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October 1, 2013* Transcript provided courtesy of ASAPSports.com
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien took questions from the media Tuesday afternoon at the Beaver Stadium media room.
From an injury update to stopping Indiana's vaunted offense, he covered it all:
Welcome to our weekly teleconference with Coach O'Brien.
O'Brien: Just to update everybody on the injury situation, Mike Hull is full go and should be ready for the game on Saturday, barring anything that would happen this week. Basically, as you look through our injury report, that's basically all there is.
The only other one is Jackie Haffner, guy from right here in State College, with an ankle injury, who has been helping us on special teams probably won't be able to go for the Indiana game. Everybody else seems to be ready to go.
What are two things that a defense has to do well against an offense like Indiana's?
O'Brien: I tell you, number one is to be able to handle their tempo. They do a fantastic job. Kevin Wilson has done a really good job from when he was at Oklahoma to now being at Indiana trying to run 90 to 100 plays a game. So you have to get lined up, communicate properly and handle the tempo, and then they have some really good skill players.
They have two good running backs, a good quarterback that's playing well, a couple of good receivers, good tight ends. So they get you into situations where you're going to have to make plays in space, so handling the tempo and being able to tackle in space and not give up a ton of explosive plays is a big part of the game plan.
Bill, I wanted to ask you about your road approach. Last year you guys started very well on the road in all 5 games outscoring teams 52‑6. I know it's a different year, different team, but do you stress anything, are you changing anything, can you explain why you guys were so good?
O'Brien: I think the road is an interesting‑‑ you know, it's an interesting issue because basically when you go on the road all you have there are the guys on the team, the coaching staff, the trainers, the doctors, the people that travel with us and that's a pretty neat mentality.
Obviously you would rather be here, Beaver Stadium in front of 100,000 fans but when you go on the road it's kinda that‑‑ look, all we need in this room is what we have in this room, that type of mentality, and we talk about that a lot.
We deal with noise every day in practice so our guys are used to the communication process with noise and things like that. I think you have to give the players a lot of credit. Like you said every year is different so we will see what happens this year, but we feel like we have focused players, guys when class is over, they come to football, they're focused on football and we seem to practice pretty well so I think that has a lot to do with it, too.
When you're faced with a team like Indiana trying to run plays as fast as possible, how focused do you have to be on your own tempo, giving your defense a breather but still going after them because they are in the same boat with fatigue.
O'Brien: You have to keep a gauge on that and that's why I think with tempos, you have to have different types of tempos. If you watch us ‑‑ and not that we're a great offense, don't get me wrong, but talking about tempo, you can see that we have different types of tempos, where we go really fast, medium fast and sometimes we huddle up.
I think that's really important. You have to gauge that during the game, how is the game going. Again, you don't want to put your defense in bad situations where they've just been out there for a while and you go up‑tempo, it's a 30‑second drive, you're three and out, and your defense is right back out there. That's not being a very good head coach or offensive coordinator.
What kind of things did you get accomplished during the bye week, specifically regarding getting better mechanically or whatever you wanted to with your team?
O'Brien: Bye weeks are important. We have two this year; we just had our first one. Bye weeks are important for many different reasons. Number one, our staff can get together and look at the things that we have done in the first four weeks.
Your team's identity is pretty much formed after the first four weeks so you can look at things like heavy tendencies and different areas of the field or down and distances and whatever you may have tendencywise and try to correct those. You can look at individual players and figure out what we have to do during the bye week to try to get these guys better. You can look at your team and say, you know what, we're going to scrimmage our younger guys at the end of every practice and improve the depth on our team, improve these younger players not only this year but for the future.
Bye weeks are important, and I think we had a productive bye week. Again, how productive was the bye week, the proof is in the pudding on Saturday against Indiana.
Bill, in respect to the bye week, again, coming after just four weeks, can you talk about in particular how beneficial that break is for your younger guys who you are relying on, specifically, Hackenberg and your younger corner backs?
O'Brien: I think you're right, Frank, it was important for everybody, coaches included, to take a step back and analyze everything and also for your guys to be able to practice without the pressure of having a game on Saturday and then to be able at the end of the week to go home. A lot of those guys were able to go home and see their families and things like that, or if the guys stayed on campus they were able to chill out because they didn't have any football responsibilities.
So bye weeks are good, and obviously you gotta give guys that are banged up a chance to heal, too.
When you look at the Indiana game on film what strikes you about it and why has it been so proficient?
O'Brien: Well, they do it fast and they have a really good quarterback that throws the ball accurately, and then they have some good, skilled players.
