O'Brien discusses Senior Day and home finale

November 21, 2013

Bill O'Brien Weekly Press Conference
Nov. 19, 2013

COACH O'BRIEN: Just looking at the injury report to update you, there are really no major injuries, just a lot of bumps and bruises. Some guys that may be held out of practice here and there, but should be ready to go on Saturday. I'd say the most the biggest injury of all is on the coaching staff, (running backs coach) Charles London went for a jog and broke his foot. So he'll be in a boot for four to six weeks. That is probably the biggest injury news. One thing I'd like to say is this is a very important game for many reasons. But probably the most important reason for our coaching staff is and myself personally is it's the last home game for these seniors. So we're putting everything we can into practice and making sure that we do as good a job as we can to help these seniors go out on a winning note. We know it's a very, very tough opponent. Nebraska's a very, very good team, and it's going to be a big challenge. But, we just can't wait to come into Beaver Stadium and hopefully it will be a great crowd. I'm not in charge of ticket sales or anything like that, but I would imagine that the Penn State fans will turn out in force to show their respect for this senior class that stuck with this university and stuck with this football program. So, I'm looking forward to the game on Saturday.

Q. What do you think this senior class has contributed to Penn State, and can you describe what kind of leader Pat Zerbe has been this season?
COACH O'BRIEN: This senior class has contributed quite a bit. I think when you look at it there are a lot of different personalities in this senior class. You have guys that are obviously really good players that have played a lot of football for us. You have guys that are great students. We have a number of top notch students. John Urschel gets a lot of pub and rightfully so because of his ability in the classroom. But there are many, many really good students in this class. You just mentioned one, Patrick Zerbe. We've got a lot of guys that have already graduated and are working on a second degree in some respects. So that to me is very, very impressive. Like I said, you've got a lot of good football players. You have guys in this senior class that have really embraced their role, whether it's Stephen Obeng or Pat Zerbe or Alex Butterworth, whoever...Brandon Felder, whoever it may be; Garry Gilliam, they've really embraced their role. So to me that is a big part of it too. To me they set the tone every week. They showed our younger guys how to practice and came back with intensity whether it was following a win or a loss. Again, they stuck with this university, they stuck with this program, and they didn't have to after the sanctions came out. I think that says it all about this class.

Q. You mentioned what a big Saturday it is coming up. It's Senior Day. I was just wondering if I could get your thoughts on the challenge of the next two weeks. I know you like to take it one game at a time. It's Nebraska and then Wisconsin. Do you feel like the next two weeks and how you guys play will kind of define your season? 

COACH O'BRIEN: We are completely focused on Nebraska. I understand the question, but we, I mean, believe me, we are not thinking one minute about Wisconsin, I can promise you that. This Nebraska team is a really good team. We're taking it one practice at a time, one day at a time, and just very, very focused on Nebraska. I don't try to define seasons. I leave that up to you guys.

Q. You just mentioned Garry Gilliam. He was on the list of players to be honored before the game on Saturday. He decided not to return for that sixth year he was granted. What did he mean to your program?
COACH O'BRIEN: Again, I'm not going to get into the discussions because those are personal between myself and some of these guys including Garry, Kyle Baublitz, Alex Kenney, those guys basically they sat down with me and they've decided to move on to the next stage of their lives next year. They'd like to be introduced on Saturday, especially Baublitz and Gilliam, so that's what we decided to do. Those two guys are great guys. They've been really good players for us and good leaders for us. We're looking forward to watching them play these last two games, especially this last home game.

Q. On the senior class, how did these guys extend or advance what you and last year's seniors put in place last year?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think they did that in many ways. Number one is they did that through their work ethic. They continued to work hard in the weight room and on the practice field and do it with intensity. I thought that was a big part of it. They continued to embrace their roles. As long as you were clear with what their role was and defined it for them, they embraced that role. They continued to develop the relationship with the coaching staff. I think that's a big part of it. The biggest thing to me is that they understand the word teamwork and working together. They embrace the younger players. You think about it 10 years from now when you look back on the last two senior classes, they'll be an important part of Penn State football history. They'll be a part of it that however you guys define the history of Penn State football over the last two years. I would say these two senior classes would be a big part of it.

