Bill O'Brien previews Homecoming game vs. Michigan

October 10, 2013

Coach Bill O'Brien Press Conference
Oct. 8, 2013


COACH O'BRIEN: Injury update: Ryan Keiser is still questionable for the game. We're hoping to have him, but we'll know more probably by the end of the day tomorrow. We feel good about it, but I would say he's still questionable.

Right now, Brandon Felder is full go for the game.

Allen Robinson will be ready for the game.

And as far as that goes, that's it and obviously Mike Hull will be ready for the game, and that's pretty much an update.

Q. Staying with personnel, Ben Kline, Adam Breneman and Alex Kenney didn't play at Indiana. Was it because of injury or something else?

COACH O'BRIEN: Ben Kline was because of injury. It happened on Thursday. His shoulder...he popped his shoulder out. So, he didn't play because of that.

Adam Breneman, we're going to play him against Michigan.

And Alex Kenney just didn't play in the game.

Q. As a coach when you come off kind of a disappointing showing like you did against Indiana, how do you strike the balance between kind of correcting things and emphasizing teaching points, and then just kind of moving on and strike it kind of from the memory bank? Is that a challenge for the coaching staff?

COACH O'BRIEN: We've moved on from Indiana. We're focused on Michigan. Our guys are very, very excited about the opportunity they have Saturday night against a great Michigan team, a 5 0 team coming in here, 108,000 fans. Our guys are very focused on Michigan, learning the game plan, studying Michigan and our guys are going to show up and play hard on Saturday night.

We're very focused on Michigan.

Q. After your first two games, you said about your offensive line that overall you needed to play more consistent up front. Have you seen improvement there that you wanted there the last couple weeks? Where can it do better?

COACH O'BRIEN: No, our offensive line has improved every week and our offensive line will be ready to go on Saturday.

Q. Where can you gauge your linebackers at right now, particularly with that Michigan offense and the way they run the ball?

COACH O'BRIEN: They'll be there ready to go. We'll have (Mike) Hull, (Nyeem) Wartman, (Glenn) Carson, (Stephen) Obeng, (Ben) Kline will be ready to go, (Gary) Wooten will be on special teams. The linebackers will be ready to play on Saturday night.

Q. Could you just talk briefly about Jesse James's role, how it might be a little different from the second half of last season? Maybe how Matt Lehman's injury has affected what Jesse is being asked to do, if it's any different than last year?

COACH O'BRIEN: No, Jesse has been asked to do very similar things, and Jesse is very focused on the Michigan gameplan, and Jesse, barring injury, will play a lot on Saturday night.

Q. Devin Gardner is one of those double threat quarterbacks, good passer, good runner. What specific problems will he be presenting for your defense on Saturday night?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he presents a lot of problems, you're right. He's a dangerous guy because he can run and throw, and there's a number of guys like that in this conference. I think the thing you've got to try to do is really try to keep him in the pocket. When he gets out of the pocket, he's very dangerous. Very dangerous.

The other thing about Devin Gardner, from being around him at the Big Ten media day, he's a great kid, just a really nice kid who represents Michigan really well, and it's going to be a big challenge playing against him.

Q. Are you concerned at all and can you approach at all as a coach the idea that the team's confidence might be shaken a little bit by last week?

COACH O'BRIEN: The team's confidence isn't shaken.

Q. Could you talk about the Michigan defense a little bit, tell me what you see out of those guys? Everyone talks about the offense, but the defense has played pretty well this year.

COACH O'BRIEN: Sure, the Michigan defense, when you look at their defense, just from my knowledge of Michigan, it's a typical Michigan team. I think Coach (Brady) Hoke is a fantastic coach and he's done a great job. I think he's in his third or fourth year there of putting together the type of team he wants, and on defense they're very stout up front, very stout. The linebacker corps, they play a lot of guys there. The secondary is very disciplined. Greg Mattison is the defensive coordinator; obviously have gone up against him when he was with the Baltimore Ravens. He's an excellent football coach. It's going to be a great challenge. These guys are a very good football team, but we're going to do our very best to put together a good gameplan and coach our guys up to go out there and execute the gameplan.

Q. After Saturday's game you said that by any stretch of the imagination it's a normal Penn State team. Do you think some of the lack of scholarships is starting to kind of catch up? Are you noticing it more this year in some regards than maybe last year?

COACH O'BRIEN: I'm not talking about scholarships, sanctions, anything. I'm talking about Michigan. Our team is focused on Michigan. We feel like, again, we got off to a good start on Monday. I'm not here to talk about scholarships, sanctions, last week's game. I'm here to talk about Michigan and Michigan only, and our team.

Q. You mentioned a couple of your freshmen linebackers a little bit more. Can you talk about where they are, Gary Wooten, Brandon Bell, and if they're going to be breaking more into the defensive rotation or how they're developing halfway through their freshman year?

COACH O'BRIEN: They've both been incorporated into special teams and they're both doing a decent job on that. Brandon Bell last weekend and also Gary Wooten throughout the season on the kickoff team has done a nice job of being physical.

Breaking into the lineup on defense right now, you know, they're backups. I think if they were called into duty that they would be ready to go. But right now they're backups.