They throw the ball to the slot receiver, the wide receiver, the backs, so they have some what I call really good "space" players, guys that can make plays with the ball in space and that's a tough offense to defend. You're going to have to make sure that you swing to the ball, that you tackle properly, that you get lined up and communicate and you're able to decipher the formation that they come out in and make sure you understand what they're doing, what they're lined up in and what can they do out of that formation. So the passing game is all predicated upon, in my opinion, having a good quarterback, a good play caller and a fast‑tempo offense.
With Mike Hull ready to go, can you talk about the difference he makes not just because he's such a good player but maybe he can move other people around, makes you more versatile, talk about his impact on the defense.
O'Brien: He has an impact on the defense, he's a good player, a tough kid, Pittsburgh kid, was a great wrestler in high school and brings a toughness to our football team.
You know, he got cut‑blocked against Syracuse, legally, it was a good block and was injured on the play. He's had a tough time coming back from it, but it looked to me as of yesterday that he was moving around better, he feels better, but he's just a tough guy and Penn State linebacker, that's how you describe him, and it's good to have him back in there.
Indiana's quarterbacks have been pretty well protected this year, and I'm sure it's because of how fast they get the ball out and that, but is there anything a defensive line can do to disrupt the quarterback even if they're not going to get to the quarterback consistently?
O'Brien: Yeah, no question, you see it more and more with our guys in college football and in pro football with quick drops, guys getting their hands up, you saw it last night in the New Orleans game, and it's part of the rush philosophy. If it's a three‑step drop, and the ball is coming out quick, some type of a slip screen and the ball is coming out quick, it's useless to try to keep fighting to get there or get a sack because you're not going to sack the guy you need to figure out ways to get into the passing lanes and block the ball.
At the end of the day, though, pass rush is about winning your one‑on‑one battle. So certain protection schemes involve what we call slide protections where you have double teams across the line, or at least two double teams, and then two guys that are singled, but they have to win their one‑on‑one battles. If you win the one‑on‑one battles consistently you're going to get a good pass rush.
Obviously, you're an offensive guy and a student of the game, what can you, by watching Indiana's offense, what about it is‑‑ I know you've talked about what makes it effective, but how can you contrast it to other things, maybe Oregon or other offenses around the country that get other notoriety. Are there subtle differences between them and what you see in other places and the things that are unique to Indiana's offense?
O'Brien: I think Indiana does a really good job of using their backs. They have two good running backs that they get the ball to and that might be a little bit of a difference from what I've seen of other teams. I don't get a chance to see a lot of other teams other than the Big 10 teams when we're watching cross‑over films and stuff but I believe Kevin does a good job of using the running backs and I would use 'em, too. These guys are really good players and I think he does a good job of getting those guys out in space and creating "space" plays for them.
Is there a chance Matt Lehman could get an extra year?? And how has he dealt with the difficult injury, obviously?
O'Brien: Yeah, it's tough; he was playing really well. He was playing really well, and then it was a noncontact, all he was doing was running a 10‑yard out cut and breaking off his left foot, and there it goes. So it's tough. He's a great kid and as far as a 6th year goes, you know, it's hard for me to comment on that because it's such a complicated deal, what you have to basically prove to the NCAA that you deserve a 6th year.
It has to do with personal background, injury background, transfer, because he was at Shippensburg and then he came here. We would be here all day if I was having to describe that to you, Brendan. Obviously we're looking into it and we would love for it to work out. I think if it doesn't work out he has a chance to play at the next level, 6‑7, 260, he's tough, he can run, catch, so one way or another he will be playing football somewhere next year.
You talked about gettin' the younger guys in the developmental scrimmages and I think Mondays after practice you guys run The Dirty Show?
What have you seen with that?
O'Brien: We think it's really important‑‑ we didn't do this last year so this was one of our brainstorming sessions in the off‑season, we felt like this was something that could help our football team for a lot of reasons to develop depth, see the improvement of the younger players, make up for the lack of bowl practices, where you can get a bunch of practices there when you're getting ready for a bowl, if you were to qualify for a bowl. So we decided to the this. On Mondays, after practice, we have run probably a total of 300 plays already this year and it's not just The Dirty Show, Audrey, we have guys in that scrimmage that are back‑up guys on Saturdays that play for us on Saturdays that are getting meaningful reps in that, too.
It's very competitive, the coaches compete, the guys have fun with it; we crank the music and you can see guys getting better and better with it, so we think it's been productive for us.
Saturday night, did you watch Harvard/Brown or Ohio State/Wisconsin?
