Penn State coach Bill O'Brien met the media Tuesday to talk about the Nittany Lions' win over Illinois and upcoming road trip to Minnesota.
Get the latest on injuries, keys to the showdown with the Gophers and much more as FightOnState.com's Mark Brennan and Greg Pickel wrap up the PC.
Transcript provided by ASAP Sports.
COACH OBRIEN: Injury-wise, Keiser is doing well. They checked his hand out again. He seems to be healing well and hes doing well. I thought he did some really nice things for us on Saturday against Illinois. Ben Kline still nursing the shoulder, but hell be ready for the game. Akeel Lynch, you know, hes day-to-day. In the Ohio State game he sprained his MCL and hes day-to-day with that, and thats why he didnt play in the Illinois game. Im not sure if I mentioned that last week. I apologize for that. I think everybody else there are some bumps and bruises. Obviously, Billy Belton carried the ball 36 times, and were watching his contact in practice. Hell be ready for the game. There are a couple of stomach bugs going around. I tell these kids I wake up every day with a stomach bug, but they dont laugh at that. But, no, I think were doing okay.
Q. How would you describe the season to this point?
COACH OBRIEN: Well, I think certainly, obviously, wed like to be 8-0. I think weve played tough. I think weve battled hard. Weve competed. Its been a little bit up and down at times. At times weve played well as a team, at times we havent. I think after the season is when well really focus on that and see why that was. Right now its important for us to level it off and continue to compete and play well. I think, like I always say, weve had a good practice last night, Monday, and were up to the challenge for Minnesota. Minnesotas an excellent team, and I think that question is a great question, and its probably something that we have to really analyze after the season.
Q. Minnesotas running game is fourth in the Big Ten, and they have almost 2000 yards. It looks like theyre really starting to run the ball very well. They have against Nebraska and Indiana. Is there anything you see speci?cally that theyre doing well of late in their run game?
COACH OBRIEN: They run the ball very well. They run a power scheme. Theyve run the ball about 75% of the time, and thats what they do. Thats what they believe in. Those are the type of players they have. They have two good backs. Guys that are good. The quarterback can run the ball, so they have good scheme runs. Theyre very well-coached. This is a very, very good team. Its one of the better teams weve played this year.
Q. How much have you gotten to know Jerry Kill during these last two years, and just from watching the ?lm, can you give the thoughts on the job he and his entire staff have done during a tough situation?
COACH OBRIEN: Jerry, obviously, I have a ton of respect for Jerry. I feel bad for what hes had to go through. I called him two weeks ago and spoke to him on the phone to see how hes doing. Ive gotten to know him a little bit at the Big Ten meetings and things like that. Great guy. Obviously has a fantastic staff that has a lot of cohesion and unit. You can see the kids feeding off of that. Give Jerry and his staff a lot of credit. Theyve done a great job of coaching these kids and recruiting for the type of football they want to play. I cant say enough about Jerry kill and his staff.
Q. How would you evaluate so far the contributions of the run-ons who have been playing particularly on special teams and then two local guys for me, Garth Lakitsky and Andrew Terlingo, how are they progressing?
COACH OBRIEN: So the run-ons, Ill tell you, not to get into the speci?cs of who, but I think when you look across the board, like you said, especially on special teams, these guys are really contributing. I thought on our kickoff team last week we had a couple guys tackling the returner inside the 20-yard line. Both of those guys were run-on players. I think theyve done an excellent job. Theyve practiced hard. Theyre a lot of fun to be around. I really enjoy coaching all these kids and the run-ons are just a lot of fun, to watch them practice and how hard they go and things like that. Garth Lakitsky I believe is going to concentrate on wrestling, Mark, so hes no longer with us. And Andrew Terlingo is a run-offensive lineman. A young guy who has certainly improved from where he was in August to where he is now. Got a long way to go, long way to go. But I think going against varsity every day on the dirty show really has helped him.
Q. Could you talk just a little bit more about Ryan Keiser? How important is he to your secondary this year? Also just in light of dealing with the hand injury, the broken hand, could you also just mention how hes come back and dealt with that in the play he made to end the game?