Q. Kyle (Baublitz) is from our area, and I just wonder if you could talk for a moment about Baublitz and what kind of guy he was like to be around here. He didn't really get a chance to play much before you got there, but he has the last two years.
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, first of all, a great person, really bright guy, excellent student. Comes from a great family. On the football field a very, very tough kid. I don't know if anybody even knows, the last three or four weeks he's been playing with a bum ankle and he's played through it and he's played tough. That means a lot to us. When you play defensive tackle at this level, that's not easy, the day to day practice regimen and then playing in the games. He's meant a lot to us. I think the younger players; I know the younger players look up to a guy like that and know he's contributed a lot to this program.

Q. I'd like to talk about one of your freshmen. As Christian (Hackenberg) has become more experienced and more comfortable in your offense, how much have you increased his workload you've given him from week to week? I was wondering if it was a steady progression? How would you say he's picked up the new information every week?
COACH O'BRIEN: We've definitely increased his package every week. I think if you look at last week's game against Purdue, he made a lot more decisions at the line of scrimmage probably than he had made in most games. Some of those decisions he made on his own based on film study which is really, really good. That's when you know that a guy is starting to get it. So he's made tremendous strides and we've continued to feed him more and more of the playbook on a weekly basis.

Q. After the game on Saturday, the kickoff team struggled a little bit. You talked about assessing that and maybe make some personnel changes. What have you come up with in your assessment of that?
COACH O'BRIEN: We're not going to make any personnel changes on that team unless it's because of injury. Right now they seem to be healthy. We're going to coach it better, get these guys to study the film better, get these guys to understand it a little bit better how to avoid blocks and on what side to avoid and things like that, lane discipline and all those things. We have a bunch of great kids on that team, that unit, and we'll continue to coach them.

Q. I wanted to ask you about another one of your seniors, Eric Shrive. He made his first start for you guys on Saturday. I wonder if you've had any thoughts on his career both on the field and off the field and how you've seen him develop as a person in your time there?
COACH O'BRIEN: I've developed a close relationship with Eric. He's a great kid, he's a tough kid. A Scranton guy; what else would you expect? I'm sure he would tell you his playing career maybe hasn't worked out exactly the way he saw it coming out of high school. But, I tell you what he's brought is a toughness to our practice field. He's worked hard, accepted his role every week. It was good to get him that start last week. Then off the field, what else can you say about him? The work that he's done, especially with Lift for Life and involving the younger players to teach them how to carry that tradition on. The amount of money he's raised for kidney cancer research ($100,000+), you just can't say enough about what he's done. I really believe that Eric Shrive will go on, and whatever he decides to do, he'll be a big success at it.

Q. Did you get a chance to watch Matt (McGloin) play on Sunday for the Raiders? If so, what did you think? What is it about him that's made him what's been the key to his development to go from walk on to NFL starter?
COACH O'BRIEN: Did I watch Matt McGloin? Yeah, I watched the game. I thought he played a heck of a game. That's not an easy defense to go against, the Houston Texans. Wade Phillips, he's an excellent coach; been in the NFL for a long time. J.J. Watt, some of the guys they have on that side of the ball. So I thought he played well, the team played well, they ran the ball well, and they were balanced. He completed passes. He threw the ball accurately, played with poise. Can't say enough about him. He's a smart guy. Smart guys that work hard that have talent, they really thrive in that league. They really do. I think that he'll thrive in that league.

Q. As a follow up, how NFL ready do you think is Allen Robinson is? What do you think he needs to refine the most?
COACH O'BRIEN: I'm not going down that road. We're very focused on Nebraska. That's not a road I'm going down. That's ridiculous. He's very focused on Nebraska. He's looking forward to the Nebraska game.

Q. Matt Lehman is listed as being honored on Senior Day. Is that a sign that he's either going to apply for next year, or been denied one or that's just in case to leave that option open for him?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think that's probably more a "just in case" deal. We're still waiting to hear on his application for a sixth year. That's a just in case. I think that any guy, and we did this last year, I think it's a special thing when you get introduced in front of the home crowd. So I want these guys, if this is their last home game, to have that opportunity because I think it's a special thing. It's a special stadium. Again, I hate to use the word hope. I'm not a big fan of that word sometimes, but I'm hoping that it's a great crowd. I think these kids deserve a great crowd, so I wanted to make sure he got introduced.

Q. I want to ask about the offensive line. Watched them on tape the last couple weeks especially. Are they playing the best they've played all year?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think the offensive line has played fine all year. We have two guys (Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak) that have over 700 yards rushing. When you look at the sack totals, some of those sacks are on the quarterback or on a missed pick up by the back. I mean, I don't know. You guys must think it's not as good as I do. I think that the offensive line has played well all year. They've played tough. They've done everything that we've asked them to do and they've been fun to coach.

