O'Brien previews Nittany Lions' trip to Ohio State

October 23, 2013

Bill O'Brien press conference
Oct. 22, 2013

BILL O'BRIEN: Just to update everybody on the injury situation, Ryan Keiser is full go. He's been practicing. Basically everybody else, it's a lot of bumps and bruises but nothing serious. Seems to me that we're, other than the guys that are out for the season, everybody is healthy for this game.

Q. Can you evaluate the Ohio State defense, including Ryan Shazier?
COACH O'BRIEN: This is the most athletic defense that we've played. They have guys on that side of the ball that are well coached. I think Luke Fickell, Mike Vrabel, those guys do a real good job of getting those guys lined up in different looks, and it's a very challenging defense. They have a number of guys on that defense that are good players. You asked about Shazier. He's a very athletic guy, very instinctive guy, a guy that can slip blocks very easily. You'd better know where he is in the passing game, whether he's blitzing or in coverage, just a really athletic, good instinctive player. Obviously Bradley Roby, this guy is one of the top defensive backs in the country, a guy that has a very good knack for understanding what type of route is being run against him. He's got a knack for making sure that he makes a play on the ball just from his film study. You can tell he studies film. So he's a very challenging guy to go against, and then obviously there's a lot of other guys on that defense that are playing well, too. You don't get to 7 0 without having a good defense, and they have a very, very good defense.

Q. I wanted to ask you about one of your defensive players. Anthony Zettel the past couple weeks, the defensive end, has made some plays in a limited role. He had a sack at Indiana and he had the big interception at Michigan. Can you evaluate his development, and is he a guy that might play more in the second half of the season?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's a guy that has improved a lot since we've arrived here. I talk about improved players, and he's definitely in that category. He's a very tough, tough kid. He plays hurt. He practices hard. He's an instinctive player. That interception he made in the last game (Michigan) was a very instinctive play off of a zone blitz. So he's a guy that all of the playing time, I think, as you know is determined by how you practice, so as long as he continues to practice well, he'll play for us.

Q. How important is it for you guys to contain Braxton Miller, mainly on the scrambles and broken plays? It seemed like against Michigan for you guys Gardner did as much damage on those plays as opposed to the design keepers in zone reads.
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it's a very difficult challenge playing a guy like Braxton Miller; in my opinion one of the top five players in the country, a really good football player who has improved immensely since he's been in the system. Last year was his first year in the system. Now I think he's got great grasp of this system. He's throwing the ball well. I thought they played real well offensively against Iowa. And, like you said, if he gets outside the pocket, he's a dangerous guy. Sometimes those things are going to happen. We've got to play hard and play with great effort and do the best we can to keep him in there, and when he gets out, we have to make sure that we understand our rules, our scramble rules when he gets out. But again, that's the difficulty with a lot of these teams that you face with these quarterbacks that are dual threat guys. It's just a dangerous thing when they get outside the pocket there. They're excellent quarterbacks in the pocket and they're good outside the pocket. We'll just do the best we can.

Q. Another one on Braxton Miller: What are your impressions of him passing the ball and how has he improved on that part of his game?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I just think that he's obviously a hard working kid who's throwing the ball very well. I don't know exactly what he did. I'm not there. I don't know Braxton Miller, but I do know that he's throwing the ball very well. He's accurate. He's making plays on third down in the passing game. He obviously understands coverage, and he's just doing a really, really good job of running that offense in all facets of that offense. It's a very difficult challenge. Again, you don't win 19 games in a row or you don't get to 7 0, No. 4 in the country, without being an excellent quarterback, and that's what he is.

Q. Some of your linebackers have been playing but playing hurt. How did the bye week maybe in particular help Nyeem Wartman, Mike Hull and Ben Kline, and where is Ben with the shoulder moving forward here? COACH O'BRIEN: I think the bye week, any time you have a bye week it helps, especially as it relates to the health of your team. So those guys were able to get some rest, have a couple days off over the weekend, and basically rest and get treatment. They get treatment twice a day at our facility with Timmy Bream and the doctors. I think that always helps. I'm not going to get into the specifics of Ben Kline. All I can tell you is that you're talking about another tough kid, love coaching him, shows up every day, practices hard, and he'll be out there in some capacity on Saturday night.

