Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien spoke to reporters this afternoon at Beaver Stadium in advance of his Nittany Lions' road trip to Illinois this weekend.
Check out the complete transcript here:
* Transcript provided courtesy of ASAPSports.com.
Are you concerned that the focus of your players will be affected this week with regard to Illinois recruiting them in the summer?
O'Brien: No, not at all. We started off yesterday and had a really good team meeting reviewing the Temple game, things we did well and things we didn't do well.
I believe as we sit here today we have got their attention on a very good Illinois team and a tough game coming up in Champaign.
Is your tailback Bill Belton ready to go this week? How does a healthy Belton change what you can do on offense?
O'Brien: He practiced yesterday and looked decent, so we would anticipate him being ready to go for the game.
It's a good question, because all of the kids bring a little bit different skillset to the table, whether it's Zordich, Zwinak, Dukes, Belton, and then obviously Derek Day. Some guys are first‑ and second‑down guys; some are three‑down guys; some are a little bit quicker; some guys are bigger; some guys are faster; some guys catch the ball better.
So Billy is a guy that has good feet, good vision, and can catch the football. So it's good to have him back, because he's another type of change‑of‑pace type of runningback.
Four games in, is this at all starting to feel like a normal football season for you?
O'Brien: Did you say normal football season?
Yeah, getting back to normal at all for you? Getting into a groove?
O'Brien: Once training camp started it felt pretty normal. You're practicing once or twice a day and getting into the routine there in training camp. School starts and the regular season starts, and now you're into the routine of practicing in the afternoon and meetings in the afternoon and study hall at night for the kids and game planning and things.
So it's felt pretty normal right from the start of training camp on.
What is your philosophy of playing backup quarterbacks? Do you believe it's important for a backup quarterback to get playing time?
O'Brien: I believe it's important to win the game, so we do what's best for the football team to win the football game. I'm not a big believer in rotating quarterbacks, and we're not going to do that.
As we sit here right now, Matt McGloin is our starting quarterback; Steven Bench is our backup quarterback, and that's the way we're headed.
After watching film, do you have any more insight into maybe why all the penalties at once? How hard is it for you to correct that? Looked like maybe some guys involved on the big plays that were called back were flagged for things that weren't maybe necessarily involved in the big run, so to speak.
O'Brien: There were some penalties there that are definitely correctable. Holding calls, keeping your hands inside, moving your feet, those are correctable through technique and really harping on it.
At the end of the day it's about emphasis. What we try to do is emphasize that in the film room. Hey, look, if you move your feet better on this and keep your hands inside better on this, then you're not going to be called for holding.
Alignment penalties, those are just mental errors that we have to clean up.
The offensive pass interference penalty, we just got to do a better job of not committing offensive pass interference.
But overall those are things that are correctable, and we started working on that yesterday.
When did you find out that the Big 10 said you would be eligible to win the Leaders Division title? Does that have a role in your motivation message to the team?
O'Brien: I believe we found out about that maybe right before the first or second game. I think it was right before the first or second game.
What we try to do is really just focus on the game for that week. So we try to break it down into 12 one‑game seasons. We've played four; now we're focused on the fifth game, the Illinois game, and we don't think about anything down the road. We just know we have eight more opportunities left to play, and we're going to practice extremely hard and prepare for a very difficult Illinois team.
Last week some no‑huddle stuff. I thought a little more throwing to the runningbacks. Does that reflect that your guys are figuring out the offense a little more, or was that sort off opponent‑specific to Temple?
O'Brien: We'll have a no‑huddle game plan going into every game, and the flow of the game basically determines how much you're going to use no‑huddle. When you play a team that pressures quite a bit, no‑huddle becomes more involved in your game plan. Our players are doing a really ‑‑ it's really pretty neat to see.
Like I always say, I don't know where this season is going to end up. I know our players are working really hard. What's really kind of cool to see is from the first day of spring practice to where they are now as far as knowledge of the systems ‑‑ offense, defense, and special teams ‑‑ as a coach, that's what coaching is all about, is teaching and watching your players pick it up.
I believe our players have picked it up pretty well to this point. But no‑huddle is a part of every game plan.
How is Matt McGloin's decision‑making at the line of scrimmage before the play in getting the team in the proper play improved as the season's gone on? Is that a really tough job to get acclimated to, calling two players and deciding on the proper one relatively quickly?
O'Brien: He's improved every week with that. That's another really good question. You guys are loaded with good questions today.
One of the things in playing quarterback in a system like ours is we put a lot on your plate, so to speak, and you have to have a good deal of brain power and you have to be able to understand what you're watching on film and be able to take that to the practice field and then take it to the game field.
Every week he's improved on what he sees and getting us into the right play and using little tricks of the trade to help himself to get us into the right play. So I believe he's improved every week.
