Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien joined reporters Tuesday afternoon at Beaver Stadium to talk about his Nittany Lions' loss to Central Florida Saturday night, and their upcoming game against Kent State. Check out the complete transcript, right here!
* Transcript provided courtesy ASAP Sports
O'Brien: Just on the injury situation, really it's just a matter of bumps and bruises with most everybody. I would say the one guy that is day‑to‑day would be Michael Hull. He's sore. Yesterday, Monday, he was sore. We're going to have to watch him in practice and see how he does.
Everybody else is just basically normal for the fourth week of the season. There's no major injuries. We'll have to keep an eye on that.
A couple other things I want to talk about real quick. Saturday is blue‑out day in Beaver Stadium. That's a big day obviously. All proceeds go to PCAR. That means a lot to our football program, to our university. We encourage everybody to wear blue on that day because, again, like I've said from day one, one of our commitments here as a football program is to help put an end to that horrible thing called child abuse. It's terrible. We're doing our part on Saturday with that.
Also Saturday is what we call all U Day. It's a great day for Penn State because all the Commonwealth campuses are invited to the game. We have a great halftime ceremony for all of them. We're looking forward to hosting all the students to our game on Saturday.
Big day on Saturday. Biggest part of our Saturday is our challenging game against Kent State. With that I'll open it up for questions.
Now that you've had a chance to watch film, how would you assess the defense's performance Saturday night?
O'Brien: We watched it from every angle. We spent a lot of time. We watched it as a staff, both sides of the ball, and special teams.
That's usually what happens when you lose. You try to get together and really observe both sides of the ball and special teams. We have a lot of good coaches on our staff. It was a good meeting on Sunday.
Defensively it comes down to tackling. We've got to tackle better. One thing I want to address right off the bat, I know somebody is going to ask me this question, obviously I respect the question, it has nothing to do with thud. 120 teams in the country all basically practice with thud. Very rare that teams go live anymore, especially if you look at pro football. You're allowed 17 live practices a year. That's trickled down to college.
It has to be being in better football position, being aligned correctly. I thought we were aligned improperly sometimes. So those are things we can correct. We have to do better and will do better. We have a great coaching staff on that side of the ball, really, good tough players. Coverage‑wise we have to stay in coverage, stay on top of our man. Can't let people get behind us.
Offensively we did some decent things. Again, if you turn the ball over, if you have line‑of‑scrimmage penalties, too many three‑and‑outs, in a high‑scoring game, you're going to end up on the losing side.
Special teams‑wise decent things on the kickoff team. I think our kick placement can be better, but we covered it pretty decently, considering the type of returner we had there.
We need to punt the ball better, be more consistent with punting the ball. Again, I thought our kids gave great effort on it.
Almost broke a kickoff return. Geno had a 40‑yarder that was a good return. Have to be more consistent there. Punt return, have to stay on our blocks and be better there.
There's a lot of improvement to make. Had a bunch of guys to show up to work yesterday. Fun group to coach. They're going to look to improve this week.
Could you evaluate the tight ends Jesse, Adam and Kyle after a month. At week four, do you see any freshmen moving forward?
O'Brien: The tight ends, I think all those guys have played solid for us. Kyle Carter basically on the fake field goal against Syracuse, he had an offensive lineman land on his arm, almost broke his arm. He was pretty banged up really all the way through last week. Obviously last week we got him more involved. He's a good player for us. He'll continue to be more and more involved.
Jesse has had a good year. These are young players. I think Jesse is 19. Kyle might have just turned 20. Maybe he's 19. Obviously Adam Breneman is a freshman, probably had his best game last week.
Those guys will continue to improve. They work really hard. Fun group of guys to coach.
Right now if you look on the offensive side of the ball, we played Adam Breneman, Richy Anderson, obviously Christian. Right now I don't see any other freshmen at this point on offense playing.