Q. My question pertains to Deion Barnes. How do you think Deion handled coming off the bench in your last game instead of starting, and have you seen an extra spark out of him in practice last week and this week?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think we have a competitive team at that position. We have a lot of guys that can play for us. I think at the end of the day, everything that you earn, you earn it on the practice field. And again, I've said this a bunch of times this year: I think Deion is playing fine. I think there's other guys that are playing well, too. One of the things that we do a good job of, I believe, on defense is we rotate guys in on the defensive line. When you're playing these spread teams, these teams that throw the ball and run the read option, and you're asking your guys to give great effort, especially the big guys up front, it's important to rest guys and get a lot of guys involved, and I think that's what we're doing. I don't look at it as Deion coming off the bench. I just look at it as Deion being a good team player and rotating in there and fulfilling his role when he's in there.

Q. Two bye weeks in a four week period is kind of unusual. I'm wondering, what did you do in terms of self scouting? What sort of things did you do in this bye week that maybe were different than the previous one, or did you not really have any difference?
COACH O'BRIEN: That's a good question. It is unusual to have two bye weeks (in four weeks). It's not something at the end of the day that you'd like to keep playing eventually, but that's what we had, so we just deal with the rules and what our schedule is. We planned for this before the season. We talked about this in the summertime quite a bit, how this was going to play out, and tried to envision where our team would be after six weeks. So I think this bye week was used a little bit differently than the first one in the fact that the big goal of this bye week was to get our guys healthy, so we probably rested our first and second team guys a little bit more in this bye week and did a little bit more meeting time, a little bit more self scout, things like that, to try to fix some of the things that we need to get corrected in order to get into the second half of our season. That's basically what we did.

Q. How has Zach Zwinak responded the last few practices after the fumble against Michigan, and have you seen a change in Bill Belton confidence wise after what he did to help you in the second half of that game?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think Zach has practiced well this week. He came out and had a good practice yesterday, and a great kid, tough kid, and he's going to play, obviously. And then Billy has improved quite a bit. He's another guy that's in that category of a guy that's really worked hard to improve and this year has taken advantage of his playing time when he's been out there. We'll continue to rotate guys in at that position, and both of those guys will play against Ohio State.

Q. After one of the few times Christian Hackenberg may not have looked good, may have been the first couple series in the home opener, and you mentioned something about it's hard to simulate the big crowd and the big atmosphere in practice. How much does it help that he's had so much now experience with big games, big drives, big crowds going into what's going to be the biggest crowd, the biggest game he's played this season?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think you'd have to ask him. I think that one of the things that has struck me about Christian since the day I met him, which was at junior day almost two years ago now, a year and a half ago, whatever, but is his demeanor. He's a very he's a calm guy. He's got a quiet confidence about him. He understands that it's football. It's football. It's a part of his life. It's a big part. He's a great family guy, loves his family, talks about his family all the time, things like that. I think he's a very well rounded guy that we've got here. But again, you'd have to ask him about those things. I think he focuses on his assignments. That's the thing I like about big games, big stadiums. I mean, you're playing Ohio State in the Horseshoe. That's a great opportunity for everybody. But, I think when the game starts, everybody involved is really just focused on the game, not the 90,000 people, 100,000 people that are sitting in the stands. You have to deal with the noise and things like that, but you're just very focused on what your job is on that play and on the next play and on the next play. I think that's probably what he thinks about quite a bit.

