing this for a while. None of us invented it. I mean if you want to say who invented it you'd have to go all the way back to Paul Brown. He invented the shotgun and no huddle and two-minute offense.
So we've been doing it for a while. Now, when we got to New England, when I got to New England, they really had been doing it for a long time; everybody writes that New England's just been doing it this year.
New England has been doing this since Bill Belichick was the head football coach there in some way, shape or form. I remember before I got there, in 2006, they were playing the Indianapolis Colts, opened up with a no huddle empty series, went right down the field. It was '06 before I got there. These things have been going on.
It's really more a huddle on the ball. It's about communication, understanding substitutions and it's really not that big of a deal is what I'm trying to say. It's been going on for a long time.
Q. I'm just wondering about the relationship between Gerald Hodges and Mike Mauti that you've noticed? Jordan Hill said after the game, they'll sit there and compare statistics and whatnot. Do you think they have a little bit of a rivalry with each other to see who can be the best?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think they really enjoy playing with each other. You can see that when each guy, just like all those guys on defense...what I love about our defense is that they play extremely hard. It's not always pretty. But they compete. They play extremely hard, which is the number one thing in defensive football.
And then what I like is when they do make a play, they are all around each other. They really are. And that's what you see like with Gerald and Mike. Mike makes a play, Gerald is jumping on his back celebrating with him. Same thing, Gerald makes a play, Michael is right there with him. As far as comparing stats -- like I always say, stats are for you know what.
This is about playing good defensive football and doing the best you can to try to win the game.
Q. You said a couple of weeks ago that you were going to make a decision on Nyeem Wartman at some point. Has he been able to do much at practice and are you any close to making that decision?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he's practiced. He's going to be a really, really good player for us; a young guy that can run. Big guy. Can bend. Instinctive player. And so right now he's still eligible to play. If we need him, he'll play.
Q. With a lot of players on both your team and Ohio State's team having played under several different head coaches in the past few years, what type of challenge does a program like this face and what's the main thing you've done to stabilize that for this team?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, these guys played for Coach Paterno and then me. And then they played for Jim Tressel and Luke Fickell and Urban. I gotcha.
I'm going to speak for Penn State. I don't know about Ohio State. I just know that we came in here and had a program and this is the way we wanted to do things. And we explained it to the players and tried to communicate and be very honest with them, this is what we want to try to do.
We want to be great in the classroom and be as good as we can on the field. And that's what we've just tried to do.
Q. Story came out last night in Honolulu paper that a team from the east has contacted Norm Chow about playing at the end of this year. I was wondering if that was you?
COACH O'BRIEN: At the end of this year? No, that's not Penn State.
Q. Matt McGloin is definitely not a dual-threat quarterback but--
COACH O'BRIEN: What are you talking about? Were you at the Northwestern game? (Laughter).
Q. He's made some plays with his feet to avoid sacks and make plays in the pocket, how important is that?
COACH O'BRIEN: Again, people use that label "dual threat", and so I always use the example of Tom Brady. And so one of the best qualities of Tom Brady is his feet in the pocket. And that he understands that it's about a three-foot circle in the pocket that he can move in.
And he's got great pocket awareness. What we've tried to do with Matt is teach him about pocket awareness. And Matt's done a good job of that.
He's climbed the pocket when he's supposed to. He's moved ever so slightly when he's supposed to. And the number one thing for a quarterback is to be able to do that and keep your eyes downfield and complete the ball and not see the rush.
You've got to feel the rush, not see it, move with your feet, re-direct your eyes with your feet is the phrase we use and get the ball down the field. And I think Matt's done a decent job of that, and hopefully he can continue to do that.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Donovan Smith and how tough it is to play through this type of injury, and have you been around other linemen in your career who have done this?
COACH O'BRIEN: Sure, yeah, there's been plenty of linemen that I've been around personally that have played with a broken hand. It's not easy, because it's harder to punch and get your hands inside and things like that. But he's a really good, athletic, tough, big player, and I think he's done a good job with that thing and hopefully that continues on Saturday night.