On defense when you look at the defensive line, right now I wouldn't see any other true freshmen that would play right now. I think at linebacker, obviously we've played Brandon Bell and we'll continue to try to involve him in special teams and things like that.
In the secondary we've played Jordan Smith, Anthony Smith. Those guys will continue to play. Other than that, I don't see any other freshmen playing on that side of the ball.
You mentioned Geno Lewis on the kick returns. What kind of sparks is he giving you there?
O'Brien: I think on that particular return, he had decent blocking. What he did on that thing is he made a decision. He didn't stutter step at all. Listening to the radio coming home, I heard Derrick Williams on this radio show, fantastic player here, great guy, great kick returner. One of the things he said about the kick returner himself is he said you can't stutter step, you have to hit it, make one cut and go. He is exactly right.
On that particular one, that's what Geno did. That's what we have to continue to develop. The guys need to block a little bit better around him. There was a lot of improvement on that. So hopefully that will continue.
Would you expect to see Christian Hackenberg completing at 71% through his first three games?
O'Brien: I expect him to complete every pass. Obviously 70% is a good percentage. That is good. I think any time you complete over 70% of your passes, a lot of things are happening well there. He's throwing well, the guys are making good catches, we're protecting well. It's a team effort. When I call a pass, I don't expect it to be incomplete, that's for sure. I expect it to be completed.
It's a high standard. He's done a good job. He needs to keep doing what he's doing. Day to day, try to keep getting better every day.
I told him yesterday if he could eliminate six or seven mistakes from his game, that he'll keep improving and he'll help our football team a lot. He's made some really good plays for us. There's six or seven plays within each game he needs to really improve on.
In this offense, the quarterback truly is the field general. He runs the show. If you can eliminate those mistakes, you're going to really help your team out a lot. He understands that. He's a great kid and fun to coach.
How do you evaluate the play so far of Deion Barnes? Doesn't have any tackles for loss or sacks yet or is that not a big deal?
O'Brien: I think you have to look at the film closely on that. I think he's playing with great effort. He's an excellent player. I believe people are running away from him. I think that people are giving the tackles help in protection with him. I would, too.
We've got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit. We will and we have. But Deion to me is playing well. I'm glad he's on our team, I can tell you that.
You mentioned how confident Christian Hackenberg is with the physical parts of playing quarterback. How has he grown in confidence as a leader in the huddle with guys that are older than he is?
O'Brien: I think he's improving with that every week. He's a self‑confident kid. He's just got a really good demeanor. He's sure of himself. He knows he has good ability. He's a good person. He's a calm guy, which is great for me, because I'm not a calm guy. It's really good.
Matt and I last year, sometimes obviously we had similar personalities. Christian is a calm guy and that's good. I think the team feeds off of that. The guys have a lot of confidence in him. Any time you're completing balls and running the offense the way he is right now, which is pretty decent, guys around you have confidence. That helps your whole role on the team, too. He'll continue to improve with that.
It looked to us like the offensive line made some steps forward last week, got some more push. Did it look to you that way on film? What did you see in particular that sort of led to that?
O'Brien: Yeah, you're right. Our offensive line played their best game. They played physical. I thought we pass protected really well. The sacks, again, I think somebody told me this morning we've given up eight sacks, whatever. Most of those sacks aren't on the offensive line. It's either holding the ball too long, we don't have a blitz break‑off.
I feel like our guys played their best game. They need to continue from there. They're a great bunch of guys, tough. Fun group of guys to be around. Mac does a great job with them. They'll continue to improve.
A couple of the veteran guys talked about how a team can learn more from a loss than a win. That feeling, is that something you hope the team remembers off a game like that, or does it come down to the X's and O's?
O'Brien: I mean, losing is brutal. You do not want to lose. It's just not a good feeling.
But what you have to do as a coach and as a player in this sport is you have to immediately pick yourself right back up. I allow them maybe 12 hours of mourning period, then they have to pick themselves back up because you have an opponent on the horizon that is a good opponent.