Q. I know you're big on a lot of positions, a lot of personnel decisions, how they practice throughout the week leading up to the game in terms of how guys might play roles. Do you put a lot of thought or stock in the official depth chart that we see in the media? Early in the week it comes out; do you put a lot of stock into that? And do you think the players look at that and do you inform them? Do you use that as motivation for players sometimes in spots where you might want them to step up or something, promote somebody who had a good week? Do you use that kind of as a tool maybe?
COACH O'BRIEN: It's kind of two different questions there. I definitely put a lot of thought into the depth chart that's released to the media. I don't just that's something that Jeff sends over to me from week to week, and I look at it, and I make the changes or I keep it the same, whatever it necessary for that week. But what we do as coaches is every single day we're talking to our players about where they stand. Just this morning I had three players in the office, talking to them about where they stand, how they're doing academically, things like that. I think we don't use the media anything like that, the media depth chart as a motivation. We bring them in and say, "hey, so and so, you've got to do a better job of practicing, especially in these three plays that you're struggling with right now, and this other guy is doing a better job than you, he's playing. He's going to play this week." That's the way it is. That's Division I college football, that's competition, that's the way it's going to be in their life. They're going to go out and interview for jobs, and they've got to be prepared for interviews because if they want to get the job, they've got to be the best interviewee. I think that that's something that we just do, but we don't use the media depth chart as like anything.

Q. As a coach, how much do you look forward to the challenge of playing No. 4 on the road, 90,000, 19 straight wins, all of those things? COACH O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah, I think it's a great opportunity. I think about that all the time. I love I think you guys know that by now about me, when you're playing teams like this, you just think about I'm not very good at articulating this, but Penn State versus Ohio State, and you think about what that means in the history of college football and these two teams playing each other and the tradition of both schools and two great coaching staffs with a lot of good players on both sides of the ball. You know, it's a lot of fun. Game day, that's the best day of the week for me. We're just really looking forward to the challenge. We know it's a huge challenge. I mean, 19 games in a row, No. 4 team in the country, we realize that it's a huge, huge challenge. But we look forward to it.

Q. The last two games that Ohio State has played against Iowa and Northwestern, they really got on them in the second half. They've been a really good second half team. How do you combat that, and what do they do in the second half that's been able to wear teams down?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, you're right. That's something we've looked at a lot. They have done a great job in the second half of coming out and making great adjustments, and I think it's when you've got a team like that that's never lost under your leadership, Coach (Urban) Meyer's leadership, you've got a very confident team. So even if they maybe it's a close game in the first half, they go in at halftime, and well, "we've won 19 in a row. We've got to make these adjustments and here's what we do and we're confident that we're going to be able to" they've done it before, and I think that's a testament to their coaching staff and I think that's a testament to their players, that they make the adjustments, they go out and they play better in the second half. But you're right, that's something that's a big key for them in the last two games, and that's just something that they're doing well.

Q. What have you seen out of Buckeyes running back Carlos Hyde? He's a guy, a hard runner, might not get a lot of attention compared to say Braxton Miller, though. COACH O'BRIEN: He gets a lot of attention from us, I can tell you that, when we watch the tape. He's six feet tall, he's 240 pounds, he's a downhill runner. You'd better wrap him up. He had an unbelievable, I think, 19 yard touchdown run against Iowa last week where the guy hit him, he bounced off him, he kept his balance, and then he ran the rest of the way and dove into the end zone. It was just a great individual effort. He's obviously one of the better backs in the country. Again, we've got to make sure that we wrap him up, that we tackle him. It's a huge challenge for us.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about (holder) Adam Geiger and his progress, why you put him in that role as a freshman?
COACH O'BRIEN: Adam is a guy that came in here as a freshman along with a couple other guys. I've talked about Von Walker, some of those guys, and there's others. There's others. They came in here, and it wasn't too big for them. You could see in the Dirty Show (scout team) scrimmages that they were playing well, and he was one of those guys that was running the ball well as a running back, and we were trying to get him involved in special teams, and then one day I think a couple weeks ago, he came up to one of us, whether it was me or one of the other coaches, and said, "I'm a holder, I can hold, too." So we tried him out there and he does a nice job. So it'll either be him or Alex Butterworth holding because Alex is a good holder, too. The fact that Alex has punting duties, you try not to put too much on his plate, but he's a good holder, also. Ryan Keiser probably wouldn't be able to hold because of his injury. But Adam has done a nice job of going in there and filling that role.