Q. Can you talk about the development of Adam Breneman and how important that's been given the injury issues you've had at that particular position?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's come in and improved every single week. He's had a couple of bumps and bruises too. He had an ankle and a foot. So this has been a few weeks ago. But, he's really improved. When he played in high school, he was used as a wide receiver quite a bit in the slots. He wasn't asked to block a whole lot as an in line blocker. He's improved there. He's stronger. The weight program has helped him already. He's an excellent athlete in the open field, and he'll only continue to get better. He'll be a heck of a player for us. As long as he stays healthy, he'll be a heck of a player for us here at Penn State.

Q. You mentioned the importance of this game. I know you don't like dealing with hypotheticals, but if you're able to win on Saturday, you'd clinch a winning season. How important would that be to do that here at home?
COACH O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah. Anytime you can have a winning season, I think it's important to help you going into the off season and things like that. No question about it. But I think the goal on Saturday is, it's not about clinching a winning season, it's about going out there and doing everything we can against a really, really tough, good, Nebraska team to help our seniors go out winners. That's the big deal to me.

Q. Can you talk about what you saw in Allen Robinson when you first came here last year to get him as involved as you did as quickly as you did? Did you think when you first came here he would end up being the player he is today?
COACH O'BRIEN: No question about it. I remember we went out on the practice field the first time I was here, and he was a big guy. He was a fast guy; he was a bright eyed guy. He was a competitive guy, and he was raw. He was raw. He was a young guy that hadn't played a lot before we got here because he was a freshman. But you could tell right away that he was going to be a really, really explosive, good player. He's worked at it. Give him a lot of credit. He's been coached well. I think he's in a good system for what we do. But, give him a lot of credit. He's done a great job and gone up and made some fantastic plays for us over the last two years.

Q. Coach, it sort of flew under the radar, but one of the new NCAA recruiting rules is there will be a dead period from December 16 to January 15. Bret Bielema said he was in favor of it because for a team like Arkansas that couldn't go to a bowl, it would help them get as many guys on the road as they could. You are in the same situation. Does that rule help you guys and what are your thoughts on it overall?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think it definitely helps. I'm in favor of more dead periods. I think that one helps for exactly the reason you just talked about. I think you're able to get more guys out on the road if you're not able to go to a bowl and things like that, which is one of your major jobs here, is to be able to recruit. So, getting guys out on the road is a good thing and getting more guys out is a good thing. In my opinion, there should also be a dead period in July and August. July is the time when coaches take some vacation and things like that. Then August is the time that we're trying to get our teams prepared for the season with training camp. So I'm of the opinion that there should be a dead period in July and August too, and I think this one's good too.

Q. Nebraska's has a game changer in Ciante Evans and all the talent and the length they have in the secondary might be the most complex defense that Christian will see this year because of the blitzes that they bring from the inside and everything. Do you prepare differently because of that or is this just another week of game prep for Christian?
COACH O'BRIEN: Every week is different; every team is different. This team, like you just said, is very, very talented. They have tall, rangy guys, physical guys at every position. They run well, they're explosive players. They've played well. In my opinion, recently they've played really well. I wouldn't say at many times it's not the most complex, because the type of players they have, they play a coverage that is very, very difficult to go against. So that's going to be the challenge for us is can we get open against these guys and that will be the big challenge. This is a very good team. One of the best teams we've played. It's going to be a big challenge for us on Saturday.

Q. Ameer Abdullah and their ground game, they're a little banged up front. But can you talk about the challenge of holding him down presents to you?
COACH O'BRIEN: Ever since (Taylor) Martinez has been out he's become even more of a focal point for him. He's a really good player; one of the best players in this conference, explosive guy. He runs with a great lean. He's got great quickness. I think he's obviously got a pro career ahead of him. He's just a really good football player and we'll have to make sure we know where he is on every play.

Q. Alex Kenney is from here and he's another one of the guys that seems like he's given up that last year. Can you evaluate his senior season? He hasn't gotten a lot of opportunities. Where's he been in terms of his development?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's shown up to practice every week, he's played hard, practiced hard and done everything we've asked him to do. He's a great kid; just a really good kid in our program and a local guy. It hasn't probably worked out for him on the field as much as he would have liked it to. But he's done everything we've asked him to do. Can't say enough good things about Alex.

