O'Brien previews road trip to Minnesota

November 07, 2013

Coach Bill O'Brien Weekly Press Conference
Nov. 5, 2013

COACH O'BRIEN: Injury wise, (Ryan) Keiser is doing well. They checked his hand out again. He seems to be healing well and he's doing well. I thought he did some really nice things for us on Saturday against Illinois. Ben Kline still nursing the shoulder, but he'll be ready for the game.

Akeel Lynch, he's day to day. In the Ohio State game he sprained his MCL and he's day to day with that, and that's why he didn't play in the Illinois game. I'm not sure if I mentioned that last week; I apologize for that. I think everybody else, there are some bumps and bruises. Obviously, Billy Belton carried the ball 36 times, and we're watching his contact in practice. He'll be ready for the game. There are a couple of stomach bugs going around. I tell these kids I wake up every day with a stomach bug, but they don't laugh at that. But, I think we're doing okay.

Q. How would you describe the season to this point?

COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I think certainly, obviously, we'd like to be 8-0. I think we've played tough. I think we've battled hard. We've competed. It's been a little bit up and down at times. At times we've played well as a team, at times we haven't. I think after the season is when we'll really focus on that and see why that was. Right now it's important for us to level it off and continue to compete and play well. I think, like I always say, we had a good practice last night, Monday, and we're up to the challenge for Minnesota. Minnesota's an excellent team, and I think that question is a great question, and it's probably something that we have to really analyze after the season.

Q. Minnesota's running game is fourth in the Big Ten, and they have almost 2,000 yards. It looks like they're really starting to run the ball very well. They ran well against Nebraska and Indiana. Is there anything you see specifically that they're doing well of late in their run game?

COACH O'BRIEN: They run the ball very well. They run a power scheme. They've run the ball about 75 percent of the time, and that's what they do. That's what they believe in. Those are the type of players they have. They have two good backs; guys that are good. The quarterback can run the ball, so they have good scheme runs. They're very well coached. This is a very, very good team. It's one of the better teams we've played this year.

Q. How much have you gotten to know Jerry Kill during these last two years, and just from watching the film, can you give the thoughts on the job he and his entire staff have done during a tough situation?

COACH O'BRIEN: Jerry, obviously, I have a ton of respect for Jerry. I feel bad for what he's had to go through. I called him two weeks ago and spoke to him on the phone to see how he's doing. I've gotten to know him a little bit at the Big Ten meetings and things like that. Great guy. Obviously he has a fantastic staff that has a lot of cohesion and unity. You can see the kids feeding off of that.

Give Jerry and his staff a lot of credit. They've done a great job of coaching these kids and recruiting for the type of football they want to play. I can't say enough about Jerry Kill and his staff.

Q. How would you evaluate so far the contributions of the Run ons who have been playing particularly on special teams and then two local guys for me, Garth Lakitsky and Andrew Terlingo, how are they progressing?

COACH O'BRIEN: So the Run ons, not to get into the specifics of who, but I think when you look across the board, like you said, especially on special teams, these guys are really contributing. I thought on our kickoff team last week we had a couple guys tackling the returner inside the 20 yard line. Both of those guys were run on players. I think they've done an excellent job. They've practiced hard. They're a lot of fun to be around. I really enjoy coaching all these kids and the Run ons are just a lot of fun, to watch them practice and how hard they go and things like that.

Garth Lakitsky I believe is going to concentrate on wrestling, so he's no longer with us. And Andrew Terlingo is a Run on offensive lineman -- a young guy who has certainly improved from where he was in August to where he is now. Got a long way to go, long way to go. But I think going against varsity every day on the Dirty Show really has helped him.

Q. Could you talk just a little bit more about Ryan Keiser? How important is he to your secondary this year? Also just in light of dealing with the hand injury, the broken hand, could you also just mention how he's come back and dealt with that in the play he made to end the game?

COACH O'BRIEN: He's a very valuable member of this football team. Just from the type of kid he is, the type of player he is, the maturity level he brings to the locker room. He comes from a coaching family. I believe his mom's a coach. Athletics has been a part of his life his whole life. I think he does a great job. I think he's an instinctive player.