Q. We've talked a lot about the OSU defense and how good they are. They're also really good at points allowed, less than 20, which in college football today is pretty astronomical. Do you feel like you have to manufacture any points in this game, whether it be on special teams, defense, maybe trick plays to put some points on the board?
COACH O'BRIEN: You know, I think that you're right. I think that they're an excellent defense that doesn't give up a lot of points, and we're putting together a gameplan, and obviously we're going to show up Saturday night and do the best we can.

Q. A lot of fans would consider Ohio State to be Penn State's biggest rival in the Big Ten. I was wondering, do you think it's important for you guys to have like a "rival?" Is that something that feeds more energy to the team or anything?
COACH O'BRIEN: I don't know, I have a thing about this. We talk about playing 12 one game seasons, like every game is important. I understand, I totally understand the rivalry thing. But I think like everybody is a rival, because everybody comes on the football field and wants to beat you and you want to beat them. So that's a rival. I think the other thing that defines a rival is a balanced series, a series where it's maybe split half and half. They've won half, you've won half. That's a rival. I think that can be a rivalry, too. But I also know that I have a tremendous amount of respect, too, for the teams in the Big Ten, and I think all of the teams in the Big Ten are very well coached, good football teams. So I think any time we take the field, we respect them all, and they're all rivals. You know what I mean? They're all rivals.

Q. What's more challenging for a young quarterback, that first overall game or the first true test on the road in front of 90,000 fans? And have you done anything to try to get him ready for that kind of noise?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, we work with noise every single day in practice. We crank the music, and so because here it's loud, too. It's loud on offense here, too. So we work that from day one of spring practice. Again, I think one of the things these are interesting questions about that because I think about that a lot with young quarterbacks, with all the players on our team, and I think what you try to do is as a coach, as a play caller, I think you've got to people say, well, you've got to block it out. Well, I mean, that's easier said than done. There's 90,000 people there, and it's a fantastic place, and they're not for Penn State, obviously. I think what you have to do is be very, very focused on what your job is. So, as a coach, you're going through your calls, "okay, this is what I anticipate the call on 1st and 10 or two minute or right before halftime or how are we going to use our time outs," things like that, as a coach. As a player you're thinking about, "okay, if the first play is a run this is how I'm going to take the quarterback center snap. This is how I'm going to come out from under center. I'm going to focus on every little detail of every play that I could possibly run in this game," and I think if you do that, that's what keeps you focused, and that, quote unquote, lets you ignore the noise and just focus on what the task at hand is. That's the best way to do it in my opinion as a coach and as a player.

Q. I know you've never coached on the same sideline as Urban Meyer, but you've been around and coached with and against some pretty successful coaches. Can you talk a little bit about what allows successful coaches like Urban Meyer to be so consistently dominant?
COACH O'BRIEN: Right. Well, where do you begin? First of all, he's smart, a smart guy. He's a mentally tough guy. He's won two National Championships with different types of teams. In my opinion, he's obviously able to do it in different conferences. He's done it in the Southeastern Conference. He's done it in the (Utah), he's done it obviously successfully in the Big Ten. There's a guy that understands what he wants in a football team, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I don't know him very well. I've gotten to know him over the last year and a half, but I think there's obvious respect there. Of course, we want to go out there and win, and he wants to go out there and win. But there's a lot of respect for their program and for him as a head football coach.

Q. You added Zach Ladonis from the walk on tryouts you had. Did you add anybody else, or what were you looking to find during that period?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think that day we had probably 30 to 40 guys try out, and I think there were three or four guys that stood out to us. And then what happens is, are they academically able to be on your team based on their schedule and all the things that they have to clear NCAA wise. I think that a couple of those guys weren't able to come out for the team, so maybe they'll come out in a spring, whether it's a DB or a linebacker or running back or kicker. I think there was a decent looking kicker there that day. And then Zach Ladonis was a guy that I personally timed and I thought he did a really good job of snapping the ball that way, and so he was we cleared him with the NCAA and he was ready to go. So he was the one guy that we brought on the team, I think, from that tryout. That's kind of the way it works.