What I've learned from these kids is they are resilient. They come into the office on Sunday on their own. That's their day off. They're watching film, getting treatment, and are ready to go on Monday.
What you can learn from a loss is we lost to a team that's a good team. We didn't play our best; they played very well. In order for us to beat that team last week we had to play a lot better. We understand both from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint what we need to do better.
Those are good things. You can really see where you need to improve. Hopefully that's what we do. Hopefully we learn from it and we move on and we do the best we can to get a win this week.
You mentioned Christian. What do you see right now he needs to improve most?
O'Brien: Again, continuing to improve with his knowledge of the offense, continue to basically take it one play at a time, forget the poor play and move on to the next play. Manage the game. Continue to do a good job of managing the game, which I thought for this early in his career he's done a pretty good job of managing the game. Off the last week, continue taking care of the ball. That's important.
So I think there's a lot of things that everybody can improve on every single day. Those are things that he's going to try to improve on.
Wondering if the naked untrained media eye, Adam Gress, how he performed on Saturday? Also along with that, do you evaluate series‑to‑series, week‑to‑week in practice? How do you decide when guys are sharing a spot who plays?
O'Brien: Adam played a good game Saturday. Probably played his best game. He's a big, strong guy. Pittsburgh guy. Great kid. He played his best game.
We evaluate that in a lot of different ways. Garry Gilliam has had a good year, too. He did some good things on Saturday, as well. We look at the previous game. We grade that game, who's playing better coming out of that game. We really look at practice, who practices the best on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That's the only thing that's fair to the guys. We don't just hide it. We show it to them on film. This is where the guy did a little bit better than you. He's going to start the game.
In many ways, it doesn't matter who starts the game because they're both going to play an equal amount. They both played fairly well to this point in the season and that will continue I'm sure.
How would you evaluate the play of your young corners? How much of a learning experience was it for them playing against a quarterback of that caliber?
O'Brien: They learned a lot last week. They had their share of good plays and they had their share of not‑so‑good plays.
Start with Lucas. I think he's a really, really good player. He's tough, strong, got good size, good ball skills. He made his share of mistakes on Saturday, but he also made some real good plays. Had a great tackle on the five yard line one of their drives. Fantastic kid. He'll get better and better and better because he works extremely hard.
Really I can say the same thing for Trevor Williams. He's just a fantastic kid. Just like all of us, made his share of mistakes on Saturday. Has come back to work on Monday. He worked really hard. He'll get better and better and better.
Remember, he was a receiver last year. It's really only his third game at corner. No excuse. We expect these guys to go out and play well, but these are young guys. Jordan Lucas, second year in the program. He didn't play a whole lot last year.
There's a lot of improvement to make but there's a lot of good plays he made, too.
You mentioned some of the positives you've taken from the defense. How important is it that you don't overreact and try to overadjust on the defensive side in practice this week?
O'Brien: We don't overreact. Just come back to work on Sunday, try to review what they did against us. Central Florida, they did a good job on offense. They had some things on defense that gave us some problems. We look at that, how people attack us, try to improve and learn from that.
We don't overreact. We have a lot of confidence in our players, in our coaching ability. We know that there's improvement to make every single day. That's why we love coaching. That's why we can't wait to get back to practice on Mondays.
We're not changing. All we're going to do is try to improve the things that we do and figure it out from there. That's just the way it goes. That's coaching and that's what we'll try to do.
Christian said on Saturday after the fumble, he came over and had a few words with him, tried to lift him up. Is that a result of you telling him not to be shy or is that what he does naturally?
O'Brien: Yeah, I think he does that naturally. I think he's a guy, like I said, he's a mature kid. Nowadays when you look at recruiting, these kids are exposed to so much even before they get here. They've spoken to the media. Their picture has been on the front of magazines. Not all of them obviously, but some of these guys, like Christian, they're kind of ready for this. They're ready for the lights in some way, shape or form.
