Check out Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien's comments following the Nittany Lions' 24-21 win against Wisconsin on Saturday night, right here:
* Transcript courtesy of Penn State Sports Information
Can you just sum up your emotions right now after such a great afternoon? O'Brien: I feel great for these kids, especially these seniors. They put in a lot of work. You go all the way back to when I first came here after the Super Bowl and started the 5:30 a.m. workouts, then all of the things that came up during the offseason off the field. You just can't say enough about these kids. Again, it may be a little redundant, but I've been around some special teams and this is a very special football team because of the players and especially the seniors.
What was going through your mind on that final kick? O'Brien: Well, you know I'm Irish-Catholic from Boston, I said a Hail Mary and Our Father. I'm not sure that really worked. I just knew our kids played hard and I was just hoping that (Ficken) hooked it and that's what he did. You can't say enough about Wisconsin and I have a lot of respect for Bret Bielema. I really like the way he plays the game and coaches the game. It's tough football, Big Ten football. They did a great job defensively against us and I thought our defense hung tough. You can't say enough about Wisconsin and I wished them luck after the game in next week's game.
Can you talk about your defense and how they played after those first two drives by Wisconsin? Did you make any adjustments? O'Brien: Steve Jones and Jack Ham just asked me that same question. I thought Ted (Roof) did a really good job, along with the defensive staff of making some adjustments after those first couple series. Our defense really held tough. We weren't doing anything offensively after the first drive and we were sporadic all night. It's a testament to those kids on defense and that coaching staff over there. They did a nice job all night.
Finishing 8-4 after starting 0-2, did you think this was possible after you started 0-2?
O'Brien: It's hard to say. I knew this was a very frustrated football team after the Virginia game. I knew that we had good football players. I watched them play. I think I have an idea of what a good football player looks like and I saw it on our team. Ohio we didn't play as well as we could've and Virginia we didn't play as good as we could've. We kind of turned it around and one loss here or there, but these kids held tough. It's about these kids, this senior class, and this team.
What are your thoughts about Sam Ficken drilling that last one through after all he's been through? O'Brien: There's a kid, too, that; I guess there are a lot of examples like Sam Ficken on this football team that really just worked at it and improved all year. Week-to-week, day-to-day and I couldn't be prouder of Sam Ficken. To think of where he came from to where we are tonight, kicking the winning kick. I know none of you guys thought he was going to do that. Now we did in the walls of Lasch. I'm just kidding about that, I'm sure some of you thought he was going to get better. I can't say enough about him and the way he rallied tonight and he made some big kicks for us tonight.
You guys wore 42 on your helmets and Hodges wore Mauti's jersey. When did you come up with the idea to honor him like that and how did it come about? O'Brien: Gerald Hodges, he texted me and called me after the Indiana game and asked me if he could do that the night of the Indiana game. I thought the first thing we should do is check with Michael and Michael was all for it. I thought it was a great gesture by Gerald to do that. On the 42 on the helmets, the seniors came to me and wanted to do something for Mike and that's what they decided to do. Of course, Spider (Brad Caldwell) had them ready to go, because back in the day, they used to have numbers on the side of their helmets for radio announcers so they could see the numbers better. Spider had them there. I don't know if Spider's been here since 1966, but I think he's been here for a while and he was good to go on that. The seniors had that idea and that shows what Michael Mauti meant to this football team.
What is the difference between winning this game and going 8-4 and losing this game and going 7-5 and going into the offseason on that note? O'Brien: There's a huge difference, it just sounds better. To think that we won eight of our last ten games and won eight games. It's just a much better feeling. When you've been in a losing locker room at the end of a season, it's a horrible feeling. When you've been in a winning locker room at the end of a season, it's a euphoric feeling. I feel really good for these kids, I really do. It's the players, it's a players' game. I didn't make many good play calls tonight, but the players played their butts off and defensively hung in there and did a great job and we ended up winning.
What did you see on the play to Jesse James on the touchdown? Also talk about Jordan Hill's play in the second half. O'Brien: Jesse James, it's a play called 'special' that we run quite a bit and Matt (McGloin) has a great feel for that play. Jesse's got an under on that play and he did a nice job of weaving through some traffic there and coming open. There's another guy that's a tremendously improved player for us and has a really bright future. Jordan Hill, it's just hard to put into words what Jordan Hill's meant to this team. He just plays so hard. He's an excellent football player. He plays with great leverage, great hands. He's a phenomenal kid off the field. He's great in the locker room. There's nothing that you can say bad about him. He spoke to the team yesterday, along with the other seniors. His personal story is unbelievable and I just wish we had him for longer.