Q. A lot has been written about the hurry up offense. You said last week that you have three tempos that you use. How do you strike a healthy balance between keeping a defense on its heels but also trying to extend your possession time where obviously Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offense can't do anything against you guys if they're not on the field.
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, great question. It's very, very difficult. It's really more about what your plan is going into the game. Maybe it has to do with field position. Maybe it has to do with the time of the game. Maybe it has to do with personnel groupings. Maybe there's certain personnel groupings where you want to slow it down, other personnel groupings where you want to speed it up. So it's a plan. Obviously, I'm not going to talk about the details of it here, but and then once you get into the game, it's a feel for it. And then once you get a feel for it, then it's more about to me it's the players have confidence in it. They'll even say to you, they'll say, "hey, Coach, can we speed it up again?" and then as a coach, you're going, "maybe we need to slow this down." But these kids and there's a lot to be said for a kid that has confidence in what you're doing, and they want to speed it up. So there's a lot of factors that go into it, and again, it's week to week, it's a different challenge, and obviously it's a big challenge for us this week versus Ohio State.

Q. I feel like we haven't heard too much about Jordan Lucas. What's it been like coaching him, and how important has he been to this defense and this secondary?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, you're right. He's a guy that it's hard to I probably in my years as a head coach I have to do a better job of remembering all the names, but Jordan Lucas is one of the better football players on our team. He's just a great, competitive kid, tough, plays hurt, very good in man coverage, really good in zone coverage of understanding routes, got great ball skills. I think he could also play safety. Right now we play him at corner. He plays on many special teams, just does an excellent job. He brings, just what I've seen over this year he's only in his second year playing. He brings a competitive toughness to our football team that I really like.

Q. I'm supposed to ask you about "go Bruno," and more specifically, can you talk about your playing days at Brown, at defensive end? How does that help your play calling?
COACH O'BRIEN: Go Bruno, yeah. Bruno is a nickname for Brown, so that's usually a text I send to Phil Estes, the head coach of Brown University. I think they're like 3 2 right now. So, "Go Bruno" is like "We Are...Penn State." That's the "We are Brown" or whatever, "Go Bruno." Playing days, I really just my least favorite thing to do is to talk about myself as a player or myself as anything. But I just loved playing; I loved being on the team. I loved being a teammate with these guys that I played with at Brown. We weren't very good. We were not very good. You can go look it up. We didn't win many games. We were in some close games but we didn't win many. Really, once I got into coaching I found out quickly that I didn't know a lot about football, and so I wouldn't even begin to compare how my playing days affected my I played defense, so I played outside linebacker, and as I gained more weight they moved me inside closer to the ball, put my hand on the ground. I was a defensive tackle in my last year at Brown. I'm an offensive coach, so obviously that's been most of my career. I wouldn't even compare the two. But that's it.

Q. You mentioned about Brown and about the fact that you were a defensive player but yet on the offensive side of the ball you've carved a reputation, a career out of developing quarterbacks. Who are some of the people that you took things from and that mentored you as far as your quarterback development?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, I'll tell you what, there's been a few. I'll go back to when I started. When I started, when I was coaching at Brown, my second year of coaching, my college coach was Mickey Kwiatkowski and he was let go after my first year of coaching, and when Mark Whipple came in, which (the father of) Austin Whipple is on our team here, he was a quarterback guy. I coached on defense, but I learned a lot from watching Mark, so it started there. And then I went to Georgia Tech, and I was fortunate to work for Ralph Friedgen there, so I was a G.A. for Ralph for a couple years and then I was his running back coach, so I paid attention to him because I thought he was an excellent offensive line and quarterback coach. And then obviously I went to Maryland, I was with him, and then when I went to New England, I learned a ton from three guys: Josh McDaniels; he and I worked closely together. He's an excellent quarterback coach. Bill Belichick; Bill Belichick, he would run a couple quarterback meetings per week during the season, and I got to sit in on those for years, for five years, and those were invaluable to me because he gave you a great defensive perspective for the quarterback position. And then, obviously, coaching Tom (Brady). I coached Tom, and he and I had hours and hours of discussions about how we each saw the game and things like that and put the gameplan together. So those are the guys that really meant a lot to me as far as coaching quarterbacks.

