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Bill O’Brien Ready For Ohio State

The Nittany Lions take on Ohio State on the road in just four days and if Bill O’Brien is concerned about facing a Buckeyes team that has won 19 straight games, he certainly isn’t showing it. If anything, O’Brien seems to be excited for the matchup.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” O’Brien said at his Tuesday press conference. “I love playing teams like this, just thinking about that it’s Penn State versus Ohio State and what that means in the history of college football — the tradition of both schools, two great coaching staffs, and great players on both sides of the ball. We know it’s a huge challenge, but we look forward to it.”

Calling the game a “huge challenge” might be a bit of an understatement. Ohio State is strong in all facets of the game and its best player, Braxton Miller, is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback who can burn Penn State both through the air and on the ground.

O’Brien called Miller one of the top-five players in the nation and explained what Penn State will need to do in order to keep him in check.

“When he gets outside the pocket he’s a dangerous guy. We have to do our best to keep him in there and make sure we know our scramble rules when he gets out,” O’Brien said. “With these dual-threat guys, it’s a dangerous thing when they get outside the pocket.

“He’s a hard-working kid who’s throwing the ball very well. He’s just doing a really good job of running that offense in all facets,” O’Brien continued. “You don’t win 19 games in a row without being an excellent quarterback and that’s what he is.”

But despite the magnitude of Saturday’s nighttime showdown at The Horseshoe, O’Brien downplayed the game’s significance. While he does consider Ohio State to be a rival, O’Brien doesn’t think that this game should be looked at any differently than any other matchup on Penn State’s schedule.

“We talk about playing 12 one-game seasons,” he said. “Every game is important. I totally understand the rivalry thing, but everyone is a rival.”

Here are the rest of the highlights from O’Brien’s press conference:

O’Brien on the running back situation: “Zach has practiced well this week. He came out and had a great practice yesterday. Billy [Belton] has improved quite a bit. He’s a guy that’s really worked hard and has taken advantage of his playing time when he’s been out there. We’ll continue to rotate guys in at that position.”

For the first time this season, there was no starter listed at running back on the weekly depth chart, which instead says “Zach Zwinak OR Bill Belton.”

O’Brien on Deion Barnes not starting against Michigan: “I think we have a competitive team at that position. We have a lot of guys that can play for us there. Everything that you earn, you earn it on the practice field. I think Deion is playing fine. We rotate guys in on the defensive line.

When you’re playing these spread teams, it’s important to rest guys and get a lot of guys involved. I don’t look at it as Deion coming off the bench. I look at it as Deion being a team player.”

O’Brien on Christian Hackenberg dealing with a hostile road environment: “One of the things that has struck me about Christian since I met him is his demeanor. He’s a calm guy. He’s got a quiet confidence about him. He understands that it’s football. It’s a part of his life, it’s a big part.

He’s a very well-rounded guy that we got here. He focuses on his assignments. Yeah, you’re playing Ohio State in the Horseshoe, but once the game starts, everyone involved is focused on the game.”

O’Brien on Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde being overshadowed by Miller: “[Hyde] gets a lot of attention from us, I’ll tell you that much. He’s obviously one of the better backs in the country and we’ve got to make sure that we wrap him up.”

O’Brien on cornerback Jordan Lucas: “Jordan Lucas is one of the better football players on our team. He’s very good in man coverage, really good in zone coverage of understanding routes. He could also play safety. He brings a competitive toughness to our football team that I really like.”

O’Brien on stopping the read-option offense: “I don’t think there’s any offense that’s unstoppable and there’s any defense that you can’t gain yards on. Early in my career at Georgia Tech we ran the wishbone. I got to learn a lot about the veer option, the midline option, and what we used to call the speed option. This is just like those, but it’s a different way to get to it. It just comes down to assignment football. Who has the quarterback? Who has the back?”

O’Brien on how playing football has helped him as a coach: “Once I got into coaching, I found out quickly that I didn’t know a lot about football. I played outside linebacker and as I gained more weight they moved me to defensive tackle in my last year at Brown. We weren’t very good. You can look it up. We didn’t win many games.”

O’Brien on who he learned quarterback development from: “There’s a few. When I started at Brown, when Mark Whipple came in, I coached on defense but learned a lot from Mark. At Georgia Tech, I learned a lot from Ralph Friegden there. When I was in New England, I learned a ton from three guys. Josh McDaniels, he and I worked closely together. Bill Belichick, he would run a couple quarterback meetings per week and he gave you a great defensive perspective of the quarterback position. And obviously coaching Tom [Brady], he and I spent hours together talking about the position.”

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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