Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien answered questions from the media on Tuesday afternoon, including an impassioned defense of his new defensive coordinator, John Butler, among other topics.
* Transcript provided by ASAPSports.com
O'Brien: So just an update on the injury situation, Ryan Keiser, he came out of it all right, and he's full go, ready to go. Ben Klein, he'll be ready to go for Saturday. Basically, as you look down the list of bumps and bruises, that's basically what it is. Christian Hackenberg is fine. He practiced yesterday. He'll be ready to go.
Continuing down the list here, like I said, looks like we came out of it okay. The normal bumps and bruises, but everybody is ready to go for Saturday.
Does Christian have to wear a protective device, and is he participating fully in practices?
O'Brien: Yeah, he participated fully. No, he won't wear a protective‑‑ other than, obviously, shoulder pads, but he won't wear a protective device. He's good to go, as we sit here today.
You did ask about Christian a lot. I wanted to ask you about the development of Tyler Ferguson this year. He got to play in the Ohio State game. Could you kind of evaluate him. And also your walk‑on quarterbacks. I think you have three, Whipple, Crook, and Seymour. How have they been, how have they developed this year, and what have you seen from those guys?
O'Brien: Tyler has definitely improved. He's a very smart football player. He's improved his mechanics throwing the ball. He's a very capable quarterback. I thought, when he went in the game on Saturday night, he did some decent things. Had one poor throw, but overall he did some ‑‑ nice slant pass to Allen‑‑ obviously, the look pass to Allen was a good play by him seeing that.
He's come a long way. Great guy to coach. Fun guy to be around. Competitive guy. He gets a lot of reps in practice, and I believe he really takes advantage of those.
We have three run‑on quarterbacks. D.J. Crook from Massachusetts has definitely improved, great guy, good playing strength. Really improved his throwing. He's one of those guys that gets a lot of reps in that Monday night developmental scrimmage. So he does a good job with that.
Jack Seymour from Indianapolis is another guy that's improved a lot. I thought last night in our developmental scrimmage, he did a nice job. Had a couple of good throws to Chris Geiss, who's a run‑on receiver for us. So that looked good.
And Austin Whipple came into the season, he had a shoulder operation. So he hasn't been able to throw as much as he would like to. But I think he's done a lot of other things, and he's a very bright guy. He's a guy that wants to be a coach. His dad's a coach. Those guys have done a really, really good job for us.
Bill Belton said he feels he's really matured as a player and a person from last season. What kind of habits have you seen from him in terms of habits or preparations?
O'Brien: He's a much improved player. He really is. He's more patient in the running game. I think he understands how to watch film better. I think he's a better teammate. I think he's a smarter player. He's a very smart player.
In our system, one of the hardest things to learn for a running back are the protections, and he's able to learn those and does a good job with it. So right now he's our starting running back. He's done a nice job.
When you say he's a better teammate, is there a specific example that you can give?
O'Brien: I just think what I mean by that is he accepts his role from week to week, and he understands it, and he takes advantage of it. He's a great teammate as far as a friend and all that. I don't mean to say that.
I mean his role on the team, he understands it better, and that's part of being a good teammate too, and he does a really good job with that.
Bill, after the Michigan game, John Butler said that the defense was learning through fire. After seven weeks now, are you seeing any benefits to that of the defense learning through fire, so to speak?
O'Brien: Learning through fire? Well, I think, you know, obviously Saturday night was not the defense's best night. You know, let's call it like it is.
But I do think that there has been some improvement. I think there's been some individual players that are playing better, and I think at the end of the day it comes down to a combination of coaching and playing. So I think that, if we can put them in better positions to make plays, that will help, and I think guys have got to go out there and make plays.
We have guys over on that side of the ball that love to practice that came out last night and had a good practice and made a lot of plays on defense. That needs to carry over to the game.
And we've got to continue to evaluate what we're doing and try to coach them better. I think that's what it comes down to also.
You know, I think that there's been some improvement. Obviously, Saturday night was‑‑ you wouldn't put that in the category of improvement.
Bill, I wonder if you could just explain briefly the slight change in Donovan Smith's status on the depth chart and maybe talk a little bit about how he's played recently.
O'Brien: Sure, I'm not‑‑ I don't want to get into the specifics of how I think he's played, but what I do think is you have three tackles there that have all done a decent job. You have Adam Gress, Garry Gillaim, and Donovan that have had their bright spots and had their not sobriety spots.
