Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien spoke to reporters following the Nittany Lions' 39-28 win against Northwestern on Saturday afternoon.
Check out the complete transcript, provided courtesy of Penn State Sports Information, right here:
When you were down 11 points, did you sense any sort of players being down on the sidelines? Also talk about the resiliency of your team. O'Brien: I did sense a little for a few seconds there after the punt return. That was an excellent job by Northwestern. This is a really, really good Northwestern team. I have a lot of respect for Pat [Fitzgerald] and what he's done there. I did sense that a little bit. My staff and myself talked to the players and tried to get them going. We knew at that time there were 50 seconds left in the third quarter and the whole fourth quarter to go. We felt like we could move the ball. It's Big Ten football, we need to come back. We tried to get our players going. You can't say enough about these kids. With what they've been through, they're smart, they're tough, they're committed to Penn State. They come to practice every single week. The practices aren't always pretty, but there's a lot of effort. There's great chemistry in that locker room. We're 4-2, who knows where it's going to end up. These guys are playing hard and it's really fun to see the smiles on their faces.
What are your thoughts about the job Matt McGloin did in the second half? What was the biggest difference from the first half? O'Brien: Matt's done a really nice job of coming in at halftime and staying relaxed and calm and taking the coaching from Charlie [Fisher] and myself. He understands the things we talk about at halftime, we have to do this better or that better. He understands it's a 60-minute game. He's grown up a lot. When you're a senior and playing your last few games here at Penn State, that means a lot to him. Again, I can't say enough about Matt McGloin. He's got the job done to this point this year.
The fourth-and-two from the 19, you went for it and went no-huddle. Why? O'Brien: You get into a rhythm in a drive. You feel pretty good about some plays and you get in a rhythm of calling the plays. You've been with this number 11 kid for nine months now and you know the plays that he likes. You feel good about the rhythm he's in, so you keep it going. You're only looking for two yards and hopefully you can squeeze a pass in there or he can scramble. Something good can happen, because you know he's going to make the right decision. That's more about just getting in the right rhythm. We practice those situations, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't work. You have to live with it when they don't work. We'll continue to try to put together good game plans and good situational football game plans too.
Is Bill Belton's ankle becoming an issue again? Or was today a result of Zach Zwinak being the hot back today? O'Brien: I don't think his ankle's bothering him. You would have to ask him. Billy went in there and did some decent things. We felt Zach was running the ball downhill and felt his physical presence in the game. This type of a game, it was something we wanted to go with, same thing with Michael Zordich. It's nothing against Bill Belton, he's a very good football player. There's only one ball, we're a one-back team primarily. Sometimes, we lineup in two back, but Billy's not a fullback, so there's only one tailback in at a time. Billy's a team player and understands his role. He will come to practice next week, competing for his role.
You felt like you could move the ball. You get the ball back at the end of the third quarter and go to the no-huddle. How much of a benefit is to be able to go to that? How effective do you think it was today, especially on those two touchdown drives. O'Brien: It was effective, it's been effective pretty much all year. It's something that we have to continue to work on. There are a lot of things we can improve on in the NASCAR package that we run. Up tempo is good, our players seem to enjoy it. They enjoy it in practice, they look forward to the up tempo game plan every week. Matt does a nice job of handling the plays there: the tempo, the situations, knowing the down and distance. That's a credit to him.
You guys are continuing to go for it on fourth down. Are the guys starting to take to these do-or-die situations on the field? O'Brien: We went for it six times today on fourth down. Again, a lot of times it's worked out this year, where it's been about field position. I don't think you see me going for it on fourth down backed up inside our own 20 or really on our side of the 50. I might have done it a few times, but not too often. Usually, if we have the right field position and we're out of Sam's [Ficken] range, it might be better to have a good play, especially if it's a manageable fourth down. It's not that hard on a play caller, because your third down call is like a second down call, when you know you're going to go for it. It's not like all of a sudden you say, 'we're going to go for it'. It's a thought-out deal and hopefully we continue to execute on fourth down. I think we've done a decent job on it this year. I know at times we need to do better.
What have you guys done in practice to address not leaving points on the board? O'Brien: We have a break in the middle of practice where we say 'this is the second half of practice and we need to start well.' It's just about starting well, really. I think if you can get a good drive going, I think the first drive of the second half we scored. I think if you get a good drive going and string some plays together then you have a chance. We just talk about starting well and calling better plays. A lot of it starts with coaching and me doing a better job of getting us in the right plays.
In the first half, you appeared to be yelling at the referee and Pat Fitzgerald. Can you share what you said to him? O'Brien: No, I didn't yell at Pat Fitzgerald. I was yelling at myself, I was mad at myself.
Did the fumbled punt let some air out of you guys in the first half? O'Brien: Jesse's [Della Valle] done a great job. He was fair catching it and he looked up with the fair catch signal and then looked down. He didn't concentrate on the ball. He's done an excellent job. I have a lot of respect for Jesse and what he's done here. He made a mistake, he'd be the first one to tell you that. We recovered from it, but right there it hurt us a little bit.