I think he has the personality to deal with his teammates. He's a buddy of Zach's. Everybody felt bad for Zach. I didn't know he did that. I'm always talking about him being a leader, doing those things. At the end of the day, that's something he did on his own.
You mentioned all these teams do the thud. Your players seem to think it's not that big of a deal. What do you think the public and media see it that way?
O'Brien: It's probably my fault because I came out and talked about the way we practice. It's not unique. The way we practice is not unique. There's hundreds of teams out there that practice the same way we practice. It's not unique at all. I've been places where we never hit. I've been places where we hit every day and we couldn't tackle anybody. Know what I mean?
It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with proper technique. It has to do with wanting to make the tackle. It has to do with being aligned properly. It has to do with how you take the block on.
It will improve. Again, I give credit to Central Florida. They're a good football. They have some good skill players. Sometimes we tackled them, sometimes we didn't. We watched the tape. We learn from it.
We hit. We hit in practice. We'll have nine‑on‑seven today. We probably hit at Penn State more than a lot of teams that are out there. It has nothing whatsoever to do with that.
You started your press conference talking about that before you were asked. You mentioned Derrick Williams on the radio. Do you pay a lot of attention to what is written or said about the team throughout the season?
O'Brien: I probably try to read about five or six articles a day. That's what I try to do so I'm as prepared as I can possibly be for this right here. Again, that takes me like 15 minutes. Nothing against your writing (laughter). It's fantastic writing, but it doesn't take me long.
I pick five or six articles, or Tony will send me five or six articles. I'll read up and see what's being said. I think that's important. That's part of my job as the head football coach here, is to make sure I know what's going on not just in that little office there. I try to do that. That's what I do. That's what I do.
I don't tweet, Spacebook, blog, whatever. I don't do all that stuff. I just read the articles.
You were asked postgame about third downs. Is that symptomatic of not just third down, but is it something else? First and second downs put you in situations for third down.
O'Brien: We'll fix it. One of the things, too, there's a big‑picture deal that you have to look at, too. Look at the amount of points we scored in three games. It's pretty good. It's not great. But it's over 30 points a game, which is good.
The bottom line is you need to score points. I think we're 10‑for‑10 in the red area, which is good. Once we get the ball in the scoring zone, we're scoring.
We're pretty good on fourth down. That's good. I think we've only missed maybe one or two fourth downs. That's pretty good.
So you look at third down. We've studied it a lot over the last few days. Part of it, we have to call better plays. I have to call better plays. Part of it, we have to execute better. Part of it's what we're doing. I believe it will improve because I believe we're a decent offense. I don't believe we're where we want to be. It's one of those things that is not where it needs to be and I think it will improve.
You briefly touched on wanting to improve your punting situation. With Alex, what can you do with him, one‑on‑one with him? Is there anybody on staff with a background in punting?
O'Brien: I work with him and Larry Johnson works with him quite a bit. We both have a background with that.
He works really hard. He comes to work every day. I don't mean to say that he's punting poorly. I just think he's inconsistent. I think we have to get him to be more consistent because he can boom in practice, I've seen him do it in a game, 45‑yarder, 46‑yarder, then he has the 32‑yarder. I just need him to be more consistent. That's what we're trying to do with him in practice.
Is that a fundamental thing with Alex?
O'Brien: It starts with fundamentals obviously. Not to get into all the details of punting. The snap has to be better. It all works through the snap. If the snap is out of the framework of your body, you're going to have a bad kick. You have to get the ball back into the tunnel of your body, kick the ball straight. You can't cross leg it. If you do that, the ball will end up not going very far.
Obviously to me it's about, hey, look, Alex, I told him yesterday, I think you're a good punter. Let's have some confidence going out there and booming the ball. That's what we're talking about doing. Probably the most improved player on our team, so maybe I should have Ficken coach him.