We showed him the tape yesterday, and he knows that he can continue to improve a lot and play a lot better than he's playing right now. So like I told him yesterday, a lot it's up to him, just him continuing to work and going out there and executing even better at a higher level than he is right now.
The recruitment of your players going to become an issue again after the season. I'm wondering if you ever got an explanation as to why it wasn't just a one‑time deal? Ask also, do you think that's fair to you, your staff, or your players?
O'Brien: I'll tell you this: I believe our players are committed to this football program. I believe that they're a fantastic group of kids that believe in the coaching staff. We certainly believe in them.
Like I've said from day one, this is a very, very ‑ in my opinion ‑ special place because of the education this place offers a young man. Having only been here for four games ‑‑ I'm a Penn State newbie.
I've run out here for two home games here and‑‑ or actually three home games here‑‑ and felt the uniqueness of this place, the crowd, the band. Where else would you want to play?
As far as the recruitment of our players and things like that, that's something I'm going to keep to myself, my thoughts on that, and continue to discuss the strategy that's involved with that with the staff and administration here.
As vocal as some of your leaders were about the whole Illinois recruiting thing here, is it realistic to expect for that not to be a motivating factor as they prepare for this game?
O'Brien: I certainly understand the question. I do. But at the same time, the biggest thing is that this is our first Big 10 game. Our players are very focused on the Big 10 schedule. I believe that our players are really focused this week on building on what they did well in the Temple game and improving in areas where we really need to improve as it relates to the Temple game.
They're not concerned with anything other than playing a tough road game in Champaign against a good Illinois team.
The motivation is it's our first Big 10 game on the road. I just found out we've been in the Big 10 twenty years, and I think 12 times we've played on the road. I would like for someday that to even out and maybe get a home game here at Beaver Stadium to open the Big 10 road season.
It's going to be a great environment in Illinois, and that's what the players are focused on.
I know it's belaboring it a little bit, three questions, but a lot of teams recruited your players; Illinois appeared to be the only Big 10 school that recruited your players. Does that bother you at all?
O'Brien: It takes a lot to bother me, so I would tell you that, again, our players, myself, our staff, we're very focused on the task at hand, which is practice today, first and second down practice, punt team, punt return team PAT field goal, PAT field goal block.
Tomorrow third down, more special teams.
Thursday, red area.
Friday, walk‑through. Get on a plane, go to Illinois, and hopefully we're prepared to play a great Illinois team. That's what our focus is.
The Big 10 has been getting some criticism for having a subpar record against other BCS conferences. How do you evaluate the strength of the Big 10? And over the last few years before you were coach here, did you ever really pay much attention to the Big 10? What were your views of the Big 10's quality back then?
O'Brien: I'm not sure. I haven't been able to watch every single Big 10 game obviously. I'm very focused. With our staff, we very focused on our football team day‑to‑day, so it's very hard to judge how well the Big 10 is playing.
I do know this: From being at the Big 10 media days and meeting the other coaches and the other top layers of the other teams, this is an excellent conference with excellent coaches and really, really good football players.
In my opinion, college football as it relates it conferences is somewhat cyclical. One year the SEC may have a great year and then the next year maybe it's the Big 10 or the Big 12 or maybe it's the ACC. It's cyclical as far as how many conferences win Bowl games and things like that.
My opinion is just don't bet against the Big 10 teams and this conference and these coaches and these players.
What are your thoughts about the defensive line talent in this game on both sides of ball?
O'Brien: Yeah, the Illinois defensive line is a big strength for their football team and their defense. They have two defensive ends, two inside tackles, that play extremely hard.
Actually we were sitting there watching these guys on Sunday and Monday, and they reminded us of what we play against every day in practice. You know, again, our defensive line is really well coached and very, very good.
Those two defensive lines don't play against each other, but it'll be fun for the fans to watch two really, really good defensive lines go at it on Saturday.
Because of the unique position your program is in, could you speak to the value of relationship‑building with the current team, assistant coach to player, head coach to player? Is it more magnified because of the situation, or is that the way you'll coach?
O'Brien: That's an interesting question. Part of coaching is in order to be a successful coach, you have to develop a trusting relationship with your player. You know, whether it's quarterback, linebacker, defensive tackle, offensive guard, whatever position you have, you have to trust that you're putting that player in a position where he can really excel.
That player has to trust what you're coaching and telling him is the truth. So whatever position our program is in, that's the way we'll always coach here. We're always going to be up front and honest with our players. We feel that's important.
We feel it's important for our players to know, and we feel that's important for future prospects to know.
We're not always going to tell them things they want to hear. We're going to tell them the truth. Here is how you can get better; here the things you're doing well; here are some things you're not doing so well; here is what you have to do better in the class room; here is how you really need to think about how to behave off the field; here is what respect for the game means; here is what respect for professors means; here is what respect for administration at Penn State means.