So we've made that a very competitive situation this week, and that's why you see the ors there. So it could be Gress and Gilliam starting at tackle on Saturday. It could be Gress and Donovan. It could be Gilliam and Donovan. It could be a combination, but all three of those guys will play on Saturday.
All season you mentioned how resilient your kids have been. Did you see that when you met with them on Monday, and did you feel you needed to say anything to kind of get their heads up after Saturday?
O'Brien: We had a team meeting yesterday, and I knew when I opened those doors, Joe, every one of them would sitting there ready to go. That's the type of kids we have.
Like I said before, Saturday night was not a great night, but it's one game, and it's important to learn from it, learn from the experience.
You know, I talked to the kids yesterday about a couple of things. I talked to them about experiences. You go through life, and you have some good experiences. They've experienced the highs of the high with the Michigan four‑overtime win, and they've experienced the low, the low moment with getting blown out by Ohio State. So that's kind of what life's about.
If that's the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life, I think your life will be okay. So I think that's what it's about, and these kids know that, and they understand that.
And then I talked to them about the foundation of our program. The foundation of our program is built on good kids, mentally tough kids, hard work ethic, the ability to compete and practice every single day and get better and try to improve, be a good teammate.
The philosophy, the foundation of our program is to always look for best ways to coach them, do a better job of coaching them. So we wake up on Sunday, whether it's a win or a loss, and rely on the foundation of our program.
Hi, Bill. On Saturday night, you said that you would look at the film and kind of tell us on Tuesday what you saw. So looking at the film, what stuck out? Did anything surprise you? What sort of struck you in looking at the film?
O'Brien: Sure, a lot of things‑‑ nothing surprised me. I don't think‑‑ I think I said before I don't really get surprised too much, but I saw‑‑ let's start offensively. I saw some things that I thought we could build on. I really did. I really thought the first drive of the game was a decent drive. It was a methodical drive.
So what I learned from that, I think, as we go here‑‑ I learned a lot about coaching when I watched the film. I learned about the fact that maybe we need to try to create some more chunk plays and things like that, try to get the ball down the field a little bit more instead of having 15, 16‑play drives. So that was one thing.
But I think our kids played hard on offense. I thought sometimes we ran the ball pretty well. I thought Billy and Akeel got in there and ran the ball well. So I saw some things to build on.
I thought we need to pass better. I think three‑step drop, we shouldn't be getting hit on a three‑step drop. I think things like that need to improve.
Defensively, I looked at it, and I said, you know what, I think what we have to do is make sure we coach these guys and that we simplify these things so that these guys can go out and play. We have a lot of good players on both sides of the ball, but I think we just need to let them go play. That's what I talked to the staff about on Sunday, and just let them go play.
I think there were some good things defensively. I thought DaQuan Jones did some really good things in the game. I thought Glenn Carson played his heart out in the game, and there are other things. We're a little soft in coverage. We need to be more aggressive in coverage, like don't be afraid to go make a mistake. Go take your shot. That's what I thought was big on that.
Special teams, I think we got a lot of young guys on special teams. We got a lot of young guys on the trip. I think there were 28 first year players, or 29‑‑ something like that, first or second year players. A lot of young guys on the trip.
So I thought special teams was okay at times. There were some things. Our kickoff return needs to get better. Guys need to win their one‑on‑one battle better and things like that. Overall, I thought Butterworth punted the ball pretty well, and I thought Sam Ficken kicked the ball pretty well. He had three kickoffs.
I thought there was some good. Obviously, more bad than good in a game like that, but some things to build on.
Hey, Bill, obviously, you want to have Zach Zwinak right going forward, but when a guy has trouble holding onto the football, can it become more of a mental thing than a physical issue with how he's protecting the ball? How do you help a kid get over a tough time with turnovers?
O'Brien: I have a lot of confidence in Zach Zwinak. I have confidence in Lynch. I have confidence in Belton. We have three guys there that are pretty. So it's a competitive deal.
If there's one guy making mistakes, obviously, the other two guys are going to play more. Right now Zach's got a little bit of a fumble issue. I do think it's a little bit mental. I talked to him for a long time yesterday.
Just these kids, they're unbelievable kids. They're very hard on themselves, and I don't think he should be that hard on himself. I think it's just a matter of let's figure out what you're doing wrong. I think there's some technical things we can help him with coaching‑wise, and I think he'll improve.
Again, the number one job of the ball carrier is to take care of the ball, ball security. So we've got to help him improve, but he's got to help himself a little bit as well too, and I think he'll do that this week.