O'Brien: I flicked back and forth. I was at a Little League game that lasted four hours Lewistown. I mean, it was unbelievable.
Then I came home, LSU/Georgia, one of the better football games I've seen, and then the Brown game was on at 7:30 and the Ohio State/Wisconsin game was on at 8, and I flicked back and forth, probably watched more of Ohio State and Wisconsin. My dad was at the Brown game so he gave me the update.
Talk about how you keep indiana off the scoreboard this week.
O'Brien: They play an up‑tempo style of offensive football so what do we have to do to make sure that we're scoring. I don't think we can come out of this game with a bunch of field goals. Again, we've got to score points in this game and‑‑ but we have to do it in mixing tempos. We can't go into this game thinking we're going to go wharp speed every drive, like I was saying before. So I think we've got to get a feel for that during the game, see how the game is going, where we're at in the game, where is the game at halftime, second half make our adjustments and make sure that we're doing it the right way to play a good team complementary football game.
Not specific to the Indiana game but the entire season, how much do your grad assistants or anybody else, what do they do in terms of putting the game plan together for the scout team and do they factor in to your tendencies earlier that you guys do?
O'Brien: Our graduate assistants do a great job. Those are thankless jobs; they don't make a lot of money and they're trying to climb up the coaching ladder. All of our graduate assistants will eventually be full‑time coaches somewhere. They're good, sharp guys. We start our meetings at 2:45 and we're out on the field at 4:20 for quarterback center exchange, at around 4:00 both Dirty Show teams are out there with the GAs on the other side of the ball, defense GAs take the offensive scout team and offensive GAs take the defensive scout game and they're going through the plays that they're going to run, and it's very much of a little bit of choreography there that goes into getting those guys ready for practice. And with the self‑scout the GAs put all that stuff together and a lot of times we miss something, they point it out to us, hey, look, Coach, you better be careful on this, P and 10, first play of the drive, you're always doing this, things like that, so they're instrumental in our whole operation.
Bill, what has the reaction been among recruits since the sanctions have been reduced?
O'Brien: I think it's been positive. I talked to a few of them, we're only allowed one phone call a week right now. I think it's positive, and it's positive news for Penn State. Our guys feel good about it, we're focused on Indiana. I wouldn't bother asking our players about that, they won't answer it, I promise you. Our guys are pleased with the news, but we're focused on the Indiana game.
You have two games and then another bye. Do you push these guys any harder knowing that there is another bye week two weeks away?
O'Brien: Yeah, good question. We pushed them pretty hard last week. Last year during our first bye week we practiced three times, last week we practiced four and three of those practices we were in full pads. We practiced hard last night, we went through a longer Monday practice. Because we had the bye week. Now, all of that is predicated on where you are injurywise, you know what I mean?
So once we get to the next bye week which is I think after Michigan we will have to, again, regroup and see where we're at and see how hard we can go.
With Miles Dieffenbach, he seems like a positive guy and I know he won your commitment award in the spring with Mike Hull. How has his attitude shaped the offensive line?
O'Brien: Every team needs a Miles Dieffenbach. He's a good player, he's a good student, he's a very, very good guy.
He's very funny, very funny guy, keeps it loose. He's got good timing, a great sense of humor, good timing with it. He's just a good guy. Every good team that I've been around has a guy like Miles Dieffenbach. He is a much‑improved player, one of our most improved players from last year, he's playing very well for us, gotta keep it going, now is the true test in the Big 10 schedule, but he's had a really good year thus far for us, another Pittsburgh guy, love those guys from Pittsburgh.
Indiana utilized Roberson and he's listed as an "or" on the depth chart this wreak. Have you guys paid attention to him or has most of the focus been on sed if he would and stopping him?
O'Brien: We play close attention to whoever plays on the film, offense, defense, special teams, everybody gets evaluated and gets paid attention to, that's why we're in there from 6 a.m. to 11:30 every night trying to figure it out so we paid attention to him and to anybody who shows up on the tape.
I thought you had ruled out Keiser last week‑‑
O'Brien: Yeah, I'm sorry, he wasn't on here because he had‑‑ he's out are for the game, he could possibly be back for Michigan, my fault.
The Little League game, double header Lewistown?
O'Brien: No, it should have been, though, it was unbelievable, it's actually a good team here in State College they play on. My kid plays on the team, youngest on the team, great coach, Greg Albert, great coaching staff. Fun to watch, but it was a marathon.
Stephen Obeng has proven himself a versatile player for you guys at a key time. Can you remember back whether it be in training camp or spring ball when you realized he could be an option at linebacker and how did you come to that conclusion?