If you can understand that about coaching, then that's really what the essence of college coaching is all about, and coaching in general, in my opinion.
You mentioned Belton. How about Day, Zordich, Dukes? All okay?
O'Brien: Yeah, all look fairly healthy right now. They all look healthy. Zordich didn't practice yesterday, but I would assume‑‑ like I told you after the game, he's a tough kid. Youngstown, Ohio. Tough dad. I'm sure he's on the phone with his dad and his dad is telling him to get his butt back in there.
I would assume he will be working today probably.
Did you expect to have Stanley and Massaro back, and is Adrian Amos okay after getting his bell rung the other day?
O'Brien: Adrian didn't really get his bell running on that one. His helmet just came down. He's fine.
Stanley is probable. I would say he's probable.
And Pete Massaro probably will not play in the game.
You discussed Charlie Fisher's role with the team before. With Matt McGloin playing this well through four games, can you elaborate how important Charlie has been in practice and games?
O'Brien: Yeah, just like all the assistant coaches, we really have a neat staff of guys. We really do. Charlie's role is important. It's pretty neat how it works out, because I have a little bit of a temper, and Charlie is probably a lot nicer than me.
So it's pretty neat the way we kind of play off each other. Charlie has done an excellent job of, No. 1, learning our system. You been coaching for 30‑plus years and come into this new offensive system, and he's learned it himself and so now he's able to teach it.
What stands out to me about Charlie is how he talks to the quarterbacks about mechanics and reads and how to think about plays. I think he's played a big role with all the quarterbacks. He's been around a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of good receivers, and he's brought that to Penn State.
You said that at kick and punt returner you had a lot of guys practicing for it. Jesse Della Valle, did you see something in him that made you want him to audition as a returner or did he suggest it?
O'Brien: Well, I'll tell you what happened with Jesse Della Valle, was before the Virginia game John Butler, who oversees special teams, he came in the locker room before the game and said, Look, Jesse is catching the ball the best in warmups. That was a tough environment. Virginia is a very tough environment.
Jesse was cool and calm and catching all kinds of ever different punts, punts that were deep, punts that were short, and he was catching it the most consistent. So we went with him, and he did a nice job in that game.
Then last week I thought he did a really good job. Some guys have a knack for that. They can catch it, they can understand the return, they have good vision. He's got a little bit of a knack for it, and we're going to stick with him. He's done a nice job on that.
He's one of those guys like Mike Hull, like Zordich, they really have a neat role on the team and have really bought into it.
Jesse is one of those guys. Jesse was our special teams player of the week last week.
You said on Saturday you're going to do some sort of runningback by committee once everyone is healthy. Do you see yourself using all five guys on Saturday?
O'Brien: It's tough to use all five. Definitely tough to use all five. I definitely see us using two or three. Depends how they practice during the week.
So, again, I went into their meeting yesterday and told them, Hey, look, guys, we got five guys that are good players, tough guys, love coaching them, so let's go out and practice well and decide then we'll as a coaching staff who's going to play on Saturday.
Are they all kind of on the same level right now in terms who is starting and who might come in?
O'Brien: We alternate who starts each period in practice. So one team period one guy might start, another team period and another guy starts. It's definitely a committee type approach.
If you think about those guys, it's pretty neat sitting up here thinking about it. Day's shown signs; obviously Belton in the Ohio game had a couple nice runs and then he hurt his ankle.
Day has run the ball and at times looked pretty good. Caught the ball against Virginia and did a nice job on that.
Then you got Dukes that came into the Virginia and Navy game and ran the ball really well. Got a little bit dinged up.
Zordich obviously go in there and has done some decent things.
Zwinak last week.
So those guys have all contributed to where we are in the season, and we've got a good situation there with some tough kids that can run the ball, pass protect, and catch the football. So we're going to continue to compete at that position.
When Saturday rolls around, we'll see which ones are going to play.
Talk about the distribution. In the passing game you have had a lot of guys catching balls. Talk about being able to spread the wealth around.
O'Brien: The way to do that is we change up personnel groupings. So sometimes you'll have a three‑wide personnel grouping; sometimes you'll have a four‑wide personnel grouping; sometimes you'll have three tight ends in there.
So obviously when passes are called different guys are doing different things, and so the ball is being able to be spread around. The way we coach our passing game is we make coverage reads and we throw to the open guy based on what the defense gives us.
We try the best we can to put players in different position so they can make plays that are really suited for their skillset. So far it's gotten a little bit better every week. We're not where we want it to be, but it's definitely improved.
Can you talk about Illinois? They have two quarterbacks that could play. Can you assess the strength of Scheelhaase and O'Toole?