Can you talk about the interception Fagnano had in the fourth quarter and what that means for a kid to go from being a walk-on to making an interception like that? O'Brien: I think it's just great for Jake. I personally enjoy watching Jake play because Jake plays the way that safeties should play. He's a tough kid, tough tackler. He's a Pennsylvania kid and grew up loving Penn State. He told us the other day, he'll probably get mad at me, when he was growing up if Penn State lost on Saturday he was in tears in his bedroom and he was four, five, six years old. It just means a lot to him and a lot to us to watch him play the way he did tonight and make that interception.
When Jordan came off, did he just tweak his knee a little bit and what did he say? O'Brien: I didn't really talk to him, but it just seemed like when he got up, he nodded to me and said he was okay. I don't know what officially happened to him, I'm sure it was just something that he tweaked.
When they reversed the touchdown call, what were the officials saying to you and what were your thoughts? O'Brien: I want to know what was said from upstairs to downstairs. I want to know what that conversation entails. I have a right to know as the head football coach, what that conversation was about and that's what I was asking.
What does it mean for this senior class to go out on an emotional win like this? O'Brien: This means a ton. It would've been terrible to come in here and not win that game after that pregame ceremony. When they put your 2012 team up there with those other teams; those are undefeated, championship teams. That means a lot. I thought there was a lot riding on this game for these players. I'm not sure there are many bowl games out there that are going to be played like that one. There's a lot there and just a fantastic senior class. They came to practice every day, they communicated well with the coaching staff. Some of them are probably a little bittersweet, maybe they wish they could play a little bit more football for Penn State. It's just a great bunch of guys.
Did you expect Zach Zwinak to have such a large role in today's game and the running game? Also for him to hit 1,000 yards, considering the leaps and bounds, what does that mean for him? O'Brien: Zach has really played well for us the last six, seven, eight weeks of the season. We just go with the hot back. We have a lot of good backs, we do. There's nothing wrong with any other back. It's just Zach's gone in there and you rush for 180 yards against Wisconsin's defense, you're doing something good because Wisconsin's got a very stout defense. I think they're very good, well-coached. Was it part of the game plan? I think as we go into a game, we have a game plan and then see how the game's going and we try to figure it out as it goes. We could've done some things better tonight, but Zach certainly ran hard.
Talk about how effective your third down defense was until that last drive in regulation? O'Brien: I think Ted, that was part of the adjustments he made. After the first two drives there, I know they didn't have a third down but I think part of it was some good blitz packages on third down that some of them came home and caused pressure on their quarterback. Ted does a nice job of mixing some things up. They got some third downs, but overall I think we did a nice job on third down tonight.
Can you sort out what the next couple of weeks will be like for you? O'Brien: I'll try to have a meeting with each player on our football team, I have to work that around my recruiting schedule. Each player on the team will have kind of an exit interview from this year, guys that are returning next year. Just a 15-minute talk about where they are academically, what I see initially off of all the tape I've watched this year, and what they can do better in the weight room and things like that. Then, we're recruiting right off the bat, I think I go out Wednesday. I'm out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. We have an official visit weekend early in December here, which will be a great weekend. There's a dead period during Christmas time, so we'll have some time to gather our thoughts there while all of the bowl games are being played and we'll be able to regroup there. We hit the ground running on Monday.
It's been a year of lots of highs and lows. Where are you emotionally at this point? O'Brien: I feel good. I've been doing this for 20 years, only one as a head coach, I understand that. I feel good. I think we accomplished a lot this year and hopefully we can go into the offseason and figure out what we need to do better. Every team is different, so every year is different. Next year's team will be a lot different from this year's team. Who knows, next year we might come out in the wishbone. Whatever suits us is what we're going to do. It takes time to evaluate that, but as far as our coaching staff and myself, we're ready to go to the next stage, which is really recruiting.
Where did the idea come from to put up the 2012 with the other years? Can you speak to the severity of Michael Mauti's injury? O'Brien: The idea about the 2012 was Dave Joyner calling me and that was something they wanted to do. I felt good about that. Again, I just want to make sure that people know how much respect I have for the teams that are up there. The national championships, the undefeated teams; there's some great teams up on that ring there on that east side. To have our 2012 team up there is pretty neat. As far as Mauti's knee injury, I'm not going to get into the details of that. At the end of the day, we'll let Mike handle that. That's something that Mike can handle with his family and however he wants to do that. I'm not going to speak about Michael's injury.