Maybe a little bit of a later question here. Any time it seems like you're asked to talk about or asked about Mike Hull or Miles Dieffenbacher, Adam Gress, Jesse Della Valle, the list goes on. You always seem to mention the Pittsburgh guy is a tough guy. Is that something that's a cliche that you just want to say something nice, or is that something you really found? Is that something you found when you came to be the coach here? Did you always notice a Pittsburgh connection where you developed that reputation in Pittsburgh or what?
O'Brien: That's an interesting question. Again, I don't want to imply that Philadelphia guys aren't‑‑ I think Pennsylvania kids are tough, let's say that.
Just in my experience of coaching in the National Football League with New England, just the Pittsburgh Steelers were always just a very tough football team that we played, obviously. Growing up, Pittsburgh, I followed the Steelers. When I was growing up, the Patriots weren't very good, and Pittsburgh Steelers were unbelievable in the '70s. So the steel town and the toughness of that town.
And then coming here and having the honor of being the head football coach at Penn State and State College being so close to Pittsburgh, I just really like that city, and I like the guys on our team that come from that city. And I think those guys that you just mentioned are very tough guys that love playing for Penn State.
I just think overall, whether it's Pittsburgh, Philly, Central Pennsylvania, I just really like to‑‑ like I said, from day one, the bulk of our roster, I'd like to come from those areas.
Bill, I'm sure Neil is disappointed you didn't throw Altoona into the mix.
O'Brien: That's Central Pennsylvania. I kind of bulk that all in there.
On a serious note, the hit that Christian took that was after the whistle, is that something you felt needed to be brought to the attention of the Big Ten, and have you done anything along those lines?
O'Brien: You know, I don't do those things, Mark. I really don't. What I do is maybe after the season‑‑ you know, I don't cry about spilt milk. Whether I agree with it or not, it doesn't matter. I play by the rules. We all play by the rules.
I think that that‑‑ there was‑‑ you know, the whistle blew. I don't think that was a dirty play at all. I'm not sure the guy heard the whistle. It's a very loud stadium, and he kept going. It wasn't anything that was dirty. So I didn't really point anything out. I just felt that that was just an unfortunate thing that happened.
But Christian, I think he's a tough kid. He's fine.
On the defense, you mentioned maybe simplifying things from the coaching standpoint. Were there communication issues? Especially in the secondary with some of their wide open receivers. Along those lines, John Butler's taken a lot of heat this week. I'm just wondering, this is his first year as the defensive coordinator. How is that process going? What's the learning process for him to simplify things so the message gets across?
O'Brien: First of all, I think any time you give up yardage like that and points like that, there are some communication issues. So you're right, Cory, those are‑‑ that's kind of what I'm talking about, let's say.
And there are some things our players need to do better. They have to study film better and work harder at what those communication issues might be, like simplify how you communicate. But number one deal is we've got to coach better.
Now, as far as John Butler taking heat, I don't know from who, but John Butler is a hell of a football coach. John Butler is our defensive coordinator, works his tail off, the kids respect him. He's doing a hell of a job. I don't care what the scoreboard says or what the yardage says. This guy is our defensive coordinator. He's my defensive coordinator. I'm proud to coach with him.
Look, at the end of the day, it wasn't a great team effort. We didn't do anything on offense to help the defense either. We scored 14 points, got down 21‑0, and we couldn't even score a touchdown. So it's a team effort. If anybody should take heat, it's Bill O'Brien, not John Butler. I don't know where that's coming from, but hopefully that will get squelched. That's a bunch of crap that he's taking heat.
Nate Scheelhaase, another one of those quarterbacks. He's having a great year as a young quarterback guy. Can you talk about what you see in him. He can run a little bit. He can throw it.
O'Brien: You know, he's‑‑ I put him in this category that a lot of guys‑‑ you know, last year was my first year in the league, and these guys are really improved players.
Nate is one of those guys. He's a guy that's improved his throwing ability. He's got better command of the offense. It's Billy Cubit now running the offense, and he's doing a great job with Coach Cubit's offense. And he's second year in Coach Beckman's program and things like that.
So he's a much improved player, and he's a guy that's a big challenge for us on Saturday.
You talked a little after the game how Allen Robinson didn't quit. Is that a product of how naturally competitive he is?