Q. Any of the guys who decided to forego their last year of eligibility, did any of that catch you off guard or is this something that you've been aware of the entire season for the most part?
COACH O'BRIEN: Nothing catches me off guard. Seriously, nothing catches me off guard. No, these are things that as the year ends in college football, I think guys start deciding what they want to do. These conversations have been on-going for a while. I'm of the belief that these kids should have these conversations with me. They should be open dialogue and have a good, honest conversation about where they are in the program, what they've done for us as a program, and then what they want to do next. So, those are the types of conversation that you have with these guys. I'm sure going forward other guys. I think these are conversations that come up in college every single year with potential fifth year and sixth year guys and every program in America. That's just what's happened this year with some of these guys.

Q. Can you talk about Glenn Carson's importance to this team as he gets ready for his last home game of his career?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he's been a big part of our program. He's an emotional leader. He's done a great job of talking to this team during the year. He's played hard, he's brought passion to the practice field, passion to the game field. He's a guy that you're going to miss. Just like you said the same thing about (Michael) Mauti last year. Glenn Carson just loves the game. He'll have a chance to play pro football, so I don't think his career is over. But he's a guy that's meant a lot to our football program, no question about it.

Q. The emotional factor of the Senior Day, a couple things about that. Did you feel last year against Wisconsin that you guys raised it? Is it unique to you? Do you like this compared to the NFL?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it is an emotional day, and you have to be really aware of that. I remember last year, having not been really a part of anything like that, obviously. I remember shaking their hands (the seniors) when they came out of the tunnel and the looks in their eyes and there are a lot of kids with emotions because they know that this is the last time they're going to play on that field. It kind of strikes you as you're a little bit older than them, "Whoa, these kids are being affected by this." Then last year, with the 2012 up there (on the East side suites), which added to it too, so I understand that. I think what we'll do is introduce them, go back in the locker room and get re-focused on the game and what we have to do to win the game. At the end of the day, like I said a few weeks ago to you guys, if you keep reminding them and keep them focused on what the keys to victory are, then I think that's what they focus on. But, again, that will be a little bit of an emotional time for them.

Q. Do you like recruiting guys who played for their dads in high school and come from football families? Can you talk about Ty Howle and what he's meant to the line and this team?
COACH O'BRIEN: I do. I think even in coaching I've been associated with a lot of guys that their dads were a coach. Whether it was Bill Belichick or Josh McDaniels, a lot of guys whose dads were coaches and lot of times they made the best coaches. They understood it, their families understood it, and I think that a lot of times when you look at players sons of coaches, they're sometimes your most instinctive players. So, when you look at Ty Howle who grew up around the game his whole life, he's got a great mom and dad. His dad's awesome. His dad (David) gets in the car after a game on Friday night and drives to Pennsylvania from North Carolina for all these games. I mean, that's unbelievable. He's dedicated to watch his son, he and his wife. So Ty has meant a lot to our football team. Ty and I have a very close relationship. I appreciate that. He's a guy that personally I'll definitely miss.

Q. On a different note, from what you're allowed to say, from your perspective as well as the staff, how much goes into planning these official visits for these kids? You'll have some of them up here this weekend. How does that process go, because there are obviously a lot of people involved with it.
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it's a big process. It takes a lot of strategy, lot of planning. Billy Kavanaugh is basically in charge of that for us and he has a staff underneath him that works with him. I've been at other schools and I can tell you our official visit, I think we do a great job. We involve the families. We involve all aspects of Penn State. The ones that we do during the season, the ones that we do at a game are a little bit more difficult. But it's good for the prospect because they get to experience the Beaver Stadium crowd, so that's good. As a coach, you don't get as much time to spend with them because you're focused on the game. Then we have one in December where we'll have I can't mention it, but that takes a lot of planning, but the meals, the travel schedule and how we're getting everybody here. Yeah, there is a lot that goes into it no doubt about it.

Q. I'm wondering as Jordan Lucas continues to make big plays, I'm wondering if you've noticed his unique post play celebration with Malcolm and just your thoughts in general. You haven't noticed it?

Q. He's taking a Selfie of himself, and then Malcolm
COACH O'BRIEN: I'm glad you mentioned that to me. We'll have a discussion about that this afternoon in the team meeting. I'm going to take a Selfie of him (laughter).