I think he was a little rusty when he first came back from the hand injury. He'd probably be the first one to tell you that. But, in the Illinois game he really played a lot better and he made a nice play on the bubble screen, then he got the tipped interception. A fantastic guy, great guy to coach, and team guy. Just a really, really good guy to have on the team.

Q. What did you see in Bill Belton that you thought would make him a good running back? Was there a time you saw him start to really improve and flourish and develop as a running back over a period of a week or two?

COACH O'BRIEN: When we first got here we started having those crack of dawn, early morning workouts. I remember the way that we had it set up, I think it was the very first morning. We had a lot of change of direction type drills to really try to evaluate these guys and see where we would put them. Again, just to remind you, I didn't watch any film really on these guys before I got here. So I was just trying to give everybody a clean slate.

So when I watched Billy, I saw a kid that was 5-11, maybe 185, 190 pounds, and a thick-looking guy. I said, "what position" was he? They said he was a slot receiver and a wildcat quarterback. I said, I think looking at our running back situation, at that time, I said why don't we try him at running back, and that's when we moved him.

I think remember, he got injured and he really improved a lot in training camp his first year at running back. Then he had a bad ankle sprain against Ohio and had a hard time coming back from that and never really hit his stride again last year. Then this year, spring practice, and really in training camp I saw this kid really improve to the point where he is now playing pretty well.

Q. Little bit I've seen of Minnesota, they have a kid, Ra'Shede Hageman, No. 99. He looks like a pretty amazing player, a 300 pound guy with great athleticism and everything. How do you deal with a guy like that? I would imagine he presents unique challenges?

COACH O'BRIEN: You're right. He's an excellent player. One of the better defensive linemen we've gone against. He's explosive. Plays with good pad level. He's quick. Seems to me that he's going to be has a chance to be a first or second day draft pick. He's a very good player.

So you have different ways of having to deal with him. You're going to have to double him. You're going to have to get help from places where you don't normally get help from and make sure that you know where he is on every play and try your best not to have him single blocked all the time, because he is a challenge. He's a good player. They have a lot of good players. They're good.

Q. Have you noticed anything different about Minnesota scheme wise since Tracy Claeys took over? And you've talked a lot about how resilient your own team is, but do you notice that a little bit from them too considering some of what they've gone through in recent weeks?

COACH O'BRIEN: No question. I haven't noticed a lot of scheme change. I try to watch just about every game. I think they do a really good job of playing tight coverage on defense and playing competitive. When I watch them, there aren't any easy plays on either side of the ball. I think they just do a really good job of making sure that their scheme is coached up well.

You're right. They play very, very hard. On defense, they run to the ball, and on offense they run the ball downhill and they challenge you defensively. So we're going to have to be up for the challenge, that's for sure.

Q. Wanted to know, Just as a matter of your overall philosophy, you and your staff, how do you make decisions on red shirting? Is that something that's done before or on a case-by-case basis and how the season plays out? How do you decide whether to red shirt somebody this year or whatever the case may be?

COACH O'BRIEN: Ideally you'd like to red shirt everybody. I think it's very difficult to play as a true freshman when you're trying to figure out your class schedule and all the different things that go on your freshman year. Now, with the situation that we're in right now, that's really impossible to do. So what we do is more of a case by case, position by position. If you look at the offensive line, do we need Andrew Nelson to play for us this year? No, because we have decent players there that we really believe in and hopefully we can keep him where he can red shirt and have four years to play as opposed to Brandon Bell. Brandon Bell is a guy that is a freshman linebacker that we felt had improved and we started using him on special teams. Had a great tackle and a punt last week and has played a little bit on defense. So, it's really position-by-position and case-by-case, and is the young man ready?

Ideally you'd love to have everybody for five years, but that's almost impossible to do.

Q. Can you address what policies you have in place to prevent hazing and bullying on the team? How different is that issue in general between the NFL and the college game?

COACH O'BRIEN: Right, we don't allow any hazing at Penn State. I'd say if anybody gets hazed, it's the coaches. The players bust our chops. But, no, we take that very seriously. That's not something that we --we definitely address it right away, and we do not allow it.

Believe me, I'm just trying to get ready for Minnesota. I know, in working in New England, we had a very professional locker room with a lot of great guys in it, great coaching staff and fantastic ownership. So things like that they never happened in New England. So I think there is a big difference there between pro and college football.