Q. You guys are kind of near the bottom of the Big Ten in turnover margin. Is that something you could work on in the course of a season?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, we definitely work on that, we really do. We do a lot of drills on that and coach it up, and whether it's ball drills, interception drills, strip drills, fumble recovery drills, blocked punt drills, we drill it, and we need to do a better job in that area, no doubt about it. So we've just got to keep working on it, emphasize it on film. When we see a good play, somebody that's caught an interception or recovered a fumble in practice, "hey, great job," and emphasize it and hopefully we'll start getting that turned around a little bit.

Q. You've talked a lot about the team having a lot of resiliency. I was wondering, is that a characteristic that's kind of come natural, or do you have to help them cultivate that as the season goes on?

COACH O'BRIEN: I don't know. I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or anything. I just think that we have a fantastic group of kids that are practicing hard right now and very focused on the Michigan game.

Q. Can you talk about how Allen Robinson has played this year, how important he is to the team and maybe how he can help with Christian Hackenberg's progression?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he's done a lot of really good things that started in the off season. He really worked extremely hard on his own game, getting stronger, getting faster, getting quicker. He worked hard in the summertime. He worked hard with Christian when Christian arrived here, and he worked hard with Tyler Ferguson, also. He's a guy that you have to give him a lot of credit for the year he's having. He's done a really, really good job to date, this year.

Q. It's been a few weeks now with Brent Wilkerson. How is he doing in terms of his rehab and do you expect to have him back at all this year?

COACH O'BRIEN: No. He's doing fine, but he won't be back this year.

Q. Most stadiums across the country don't see 70, 80, 90-thousand in a given week, but can you talk about the importance of having a full sold out stadium for Homecoming this weekend?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, in my opinion, and obviously I'm very biased, this is the best college football atmosphere in the country. We've got a bunch of kids out here in Nittanyville right now, and we can't thank the fans enough. We're working extremely hard. We're very focused on Michigan, and we're going to work extremely hard to come out and play as good a football game as we can play on Saturday night, mainly for this football team and for those fans that show up, 108,000 fans being as loud as they're going to be. It's just going to be a great night to run through that tunnel and be able to play in front of fans like that. We can't say enough about our fans. We owe so much to them, and we're just working hard to play well in front of them.

Q. You were pretty critical of yourself right after the game. Did you go in thinking that you were going to you ended up throwing it 55 times. Is that what you were intending to do, or could you address you talked about scheming up some more for the running game.

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, again, you know how much respect I have for you. I've moved on to Michigan. Indiana is over. It's in the rear view mirror. That game is over. We're focused on Michigan. We're putting together a gameplan. It'll be finalized probably tomorrow night, and we feel like it's a good gameplan, but again, we've got to go out and execute it on Saturday night. We're very focused and excited about the game.

Q. Touching on personnel, with a couple losses is there more challenges within for some of the playing time or are you satisfied across the board, or how do you look at that going forward?

COACH O'BRIEN: You'll see more guys playing this week; you'll see more guys playing this week. As long as they practice well. As long as they practice well, Monday through Thursday, you'll see more guys playing well this week.

Q. You've faced a couple good quarterbacks this year. Can you break down Devin Gardner, give us a little insight into how he is as a passer, not just a runner?

COACH O'BRIEN: I think he's a guy that they have coached very well. He's a guy that played some receiver, he's played other positions. He's very much of a team guy, so obviously they move him to quarterback, plays quarterback last year. I think he's a much-improved passer. I think he's a really, really good player. I think he's a competitive guy. And, like I said earlier, I think we've got a big challenge ahead of us playing against a guy like that who's a high character guy that's a really good player, is the type of guy that poses a big threat any time you play against a quarterback like that.

Q. Allen (Robinson) obviously had a good year last year, but he's still continuing to thwart defenses even though they know about him now, so he must have improved. Where has he improved the most?

COACH O'BRIEN: He got stronger, he's faster, he improved his speed, which is really hard to do. I think in our scheme, we've moved him around so he's become smarter in our scheme. Last year he played mostly on the outside but now he plays everywhere. He plays No. 3, No. 2, he plays No. 1 weak, No. 1 strong, put him in the backfield a little bit. He just has a lot better knowledge of our scheme, and all the credit goes to him. He's done a heck of a job.

Q. He's from Michigan. Is going home to his home state something that drives him?

COACH O'BRIEN: Well, the game is here, but being from Michigan, he's very excited about the game. I'm sure he's excited about the game.

Q. You mentioned after each of the losses there's a 12 to 16 hour mourning period. I was wondering how that helps improve the team, to have that mourning period, and for the week ahead, and what happens in that mourning period that helps the team?

COACH O'BRIEN: I think I'm kind of joking when I say that. I mean, it's a loss. It's over. We move on, and we get ready for the next opponent. That's what we do. It's one loss. It's over. We're moving on to Michigan.

Q. Brady Hoke said yesterday that Jake Ryan, their middle linebacker, might be back this week. How does that change things in terms of game planning?