O'Brien: Yeah, Scheelhaase is an excellent athlete, dual threat type player; big guy, 6'3" 200 pounds; a guy that can throw the ball accurately. He's a threat. That seems like a lot of these guys that we played over the last four weeks have been able to throw and run. That's a very, very good skillset to have at that position.
Then O'Toole is a little bit more of a dropback guy, 6'4", 220, a little bit more of a pocket passer, but he can do some things with his feet, too.
So both guys bring two distinct styles to the offense. So preparing for this team is very, very difficult, because you have to almost prepare for two types of offenses. So our defense has got a big time challenge in front of it.
How concerned are you that Illinois is going to try some of the same things that Ohio did?
O'Brien: Definitely we've gotten better on some‑‑ there have been other teams that have tried to do some of the things that Ohio did. Obviously if they're successful in one game, all of us as coaches, we all tend to have some copycat in us. That's from studying film and things.
So we try to do things that other team have had success with. I believe our defense has been much improved in some of those things that Ohio did against us, so...
I'm sure that Illinois will do some things that Temple did against us. Temple ran the quarterback power and did a nice job with that play, so I would assume that future opponents will run that play. We've got to do better job of defending it. And we will.
Talk about your expectations for Brandon Moseby Felder, and did you say anything to him on the sidelines after that pass hit off his hands Saturday leading to the interception?
O'Brien: This is a trick question. No, I think Brandon Moseby is one of the most‑improved players on our football team. When we came in the spring he had some injuries. He had a hamstring during training camp, but he stuck with it. He gets his treatments and comes back and sticks with it. He's going in there and blocking the safeties in the running game. He ran a nice in‑cut against Temple; made a nice catch. He got tough yards on a look‑past that we threw out to him that we really shouldn't have thrown, and he gained like three yards which kept us on schedule.
Receivers, their job is to get open and catch the football, so when they drop the ball we all get frustrated. I just told him, Hey, look, Brandon, we're not benching you. We're going to come back to you. Probably going to run that same route again at some point, and when we go to you again you need to catch the ball, put it away, and score.
But he's a resilient guy. He did some nice things on Saturday.
Over the summer you talked about some of the differences between head coach and coordinator. On game days, does it feel much different than when you were a coordinator? What are the major differences that you've noticed on game day itself?
O'Brien: It's a huge difference. When you're an assistant coach, an offensive coordinator, the offense goes out there, you either score, you punt, or you turn it over. Hopefully you don't punt or turn it over, but you come to the bench and make adjustments with your offense.
As a head coach, you have to understand one thing is game management. How is the game being played? How is your defense playing? That's going to affect how you call plays on offense. What is going well on offense? You want to stick with that. What can you do that will put the defense in conflict based on what you're doing well offensively? You're thinking about the whole game more.
As an assistant coach you don't call the timeout in the game. You don't think about the clock as much as you do as a head football coach. So game management, you know, all the different things that go into that. I'm involved with the special teams. As assistant coach you're not involved with special teams at all.
So it's a big difference. Just like everybody else in our football program, I'm trying to improve every week and trying to get better.
You have outscored opponents 35‑zip in the first quarter. What's the key?
O'Brien: It's tough to put a finger on that. I know that we stress trying to get off to a fast start. We've done a decent job of that.
On the flip side of that now, when we go in at halftime we got to come out and do a better job in the second half, especially getting off to another fast start.
We are thinking about different ways to get ourselves kick started in the second half, because it's a four‑quarter game. It's great to start the game well, but it's really how you finish the game. So we've got to do a better job in the second half.
But the players in the first half of the games have done a decent job.
On the flip side, can you evaluate Illinois offensively? What worries you most about the defense?
O'Brien: What I'm learning about defenses that we've faced so far as it relates to college is that all of these guys that we've played have pretty in intricate blitz schemes, and they call them just enough where you better be prepared for them.
So what we have to do in practice this week starting last night, is we've got to get our players to understand, based on the protection or the run that's called, how we're going to block the different pressures.
So Illinois defensive coordinator is a friend of mine, Tim Banks. We coached together at the University of Maryland. He's an excellent coach and a smart guy, and he's going to attack our protections and test our ability to pick their blitzes up in the run and pass game.
That's what we're going to really concentrate on this.
With as well as the defense is playing right now, is there a point total that if you hit you expect to win a game each week?
O'Brien: It's kind of like I was saying on that other question. As you get a feel for how the game is going, you can sense that your defense is playing pretty well, so how are you going to call the game offensively? That's a totally different role as opposed to being a offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots where you're trying to score 50 points every time you go out on the field.
I try get a feel for how the defense is playing. So far, obviously the defense has played, for the most part, pretty well. That's a credit to the players obviously, No. 1, and to Ted Roof and the staff over there. They've done a nice job.
I don't put a point total on it. I just try to get a feel for how they're playing in the game, and then that kind of helps me decide how to call a game offensively.