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Bill O’Brien Taking Things One Week At A Time

The 2012 Penn State football team was nothing short of a miracle — a Cinderella story that included a 0-2 start, an 8-4 finish, a season-ending overtime victory against Wisconsin, and a whole lot of emotion in between.

This isn’t the 2012 Penn State football team. Through nine games, the Nittany Lions already have four losses. The defense isn’t nearly as good, losing starters in both the secondary and the front seven. The offense has explosive potential but is inconsistent as true freshman Christian Hackenberg leads the way.

None of that matters to Bill O’Brien, a methodical head coach who takes everything in stride and focuses on one game at a time, refusing to harp on the past and never offering conjecture on the future. When Monday comes around and practice starts for the week, the hatchet of the previous game is buried. At least publicly.

In his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon, O’Brien was asked about a comment from linebacker Mike Hull, who said that he felt as if the team is backed up against a wall.

“If I had to say what he means by that is we’re coming off a loss so we need to come out and play well,” O’Brien said. “We’ve had an up and down year. We haven’t always coached the best or played the best but we’ve done some good things too. We have to come out this week ready to go and try to play mistake-free football.”

That response is par for the course with O’Brien, who may sound like a bit of a broken record at times as he gets repetitive when talking about coaching better and coming out ready to play. When talking about Hackenberg’s improvement over the course of the season, O’Brien became animated and visibly excited as he explained a play from the Minnesota game.

“Christian has in many, many ways improved every week,” he said. “I’ll give you an example. Against Minnesota, we’re driving the ball and had a third down in their territory. We called a play that required a check where he had to use the tools in his toolbox to get the defense to show a little bit. I’ve had guys in other places I’ve been that could never do it and he did it.”

There’s no doubt that O’Brien knows offense. He has coached some of the best, including Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback who will almost certainly go down as one of the greatest of all time. When O’Brien talks about Hackenberg, it’s clear that he sees something special in Penn State’s young gunslinger.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together obviously,” O’Brien said. “There’s been times when it’s been tough and there’s been some great times too as far as Michigan and Illinois where he made a great throw there at the end. It’s an ever-evolving process. He’s very resilient, he’s smart, he’s got a tremendous work ethic, and he’s 18 years old. That isn’t an excuse. That is what it is.”

After some crushing losses this season, like the close defeat against Central Florida or the blowout at the hands of the Buckeyes, this one seemed to really sting for O’Brien. He was asked if the team is demoralized heading into the Purdue game with no bowl game on the horizon.

“We don’t have any problem focusing on Purdue,” he said. “At Penn State, there will never be a question of what there is to play for.”

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

  • On the injury front: Sophomore linebacker Ben Kline tore a pectoral muscle and will be out for the rest of the season. He suffered the injury in the second play of the Minnesota game but did not come out. Kline will have surgery on the pectoral muscle soon and has an offseason shoulder surgery scheduled. Allen Robinson has a shoulder issue but is expected to play against Purdue. Akeel Lynch, who sprained his MCL against Ohio State, practiced on Monday. His status for the Purdue game is unclear.
  • On Geno Lewis and Nyeem Wartman: “Geno’s practiced hard and has a lot of ability. He’s only a redshirt freshman so he has a lot of time left here. I would expect Geno to play more on Saturday. He’s improved. He has a really good future here at Penn State.” & “Nyeem has played good at times this year and at other times hasn’t played so good just like any young player would do. He’s only going to get better. We have a lot of confidence in both of those players.”
  • On special teams: “The kickoff team and the kickoff return team have improved. We still have a ways to go with the kickoff return team but I do think its better. Against Minnesota we had a bunch of touchbacks. I think Charles London has done a really good job. We have a lot of kids playing really hard on those units.”
  • On fumbling: “We tell these guys that when you’re a ball-carrier on our team, you’re carrying the hopes and dreams of the team. They don’t mean to fumble. There are times to me when it’s a complete lack of focus. There’s no yelling and screaming. We come in on Monday and have the good, the bad, and the ugly of the game and show it to them. We teach them. We love teaching them.”
  • On Hackenberg’s goal-line fumble against Minnesota: “When you’re on the goal line and a center has to make a hard reach block, the golden rule of quarterbacking is that you always have to stay with the center a little bit longer. He pulled out a little bit early and that’s why the ball was on the ground.”
  • On Zach Zwinak’s confidence level: “Zach’s confidence is pretty good. He really ran the ball well against Minnesota. He and I talk every day and I think he feels pretty good about where he’s at. We’ll continue to rotate him and Belton in there.”

About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com 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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