COACH O'BRIEN: Well, he's a heck of a player, All Big Ten guy, and he does a lot of different things for them when you watch their tape from last year. He's a linebacker, he's a nickel rusher, he's a very energetic player. He's a very, very good player. I know Coach Hoke said yesterday he doesn't know whether he's going to play or not. We're going to play whoever shows up, obviously, but he's a very good player, and we'll have to know where he is if he does play. That's for sure.

Q. You have asked Adrian Amos to do a lot of different things for you guys this year. Where would you say he is as far as his progression and your confidence level having him out there?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he's a good player. We've asked him, like you said, he's done a lot of different things, he's played corner, he's played safety obviously, he's been on special teams. We've got a lot of guys like that. We've got a lot of guys doing different things. Trevor Williams is on all the special teams and Jordan Lucas, and in the secondary, Malcolm Willis, so we're asking guys to do a lot of different things. That's the type of players they are. They're good players, and I have a ton of confidence in Adrian Amos. He's a heck of a football player, an even better kid, and he's gotten better every week, and he's doing fine.

Q. Allen Robinson has had a great year up to this point, but he's accounting for about 45 percent of the passing offense's yards. At some point is that kind of a concern almost that it doesn't seem like there's a No. 2 guy who's maybe stepped up to ease that load a little bit?

COACH O'BRIEN: I don't know. It depends on how you guys define No. 2 guys. Geno (Lewis) had six catches (at Indiana). Do you want the No. 2 guy to have if Allen has 12, should the No. 2 guy have 11? I don't know. The No. 2 guy had six, Felder has had some catches in games.

I think we've spread the ball around pretty well. This past game probably not as much as we had. But again, we always try to spread the ball around. There's very few plays where we say, "this ball is going to Allen no matter what." It's the read of the play. Offensively we're always looking to improve, but I think for the most part we've been a productive offense, and we just need to continue to try to move the ball. We ran 93 plays in last week's game, so something was right, so we try to build on that and put together a good gameplan for Michigan.

Q. This is easily the most hyped home game of the year. Do you guys during weeks like this feel as coaches that you need to hammer the idea that this is just another game more to the team or not more than a regular week?

COACH O'BRIEN: No, we tell them, "look, this is an exciting opportunity." I mean, Penn State Michigan, ESPN, 5 o'clock, 108,000. We've got Nittanyville going crazy over here. I think it would be crazy to think this is just another game. I think this is a great opportunity for our team. Our kids are really excited. I love this time of year personally because the weather changes, it gets a little colder. It just reminds you of football, Big Ten football. This is a Big Ten game. It's a big game, and our kids are very excited about it. So we know it's a big rivalry and a big game.

Q. Do coaches worry at the beginning of games that emotions can be too high with an atmosphere like this or not really?

COACH O'BRIEN: No, to me the old emotion thing, once there's contact and you block the other guy and the other guys tackles you or whatever, the emotion, now it's just execution and who plays the best football game.

Q. What have you guys done in practice to prepare for Devin Gardner, and have you used anyone to simulate his dual threat ability?

COACH O'BRIEN: I really appreciate that question, but do you really think I'm going to tell you what we do in practice to prepare for Devin Gardner? Devin Gardner is a really good player, and we're excited about the opportunity to play Michigan and we're just very focused on playing Michigan.

Q. Run game struggles, I know you want to get the running game going this week, struggled last week. From week to week, going into this with probably a better defense at least statistically, how do you look to get that running game started?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, we've got a gameplan for Michigan. We're still basically in the middle of putting it together. We're almost done with it. We have confidence in it. We have confidence in our players. Every game is different. Every game is a different entity.

We go out and we execute the gameplan, and we'll have a chance to run the football. But you're right, they're a very stout rush defense. Like I said before, that's what Brady has done there. He's recruited the type of team that he wants, and that's a Michigan team, and it's going to be tough. But we have good players, and we feel good about our gameplan, and we'll show up Saturday night.

Q. Michigan kind of used their left tackle to augment their run game as a tight end in a jumbo formation Taylor Lewan. Have you seen that, and what kind of challenge does that present to you guys?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, Taylor Lewan is an excellent player, so any time they go tackle over or use him as a tight end or whatever, that's a big challenge because that's a lot more physicality on the end of the line of scrimmage. So those are tough things.

I think that you've just got to make sure that you adjust it properly and that your kids communicate, and then you've got to be in position to make plays, you've got to fit it right, you've got to fit your gaps right, and again, you've got to win the personal battle, you've got to win the one on one battle. That's what our kids are focusing on doing this week.

Q. You mentioned earlier the number of starters that play special teams. Is that something that as a head coach you would put a priority on in general, or is that something that maybe you've been forced into with the hand you have?

COACH O'BRIEN: No, we just put our whoever is our best fit for special teams, we put them on special teams, regardless of their role. We have a lot of kids that play special teams. That would be my philosophy. We're going to put our best special teams players on special teams.

Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like about a month ago you said after four games together the team has an identity. You're kind of able to pinpoint that. I'm just wondering at this point of the season what you would say your team's identity is right now.

COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I think our identity is we're a tough team. We're going to play hard, and we've got a lot of good players, and we're very focused on doing that against Michigan.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 10, 2013