Q. But it's more like a team celebration. I'm just wondering, instead of being individual.
COACH O'BRIEN: I think our guys do. I think for the most part, all kidding aside. I believe and I think we need to continue to improve on this and be better than this, because in the NFL it's the exact opposite, obviously. I think when somebody makes a big play, I do think there is a good team celebration with these guys. I think you saw it with Jesse James' long run the other day and then Jordan's interception. I want to keep it that way. That's Penn State. I know Coach Paterno believed in that. No selfish things like that, and I'm the same way. I don't like so I'm hoping he's not taking a picture of himself by himself. We'll address that with him when we get back over there. But he's a great kid. He's played well for us this year, no doubt about it.

Q. You have had success blitzing the corners this season. Is there a certain skill set about a guy that makes him a better blitzer than anyone else?
COACH O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah. Blitzing is an art. Blitzing is not easy. When you blitz, you can't blitz down the middle of a blocker. You have to have great timing and you have to anticipate when to show it and how long to hold it. There is just a lot that goes into blitzing. The best blitzers I've been around at New England, Tedy Bruschi was a great blitzer because he would get on the edge of a blocker and fake them one way and get on the edge the other way. That's what you're trying to do. Adrian's (Amos) gotten better and better at that. A good example from last year, Gerald Hodges, when we got here, we didn't think he was a great blitzer, but he got better and better. He became a good blitzer last year, and I think you're seeing the same thing with Amos.

Q. This is a totally off the wall question. But this being the end of your second year, can you talk about the guys that prepare your field for game day every week? They mentioned, and we talked to them earlier, they mentioned a lot of guys go to the NFL and tell them this is the best field they've played on. Can you comment on what they do from a week to week basis?
COACH O'BRIEN: Who did you talk to, (Herb) Combs?

Q. Yeah.
COACH O'BRIEN: Beating his chest. There he is (laughs). Herb Combs does a great job. He's a good friend. Herb and I talk all the time about the field condition. This game field is a fantastic field. I mean, it's deep rooted. It doesn't tear up. It's got great drainage. It's basically a dry field, which is big. The grass is cut to the right length. I just think they do a phenomenal job. It's the best I've seen. It's one of the things that Penn State is known for, is turf grass management. When you look at the four majors in golf from last year, three of the four had Penn State guys as the golf superintendent for those golf courses, which is big. So Herb does a great job. We're going to try to over the next couple years improve our practice field and that's one. We practice all the time outdoors. We've got to look at that one a little bit to see what we can do to improve that one. But this game field is awesome.

Q. How much do you talk about player safety with Herb Combs?
COACH O'BRIEN: That's probably one of the biggest conversation pieces myself and Herb, is the safety of the player. A player slips and hurts his groin or tears a knee or something like that, you don't want that to be because of the field. Obviously, out here the field is very safe. A lot of it has to do with Herb and his crew. No question about it.

Q. You talk about you look at the Nebraska defense and really focused on scoring with the big plays. I think against Michigan State when they spread the field and got the linebackers out of there and were able to get the big holes up the middle. How difficult was that?
COACH O'BRIEN: Have you watched film on these guys or are you going off the TV copy?

Q. I grew up a Big 12 fan.
COACH O'BRIEN: A Big 12 fan.

Q. But when you see a team spread the field like that, how difficult is it to prepare for that? Then they create the one on one match ups. I just wonder what you and Coach Butler are going over to prepare for that?
COACH O'BRIEN: No, it's a very difficult challenge. They do many things on offense that present a challenge. They can spread the field, like you said, and play an East West game, which challenges your players to make plays in space. They can tighten you up and get behind those big offensive linemen and run the ball downhill. Again, they have Abdullah who can do either. He can be in the backfield. He can be out as a wide receiver, so we've got a big challenge ahead of us. But you're right. When they spread you out and they have a lot of good athletes, good receivers, so it's a big challenge for us on Saturday.

Q. You moved Adrian Amos back to corner. Last week he had a team-high eight tackles. Can you talk a little bit about what he brings to your team as far as in run defense, defending the flats and how his physicality sets the edge on the defense?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, I think he's done a good job over the last especially last week. He missed a couple plays, but overall he played well against Purdue. He did. He made tackles on slip screens. He made tackles on runs into the boundary. He sacked the quarterback like somebody brought up before, and he defended in one on one coverage. I thought he defended the pass pretty well overall. He's playing more aggressive. Corner is a good spot for him. It allows him to play with aggressiveness, and I think he's gotten better and better every week. When we moved him back, I think he's gotten better and better at playing corner.  

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Last Updated November 21, 2013