O'Brien: From the day we walked in here, it wasn't just last spring he was a guy that was a definite‑‑ because of his size, speed, toughness, instincts, that he could be a safety or linebacker from the day we got here and started winter conditioning 20 months ago. He's well built, tough, place with heart. Great guy to have on the team, team guy. We have always looked at him as a guy that could play safety or linebacker.
Could you assess what Ryan Keiser being out means to Sam Ficken and the kicking game, what changing holders at this point could mean?
O'Brien: I think we will be okay there, because, you know, Alex holds for Sam during practice, when they're out there, when Keiser is playing safety, so obviously Keiser is our starting holder, and that's not easy when the holder goes out, but I think we will be okay because Alex does that quite a bit with Sam.
How much NFL do you watch or did you take advantage of it because of the bye week?
O'Brien: I try to watch. I watched the first half of the game. I try to watch, I'm getting ready for Indiana, maybe I will take a 15‑minute break and I love watching the Saints offense, I think they do a fantastic job so I watch some of that stuff.
Coach, last year there was talk about the Big 10 conference as a whole taking a step back. How would you assess the Big 10 conference as a whole moving forward based on the limited amount of time you've gotten a chance to see them?
O'Brien: You know, I don't know. I look at it as‑‑ when we take the field, Big 10, I'm talking about the Big 10. We have a chance to win every game. I think we have some good teams in the league this year, obviously Ohio State is a good football team so I don't know, I guess there are statistics out there that say that one conference wins more games and obviously the Southeast Conference is a fantastic league, nobody is going to debate that and probably the best in the country right now, but I think we have some really good players and some really good coaches in this league and I think all of that is kind of cyclical, to be honest.
What was the main reason that you knew Coach Mac McWhorter would be a good fit for this program?
O'Brien: I coached with him at Georgia Tech and he was a guy‑‑ I've coached with a lot of great line coaches, Dante Scarnecchia of New England, Doug Morone. When I was at Georgia Tech, Ralph Region was the line coach, Pat Watson, who none of you guys have probably heard of, who was probably one of the best line coaches of all time in college, coached with us at Georgia Tech and George, Joe D'Alessandris, the line coach of the San Diego Chargers, I could list them on and on and on, and what stood out to me about Mac and that group of guys, just like all the great ones is they understood the big picture. They were very, very detailed and good with their players, they were tough, they were fair, their players were close to them, they were honest, and I knew that Mac would be a great fit for our program here at Penn State because of all those things.
Coach is Brad Bars looking into a medical red shirt?
O'Brien: You know what, I don't know. Yeah, I guess. A lot of sixth year questions today. Let's just worry about Indiana, man.
Coach, you mentioned the pass rush and you said that you were looking at individuals. With Deion Barnes, have you seen him getting more attention from the offensive lines and could that factor into his relatively slow start?
O'Brien: I think he's had a relatively good year for us. I think people have paid attention to him. You would if you were playing Penn State and this guy was the Big 10 freshman of the year, you're not going to let him disrupt the game so you're going to make sure you chip him or put a tight end over him, and Deione has played well, he's a guy that stays after practice every day, just a tough guy, Philly guy, to me he's playing fine.
How often, speaking with the Saints and what they do on offense, as the game changes at every level how often do you look to stay ahead of the conserve about what you can do on offense to stay ahead of the game, using running backs, tight ends‑‑
O'Brien: You have to stay ahead of the curve and have to do it based on what you have and what you believe in. ?I believe in certain things offensively, I believe in running the football, I believe in having diverse ways to run the football. I believe in throwing the ball accurately, I believe in smart players, tough players, I believe in team players. So what I try to do with our staff is look at all the things that go into that and then making sure that, okay, she's are what we have for this year, what can we do to help these guys, you know, on both sides of the ball be the best players they can be. So, yeah, one of the things you do there to do that is to study other people and see what they're doing.
You mentioned that Mike Hull got hurt on the a clean chop block but with the head shots and those hits becoming more prevalent, more in the spotlight, people are talk about chop blocks and should they remain part of the game, what's your take on that?
O'Brien: Again, I think there's an appropriate area to perform a cut block. When you're head‑up on a guy and it's one on one and you're not coming at an angle, especially from the outside in, you're head up, I can cut block him, but what I think needs to be called better is when an offensive lineman, for instance, stands the linebacker up and the adjacent guy comes in and cuts that guy which is a penalty and gets called but I think it needs to be called more, that's when I think we have to do a better job of just seeing and I'm not saying a better job of officiating, I'm just saying I think that's something we have to make sure we pay attention to.
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