O'Brien: I think we've got a lot of guys like that. I think that Allen is a great example of that because I watched him in practice every day, and he showed up every single day, and he's one of our best competitors. He wants to go against Jordan Lucas every day, that type of deal, one‑on‑ones and things like that, and he tries to get better every single day, and that's what makes him the player he is.
Again, I think we've got a lot of guys like that. I didn't look out on that field, nor did I watch the tape on Sunday and see a bunch of guys that threw in the white towel. I thought we had a bunch of guys really competing, trying to play, and it just didn't work out very well for us.
Come back to work today and ready to go. I mean, yesterday, and they're ready to go. We've got a lot of competitive kids.
Bill, do you utilize the tight ends like you envisioned at the beginning of the year?
O'Brien: I have. We threw the ball to the tight ends eight or nine times on Saturday, and we didn't connect. Whether it was a drop or a bad throw or maybe not the greatest route in the world. So maybe it's coaching. Maybe we've got to put them in a little bit better position.
But I've played the tight ends very similar. Maybe that's part of it. Maybe we're doing some things that we need to change up a little bit too. You know, I think, again, it comes down to coaching and doing a better job. Again, when the ball's thrown to you, you've got to catch it. I think these guys know that.
I don't think we've underutilized the tight ends. I think we've used them the same. As far as the amount of reps, we've used them the same.
Coach, since you've been here, you only lost back to back games one time, and that was your first two games. What do you think allows you as a coach to bounce back so well as well as the players?
O'Brien: We talk to our guys all the time about 12 one‑game seasons. So we try to separate it that way. So we go week to week, and we try to make sure that the kids understand, okay, on Monday, when they come in, let's review some of the tape from the previous Saturday game, but also, boom, that game is over as soon as we're done, and we focus on the task at hand.
I think the kids, we have to give them a lot of credit when it comes to those things, and I think the coaching staff does a great job of separating those games, very, very different, and you've got to get focused on the next game.
Bill, I wanted to ask about Jevin Stone, just your thoughts on the job that he does. His background, coming from the NFL, with you having the same background, what kind of advantage is that for a guy‑‑ specifically where he came from with that guy who's now kind of running things in Denver, working with him in Indianapolis.
O'Brien: Jevin does a good job. He's got a big job because video is very important to us. So he's got a big job in the fact that every single day that's our main teaching tool, you know, the ability to go in there and watch film. So he's got a good staff underneath him that worked very well with him. He's got undergraduate students. He's got Blake, his assistant, that they work well together. He's got some help there. But overall, Jevin does a good job.
Coach, you talked earlier about talking to the defensive staff and applying things. I'm just curious, you're the offensive coordinator, but you're also the head coach. How often do you meet with the defensive staff, and what's your relationship with that side, especially with John Butler? Do you talk in game about making adjustments?
O'Brien: Yes, I meet with him every single day, seven days a week, two or three times a day, and we're in constant communication during the game. You know, you have a headset on that can switch over between offense, defense, and that's what you have. So we communicate all the time.
So you said a little bit earlier did DaQuan Jones. It looked like his shoulder was kind of heavily wrapped last week. Is he okay?
O'Brien: He's got a shoulder strain. He's another guy‑‑ there's a lot of guys like this‑‑ Mike Hull‑‑ that are playing with some injuries and playing through it. DaQuan had a shoulder strain, got a back issue. He's playing through it. Very good player and very tough kid.
Along that same note, what do you see from young guys on the interior, as far as Baublitz, Austin Johnson.
O'Brien: Baublitz isn't a young guy. But Baublitz has played tough, and he's done a decent job this year.
And Austin Johnson is a much improved player. I thought he played pretty well. On Saturday he made some plays. Got blocked a few times, like a lot of guys did, but I thought he made some plays in there, and I think he's got a really bright future here.
There's been a little bit of a pattern through two open dates of how you guys have responded to those. Can you put your finger on what you have or haven't done that you want to try to correct?
O'Brien: I think that's probably more of an off‑season study. I believe that we've had two good practice weeks during those bye weeks, but obviously that didn't translate into playing well. I think, when the season's over, we've got to sit down and research what we did there, maybe ask around as far as what other people do, but I think we've got to look at that, Neil, and you've probably got a point there. Now is not the time to look at that.
Also, you feel some rivalry was built in that game? There were some things that could be perceived as a little questionable once they pretty much had you beat. I'm just wondering, because of the sanctions, do you think that in conference people should have more consideration, or is all fair in love and football and college bowls war?