I'm sure you've stressed starting the game off strong. You have yet to score first this season. What would you like to see improve as far as first‑half execution?
O'Brien: They got the ball and scored first, but we answered it. We had a couple of three‑and‑outs during that half that weren't very good. We played better in the second half.
We stress it, but I don't overanalyze it. I think what we have to do is make sure we do what I call string plays together. We've got to get a positive play on first down.
If we end up losing five, having a penalty on first down, we're not going to start the game fast. Let's do things we know we're good at, we know the kids have confidence in, let's get out there and move the ball.
We've got a mixture of a younger, older team. That's part of it. I think as the guys get more and more into these games, they'll start better.
(But is it generally better in the second half?)
O'Brien: I don't know. I'd have to go back and look at it. Yeah, I think we're playing probably a little bit better in the second half to start off. That's something we're always stressing. Today when I go into meeting, I'm going to talk to them about getting off to a better start this week, things like that.
Yeah, I would say right now we need to do a better job in the first half of starting the game.
Back to the start of pre‑season. When Christian got here, did you have a thing in your mind of wanting the quarterbacks to know this, this and this by the end of the first week, third week? Was Christian able to exceed that or did you take it by what he did?
O'Brien: We spend a lot of time in the off‑season talking about our installation for spring practice and training camp. We definitely have day goals, this is what we want installed, we want the kids to know by day. We have weekly goals. Base defense, base offense, nickel defense, third down offense, red zone. We have a schedule there. Yeah, that's basically what we do.
(Was he ahead of that pace?)
O'Brien: He stayed on schedule. He's a smart guy. He works at it. Like I always say, if you're taking five classes on campus, this is your sixth class, especially playing quarterback. At this point I'd give him a B.
As involved in the offense as you are, how much do you engage the defense in the role of the head coach?
O'Brien: I'm very involved with the defense. I'm in their meetings. What I do on offense is I meet with the offensive staff early in the morning, then I go to the defensive staff meeting. With the kids, I install the offensive game plan early in the week. As the week goes on, the coaches run those meetings. I can get in the defensive meeting.
I have a ton of confidence in our staff on both sides of the ball. We have a fantastic group of coaches here. But I'm involved with all areas.
I do a deal at the end of the week where I call special teams, offense and defense with the whole team. I'm involved with all facets of it.
A little bit of a loaded question for you. I don't know if you heard anything about LSU students who posted inappropriate signs this past weekend. Penn State has faced things like this before. How important is it in your mind that opposing fans don't cross the line and take things too far?
O'Brien: I'm sorry, I don't know anything about the LSU deal.
What I'll say about that, sorry if it doesn't answer your question, but I think the fans here at Penn State are fantastic. I can't say enough about what those fans meant to us last week. I feel bad we didn't deliver a win for them because I thought it was a great atmosphere. It was a night atmosphere. I thought the students were fantastic. I thought all the fans were great.
I hope they're having a good game day experience because we're trying to work on that behind the scenes. But I can't say enough about our fans, especially our student body. I would love to thank each and every one of them personally if I could do it, but I can't, so I'll use this forum to do it.
I know you don't like to talk about last year. Matt seemed to have a willingness last year. At times it seems like Christian hangs on to it a little too long. Are those things he can work on?
O'Brien: Matt was a fifth‑year senior. Matt played a lot of football here at Penn State. Matt was 23 years old. This kid is 18. Everything is new to him. Every game is new to him.
I would say as the games go on, he'll have a better idea of what I call the silent alarm. The silent alarm for a quarterback means as you drop back to pass, you have to know when the journey is over. If you think somebody is going to come open with a 6'5" 290 defensive end bearing down on you, you're probably wrong. You need to get rid of it, find a lane to scramble.
At times he's done a good job of that. Found the opening, slid. At other times he's held the ball a little long. We always try to improve that. That will come naturally to him. That will get better and better for him, I believe.