On the third down play you scored on, did you make up your mind what you were going to do on fourth down? Did it depend on the down and distance? O'Brien: Depended on the distance. It would definitely depend on the distance. If we gained any yards there, what hash it was on. There was a lot that would go into the next play.
With it being Homecoming and with everything the kids have gone through and the community has gone through, how gratifying is it to you to see people enjoying this? O'Brien: All of that is about a lot more than football. Football is just a sport, where we have a bunch of great kids here that love to go to school here and take pride in playing football for Penn State. They have a little part in the community and helping the community. We do the same thing as a coaching staff; we try to get out in the community. We enjoy living here; there are some great people here. Those things that happened over the summer and in the past are a lot bigger than football. These kids are just having fun playing football right now and going to school.
When you look at Zach Zwinak, do you see a number one, go-to-guy? Is it a situation of game-by-game? O'Brien: Definitely game-by-game. I think a lot of all those backs. I think they're tough, good athletes. They catch the ball well, they're smart, they run the ball tough. We have a pretty good situation there. We have some guys there that can do some good things. We're a one-back team. Sometimes, we're in two back formations, but our fullback is Michael Zordich, so we're really a one tailback team. It's hard to put three or four tailbacks in the game at the same time, that's just the way it goes. Zach has played well, but that's a competition every week to see who's going to play, who's going to start.
What kind of a job do you think you did with the two quarterbacks for Northwestern and being conscious of what they can do and where they are on the field? O'Brien: I think our defense did a heck of a job. That's a team that I believe last week gained 700 yards. If it weren't for the West Virginia-Baylor game, everyone would've been talking about Northwestern gaining 700 yards. That's a very, very good offense. Our defense again did a really, really nice job. We put them in a tough spot there with the fumbled punt and some of the things that went on there. The punt return wasn't on them. Our defense really came to play today.
Do you believe in any indicator from your team after a game like this? O'Brien: I do think there's a certain amount you can learn from every game. I think that we have to go back in there tomorrow and we have to study the tape as a staff. We'll bring the kids in on Monday and try to learn some stuff from this game. I do really try to preach to these kids about playing 12 one-game seasons and we have six one-game seasons left. At some point in time here over the next 48 hours, we have to forget about that one, get ready for the bye week and a very, very tough Iowa team. I'm not too much into omens. I'm just into not a lot of gray area, who do we play next and how do we game plan for that one and get the team focused on that.
Speaking of situational football, what kind of situation was that for you as a coach after they returned the punt for the touchdown? O'Brien: Again, let me make sure I'm clear. I didn't sense they were down, I just felt there was a lull. Any time there's a special teams touchdown on any team I'm associated with, whether it was the New England Patriots or any team, there's always a big momentum change when the other team makes a big play on special teams. There's a little bit of quietness on your sideline. Nobody is down. There's no quit in that locker room. I don't know what's going to happen the rest of the year, but there will be no quit with those kids that are sitting in the locker room. What you have to do as a coach and as a coaching staff, you have to bring them together. You have to point at the clock and say 'look, guys, it's an 11-point lead with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. There's a huge amount of time to play football with, what was at that time, a back-and-forth game against a very good team.' You know, that's just what we pointed out. These kids are a bunch of mentally tough and resilient kids. They did a nice job over the last quarter.
What is the plan for the bye week as far as practices and schedules? O'Brien: Sunday is their mandatory day off. We'll get out there Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We won't be out there long. It won't be a blood bath, I can tell you that. We'll see how we practice those three days and then we'll decide what we're going to do toward the end of the week.
What can you say about the offense balance in the second half, using the run to set up the play-action pass? O'Brien: We always try to achieve some type of balance. That's something that any great head coach I've ever worked for [has done]. Obviously Bill [Belichick] stressed that quite a bit and I learned about balance in New England and you try to always think of that when you're calling games and when you're gameplanning for a team. At the same time, at that point you have to do whatever it takes to win games. If you have to throw the ball 60 times to win the game, you have to throw it 60 times. If you can achieve a balance, that's really the best way to play offensive football.
What goes into the decision to go for it on fourth-and-four on the six-yard line instead of kicking the field goal to make it a one-possession game? O'Brien: I felt good about the play call we had there. I have a lot of confidence even though we haven't shown it. I have a lot of confidence. Our team does and our staff does in the red-area package. We feel like Matt [McGloin] really understands what we're trying to do. I just felt good about what it was there. I didn't think twice about it and made the play call.
On Matt [McGloin's] touchdown run, did he have a run-pass option there or did he just decide to take it? O'Brien: That was a scramble all the way. He did a nice job on that. Now he's going to come in Monday and tell me he's a 4.3-40 [yard dash]. I'm going to tell him we're timing his 40 with a sun dial. He did a nice job. He's got a knack for that. He's just the one that tells me every week that we need the quarterback draw. He's a great kid, fun kid to coach. I love coaching competitive people and he's a very competitive guy.