O'Brien: No, I don't think‑‑ I think at the end of the day, in order to have a rivalry, you have to win, and so we've lost two years in a row to them. I don't‑‑ I think they have one rival, Michigan, and that's the way it goes.
With the way technology is going, so many players have iPads now and can watch film on that. From your experiences, how has that kind of technological‑‑ those technological advances made your job easier with the whole film study aspect of it?
O'Brien: Funny, I don't know if it's made it easier because you can do so many different things. It's basically set up like an Excel program so you can organize the data however you want, and you can cut out all the second and eight defends, if you want, from the whole year, on offense, defense, and you can cut out certain types of kickoff returns. You can really organize it however you want.
Compared to when I first started coaching, when it was SDHS tapes and there were no digital systems like that, it's totally different. It does‑‑ it makes your work a little bit easier as far as how you organize the info, but it definitely gives you more things to look at in a faster time. So it adds a workload to your plate a little bit.
You mentioned a couple of times that this isn't a normal Penn State football team. I think the number you've given is 61 scholarships. Can you talk about how that's shown on the field at all, if it has at all?
O'Brien: I don't want to go down that road. I said a couple of weeks ago I'm not talking about sanctions or scholarships anymore. I believe this is a team that practices hard and plays hard, and we're going to try to improve this week.
You have an offense that's had some success this year. To some people, what happened this year, your defense is going to get a lot of recognition, but your offense didn't do a whole lot either. How does it fall on them, when you're facing a team that averages 45 points a game, that they need to answer the challenge and keep the defense in it by scoring points?
O'Brien: Well, it falls upon me. I call the plays. And certainly, you go into a game like that and you're playing an offense that's very good that scores a lot of points, you've got to score points. So I look in the mirror.
Yeah, there's certain things that‑‑ certainly, some of the players obviously could have played better in a game like that. But that starts with me, and the whole game starts with me as the head football coach. Nobody understands that better than me.
So we just‑‑ I'm going to try to improve this week and do the best I can to get better. I've already tried to do that. And we moved on to Illinois.
I think there might be a perception with the fan base‑‑ and this goes back to the officiating question from earlier‑‑ that you or someone sits and watches game film and cuts things up and sends it to Bill Carollo or someone in the Big Ten to review, in terms of things you want reviewed or have questions. Can you talk about how that works, whether it's a week by week thing or in terms of initiating a review after each game?
O'Brien: Certainly during the year we send some things in, and I want to be clear on that. We do that, in my opinion, from more of a sportsmanship point of view than we do as a complaining point of view. We send in things of our own players, we thing, committing penalties and why wouldn't this be called? We don't just send in the opponent doing something to us, you know what I mean?
But the Big Ten is very open about that. Bill Carollo is very open about, hey, if you have a question on something, send it in. I can pick up the phone and call him if I have a question about a rule or something like that. That's something that I think that the Big Ten does a good job with.
Bill, both teams coming off big defeats. From a psychological aspect, is there even more importance on getting that first score this week just because of what happened last week? Or not really?
O'Brien: That's a good question. We always talk about starting fast. We think that's important to start fast. If you look at last week's game, not to say we would have won the game, that's not what I'm saying, but if we scored there, is it a little bit of a different game on that first drive?
So we want to start fast, but if we don't, we can't say the game's over after the first quarter. We've got a lot of football left to play. It's a little bit of a fine line we walk, but certainly we want to start the game in a positive way, no question about it, offensively and defensively.
Coach, correct me if I'm wrong, I think we saw Adrian Amos playing corner a little more this past game than we have previously. Can you talk about whether that's a product of Keiser's injury status or shoring up the pass defense against a more talented pass offense.
O'Brien: I think a little bit of both. I think Adrian right now is best suited to play corner, and I think that gives us our best secondary back there, when he have Adrian and Jordan at corner. Whether it's Willis and Keiser or Willis and Della Valle, whoever the best safeties are.
But our secondary lineup, as we sit here now, is probably Adrian at corner and Jordan at the other corner.
Yeah, you'll see Obeng probably playing more linebacker the rest of the year than you would seeing him at safety.
What does Adrian give you at corner that makes you want to move him from the safety? What does he bring? Is it physicality? Is it better coverage skills?
O'Brien: No, I think he's a bigger corner. He's athletic. He's a physical corner. He's got good instincts for the ball. He's a good run defender at corner. So, yeah, I think just right now‑‑ I'm not saying that will be the way it is for the rest of his career, but I think right now he's better suited to play corner for what we're trying to do.
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