I think college football is about getting an education. Playing as good of football as you can on the field, and young guys earning their stripes on the practice field, that's what it's about. Not earning their stripes by getting their heads shaved. We don't do that at Penn State.

Q. Minnesota's been dominating time of possession in this winning streak. Does that impact what you do offensively at all?

COACH O'BRIEN: You have to look at that. You have to look at that because they average almost five minutes more than their opponents and that's a big deal. You can't totally change what you do, but you better make sure that you're not just playing at warp speed the whole game because you could play warp speed the whole game and if you score in a minute and 50 seconds, that's okay. But your defense has only been on the bench for a minute and 50 seconds and you better make sure you keep scoring. That is hard to do against Minnesota. They're a good defense. So we have a mix tempo and make sure that we give our defense a break. Make sure that we try to do the best we can to win the time of possession on our side.

Q. Have you noticed any difference in the way your team has played at home compared to on the road this year?

COACH O'BRIEN: Obviously we haven't played as well on the road. It's hard to pin-point why. Hopefully, that changes. I think we've practiced well. I think we've been prepared for these games on the road. I know that these guys came out yesterday and practiced really well. I think we'll string some good practices together and be ready to go on Saturday. So hopefully we can change the tide of not playing well on the road right now.

Q. Allen Robinson is 42 yards away from breaking the single season record for yardage here at Penn State.

COACH O'BRIEN: Is he? Who has that, Bobby Engram?

Q. Yeah.

COACH O'BRIEN: He was good, man.

Q. Is that something that you and Allen have talked about? Is that a goal he has now?

COACH O'BRIEN: No. I just learned that from you. No, we don't talk about records. We talk about doing the best we can to make sure we're ready to go for Minnesota.

Q. With Anthony Zettel, the last couple years, you look at his numbers and he has a lot of tackles for loss and sacks. It's something like 30 percent or more of his tackles are for loss. What is it about him that allows him to get into the backfield so well and make those kind of plays?

COACH O'BRIEN: That's a great question, because I was actually noticing that on Sunday. He's a guy in the almost two years that I've been here, he does; he makes a lot of plays. So, why is that? I think number one; he plays extremely hard. He plays every play like it's his last play. That is number one. I think the other thing he is, he's a very strong player. He has great playing strength, so he's able to play off blocks and explode off of a block and make a tackle for a loss. Or, if you noticed against Illinois, he let (Nathan) Scheelhaase out of the pocket, but he grabbed him by the jersey and sacked him. So he's got strong hands and he's able to hang on and make those tackles or sacks. I give him a lot of credit. He's come up with some really big plays for us. I think it has a lot to do with how hard he plays and how strong he is.

Q. Going back to the Illinois game, was there any part of you that was expecting an intentional safety when they were backed up in their end zone and they pointed it to you guys it would have been a little bit better field position for them. Was there any part of you that was thinking about that?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, we did. We talked about that. That's something that they could do. Then we talked about it more on Sunday if that was something, if we were in that situation offensively, what would we do? And that would be something that we'd think about doing, too. But they felt like, that's nothing against Illinois. I'm sure they felt like they had good plays there just like we all do. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, so they decided to do it that way.

Our defense stepped up and played good football. And I thought that was a great example of complementary football. Our defense held them. So we tried to block the punt and we forced kind of a rugby type punt. I thought Von (Walker) could have caught the punt. We lost about 10 yards there on the roll of the punt, so we got it at the 50 instead of the 40. But, still, with a couple better play calls maybe we could have scored a touchdown. But, we ended up kicking a field goal that took us into overtime.

Q. With Minnesota's offense and their running game, looks like they like to get people to come up and commit to the running game then they kind of take their shots. How careful does a coaching staff have to be to not overcommit to the run and get burned?