Q. Central Florida went on the road and beat Louisville. Did you get a chance to talk with Coach O'Leary? I know this is how we perceive it, but do you think that makes people look at your loss against Central Florida a little bit differently?
COACH O'BRIEN: That's up to you guys to talk about that, but I texted with Coach O'Leary. He texted me after Michigan, and then I was able to watch a lot of that Louisville game. I thought they did a great job. I think they were down 21 7, 24 7 at one point, came back and won the game. I think (Blake) Bortles is an excellent player. I think every game is different. I think that's up to you guys to decide. That's not up to me. I think Central Florida beat us on that day and played better than us and coached better than us, so that day the better team won. I think they went down to Louisville and played a whale of a football game. I think Central Florida is a very good team. I saw in the BCS rankings this week, they're in the top 25, and I think they deserve to be.

Q. When the read option became more popular over the past couple years, there was some perception that this was like the most undefendable offense ever. As an offensive minded guy, do you think that's overstated, and how much does just discipline and good tackling technique come down to just defending a team like Ohio State that runs that option?
COACH O'BRIEN: I don't think there's any offense that's unstoppable, and I don't think there's any defense that can't be that you can't gain yards on. I think that's an evolution, and it's the game plans and it's the coaching and it comes down to the players' execution on game day. But, I do think that when it comes down to stopping a read option you know, read option, that's another thing when I have been asked, early in my career at Georgia Tech, we ran the wishbone. We had a quarterback named Joe Hamilton, and we ran basically a no huddle wishbone attack at that time, and we mixed other things in there, too. So, I got to learn a lot about the veer option, the midline option, and what we used to call the speed option which was out on the perimeter of the defense. Now when you look at these spread read zone teams like you call them, this is just like veer option, it's just like midline option. It's just a little bit different way to get to it. And it always comes down to assignment football -- who has the dive? Who has the quarterback? Who has the pitch if there's a pitch involved? How do you want to play it? Do you want to play it with post safety coverage or split safety coverage or man to man coverage? And I think what makes it really, really tough are the guys that are running it. You've got Braxton Miller, you've got this kid out at Baylor (Bryce Petty). They had 864 yards of offense in one game. So it's these great players that are running these offenses now; that's what makes it really, really difficult to stop.

Q. The Michigan game was about as healthy as we've seen Mike Hull yet this year. A lot of emotion on the defensive side of the ball in that game with guys throwing their arms around, kind of high stepping all over the field. How much stock do you put into guys showing that kind of emotion in a game and do you think Mike is a catalyst, one of those players that spurs that on?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, it's an emotional game. I think you've got to do a great job of controlling your emotions, but what I always talk to the team about is when a teammate makes a great play, number one, that guy who makes the play should be looking to celebrate with his teammates, and then his teammates should be looking to celebrate with him. It should never, ever be an individual celebration. That was one of the things about pro football that used to just bother me to no end, that it was always this individual choreographed celebration that you couldn't do anything about. In college, I think it's important to play with emotion, be enthusiastic when your player makes a great play, your teammate makes a great play, and I think that's a big part of what we're doing. Mike Hull is definitely one of our leaders on defense. He's a tough kid. He plays a very gritty style, instinctive style of football, so when he makes big plays like the pass he broke up against Michigan on the wheel route, that fires the team up. That's just the type of player he is. So yes, he has a lot to do with the enthusiasm that you see on defense.  

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Last Updated October 23, 2013