COACH O'BRIEN: Careful is the wrong word. It's a great question. If you go into the meeting room and say, "Hey, guys, you have to be careful now." That is the wrong way to go. I think you have to get your linebackers to think simply. "Okay, what are their tips when they play action? What are their tips when they run?" Maybe it's the stance of a lineman, maybe it's a backfield set. Maybe it's some little thing like a near set back versus a pro or an I formation back. Whatever it might be, that's a tip that you use. "Hey, they're going to run it here. This is a play action tip." Or when you're talking to your DBs, you have to tell them to be aggressively smart and stay on top of routes. They can't be too quick to react to what they see. They can't have their eyes in the backfield. So you can't take away the aggression of your team. You have to do a great job of studying film and showing the guys the difference between when they run it and when they play action it.

Q. I was with Phil Savage last night, and he made it a point to make it out to see DaQuan Jones and John Urschel. As a coaching staff, how does it feel to get that recognition from the Senior Bowl?

COACH O'BRIEN: Well, Phil's very good at what he does. I've known Phil for a while. Has a great track record. Phil will work, it's like six degrees of separation. Phil worked for Mac McWhorter when he was the offensive line coach at Alabama. Phil was a G.A. there with Ted Roof. They were G.A.'s together at Alabama when Bill Curry was head coach there. And Phil also worked for Bill Belichick in Cleveland that showed "A Football Life" for the '94 Cleveland Browns, Phil Savage was in the front office with that staff. Pretty interesting deal.

I think it's great any time our guys I'll be honest with you, I think we have a few other guys that should be considered for the Senior Bowl, too. But those two guys are excellent players, great representatives of Penn State. I think that's what makes me most proud. You have two guys there, obviously, John Urschel, well documented, great student, fantastic football player.

DaQuan Jones in his own right has made a huge mark off the field with his work ethic and how hard he's worked in the classroom to get to where he is today. Then, obviously, he's a heck of a football player. So I think that says a lot about Penn State and the type of kids we have here at Penn State.

Q. You've talked a lot about Bill Belton and always talked highly about him as a football player and in terms of character. Can you talk about what it means to you to see him playing as well as he's been playing these last few weeks?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it means a lot to me when any of these guys play well. It's a players' game. It's not about the coaches. It's all about the players who put it on the line every week. To watch a guy like Billy who, like I said, has really improved in the classroom. He wasn't doing well in the classroom when I got here. He's doing better there. It's still a work in progress for him academically, but he works hard at it. Obviously, he's playing well on the field, so it always makes you feel good when good kids do well.

Q. You brought it up on the radio show, I think it was last week...?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, the radio show. You guys Tweet every line from the radio show. Why do they do that..? (laughter)

Q. You were saying on the show about balancing kind of how you approach Christian (Hackenberg) on the sidelines, and I think you said you've maybe only boiled over maybe twice, I think?

COACH O'BRIEN: Couple times, yeah, two or three.

Q. You might have been able to add one from Saturday. But how important is that, the kind of balance how you approach him as far as you don't want to get too much into his head. But, obviously, you do coach him and you do critique him?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, that's a great part, that's a great question. We have a close relationship. Obviously, I recruited him and have been in his living room and know his family. So it's a difficult situation that he's in, just being a freshman and playing major college football at that position for the first time. I'll be the first to tell you that many times, I definitely in the beginning of the year, had to be more patient with him. I think, overall, I do believe I've improved on that with him and I try to get him over to the bench and sit down with him and talk to him about the previous series and I think that's helped.

When he makes a mistake that I know he knows what to do on or he makes the mistake twice or something, it doesn't happen very often, that's when I lose my patience a little bit with him. I think he gets that. But, we have a very good, honest, open relationship. On Saturday, the one you might be referring to, he got mad at me because he got hit, he missed a blitz, missed a hot, so he got hit in the side of the head. So I was yelling at (Tim) Bream to make sure they checked him out because I felt like he might have gotten hit there. So he's screaming back at me, "I'm all right, Coach, leave me alone!" And I'm like, "Check him out!"

So I was yelling at Bream, not him. He's a great kid; fun guy to coach. But definitely a guy that any time you coach the quarterback position, you have to be patient with that position, especially when they're young. Fortunately he's all right. I don't know if I am, though?

Q. Has your philosophy changed on taking the ball? It will seems you've deferred the last couple of weeks. Wondered what's gone into that. And a quick one on how you felt Matt McGloin played (in Sunday's Oakland Raiders game)?

COACH O'BRIEN: That changes week to week. We talk about that as a staff. It's a game to game decision that we do. It's based on the weather. It's based on the sun here in Beaver Stadium, where the sun is. I know it sounds crazy, but based on things we want to do on special teams in the beginning of the game and the throwing game. It's based on the other team and their offense. Like, for instance, if you're playing Navy, a ball possession team or maybe Minnesota, maybe you take the ball first because you know you may not get many possessions, things like that. So there are a lot of factors and it's really game by game.

I couldn't be more proud of Matt McGloin. A self made guy, competitive guy. He deserves everything he's getting, and maybe he'll get his shot to start. He led them down the field. I think they had a couple long drives. I know one was a touchdown drive. Nothing that he does surprises me, and it shouldn't surprise anybody. He's a guy that's worked very hard to get where he's at.

Q. Now that you've had a chance to watch the Illinois game, can you evaluate the way your (offensive) tackles played (Adam) Gress, (Garry) Gilliam and Donovan (Smith)?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, I thought they played better than they did against Ohio State. They gave Christian time to step up in the pocket, and I thought that they did a great job run blocking. They were physical, and I thought that they worked with the tight ends really well. So I thought that for the tackles, it was a very good game.

Now moving to Minnesota, the tackles have a big challenge. The defensive ends for Minnesota are very athletic, very good players. I was just talking to Gress over in the locker room before I was walking over here just saying, "look, this is a big challenge for us this week."

Q. If I can follow that up, Gress is going to come in here. He played primarily right tackle early in the season, then he moved to left on Saturday. What is it that allows somebody to play both right and left where some guys maybe can't?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it's difficult. Number one, some guys have trouble just getting in a left handed stance. They're right handed guys and it's difficult to get back and get in a left handed stance. "Is he flexible enough to do that?" And Adam is. Adam has helped us in that regard. He's a very large human being. He's a bright guy, a physical player, and hard to rush around. So we like to try to use him on both sides. He's definitely a swing tackle.

So is Garry. Garry can play right and left too and Donovan is primarily a left tackle. So we have a good luxury there. And Gress is a guy that can do both and has done it pretty well.

Q. What have your impressions been of Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson? Is it trickier preparing for a guy that struggled passing the ball? Now he's coming off a season high in passing yards, almost twice as much as what he had before?

COACH O'BRIEN: Right. He's improved every week. He's a good runner. He's a very bright kid. You can tell he knows what he's doing running the offense. Doesn't make many mistakes. They don't turn the ball over very much. He's done a really good job of that. I think he's gotten better as a passer. So now that's a big challenge for us, because you know they can run the ball, but now they have the threat of the pass. I think it's going to be a big challenge for us. He's a young quarterback that I think is playing really well.

Q. Can you talk about Coach (Tracy) Claeys? He's thrown into a unique situation and he's led them to three wins most recently. I know you've never been in an interim coaching role. Can you talk about how difficult that might be mid-season, for a coach to take over?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, that's got to be difficult. I don't know how you'd prepare for that. Obviously, there are a great bunch of assistants with him that buy into their own roles and work well with him. They understand what Jerry Kill wants and they're able to carry out those orders and be good soldiers. Tracy is the lead dog on that.

So he's done a great job. I'm telling you, this is a really good football team, really good football team. Do they play Ohio State? No? They're good.

Q. Following up on Travis' tackles question, how about the secondary? You slide (Adrian) Amos up, have (Jesse) Della Valle in there a little bit. What were your thoughts on those guys after you got to watch the film?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, Amos, his natural position is corner. I think he's a good corner. He's aggressive. He played his best game against Illinois. He did a nice job coming up and made two or three tackles out there in the flat that were important. Obviously, broke up the pass at the end (intercepted by Ryan Keiser). I just think that's a good spot for him. He's at home there. We're going to keep him there as long as we can. Injuries occur, and we may have to move him back. But, hopefully we can keep him at corner.

Jesse is a guy that I think very highly of. He's a much-improved player. I think in the Illinois game he had a couple plays he probably wishes he had back. He missed a couple tackles. But there are other plays he came up and did a really nice job. I think he'll continue to improve with the more reps he gets and coaching he gets, he'll continue to improve. I'm pleased with where Jesse is right now.  

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Last Updated November 07, 2013