COACH OBRIEN: Hes a very valuable member of this football team. Just from the type of kid he is, the type of player he is, the maturity level he brings to the locker room. He comes from a coaching family. I believe his moms a coach. Athletics has been a part of his life his whole life. I think he does a great job. I think hes an instinctive player. I think he was a little rusty when he ?rst came back from the hand injury. Hed probably be the ?rst one to tell you that. But I think in the Illinois game he really played a lot better and he made a nice play on the bubble screen, then he got the tipped interception, a fantastic guy, great guy to coach, and team guy. Just really, really good guy to have on the team.
Q. What did you see in Bill Belton that you thought would make him a good running back? Was there a time you saw him start to really improve and ?ourish and develop as a running back over a period of a week or two?
COACH OBRIEN: When we ?rst got here we started having those crack of dawn, early morning workouts. I remember the way that we had it set up, I think it was the very ?rst morning. We had a lot of change-of-direction-type drills to really try to evaluate these guys and see where we would put them. Again, just to remind you, I didnt watch any ?lm really on these guys before I got here. So I was just trying to give everybody a clean slate. So when I watch Billy, I saw a kid that was 511, you know, maybe 185, 190 pounds, and thick looking guy. I said what position was he? They said he was a slot receiver and a wildcat quarterback. I said I think looking at our running back situation, at that time, I said why dont we try him at running back, and thats when we moved him. I think remember now, he got injured and he really improved a lot in training camp his ?rst year at running back. Then he had a bad ankle sprain against Ohio and had a hard time coming back from that and never really hit his stride again last year. Then this year, spring practice, and really in training camp I saw this kid really improve to the point where he is now playing pretty well.
Q. Little bit Ive seen of Minnesota, they have a kid, RaShede Hageman, No. 99. He looks like a pretty amazing player, a 300-pound guy with great athleticism and everything. How do you deal with a guy like that? I would imagine he presents unique challenges?
COACH OBRIEN: Youre right. Hes an excellent player. One of the better defensive linemen weve gone against. Hes explosive. Plays with good pad level. Hes quick. Seems to me that hes going to be- has a chance to be a ?rst or second-day draft pick. Hes a very good player. So you have different ways of having to deal with him. Youre going to have to double him. Youre going to have to get help from places where you dont normally get help from and make sure that you know where he is on every play and try your best not to have him single blocked all the time, because he is a challenge. Hes a good player. They have a lot of good players. Theyre good.
Q. Have you noticed anything different about Minnesota scheme-wise since Tracy Claeys took over? And youve talked a lot about how resilient your own team is, but do you notice that a little bit from them too considering some of what theyve gone through in recent weeks?
COACH OBRIEN: No question. I havent noticed a lot of scheme change. I try to watch this about every game. I think they do a really good job of playing tight coverage on defense and playing competitive. When I watch them, there arent any easy plays on either side of the ball. I think they just do a really good job of making sure that their scheme is coached up well. Youre right. They play very, very hard. On defense, they run to the ball, and on offense they run the ball downhill and they challenge you defensively. So were going to have to be up for the challenge, thats for sure.
Q. Wanted to know, Just as a matter of your overall philosophy, you and your staff, how do you make decisions on red-shirting? Is that something thats done before or on a case by case basis and how the season plays out? How do you decide whether to red-shirt somebody this year or whatever the case may be?
COACH OBRIEN: Ideally youd like to red-shirt everybody. I think its very dif?cult to play as a true freshman when youre trying to ?gure out your class schedule and all the different things that go on your freshman year. Now, with the situation that were in right now, thats really impossible to do. So what we do is more of a case-by-case, position-by-position. If you look at the offensive line, do we need Andrew Nelson to play for us this year? No, because we have decent players there that we really believe in and hopefully we can keep him where he can red-shirt and have four years to play as opposed to Brandon Bell. Brandon Bell is a guy that is a freshman linebacker that we felt had improved and we started using him on special teams. Had a great tackle and a punt last week and has played a little bit on defense. So its really position by position and case by case as the young man ready. Ideally youd love to have everybody for ?ve years, but thats almost impossible to do.
Q. Can you address what policies you have in place to prevent hazing and bullying on the team? How different is that issue in general between the NFL and the college game?
COACH OBRIEN: Right, we dont allow any hazing at Penn State. Id say if anybody gets hazed, its the coaches. The players bust our chops. But, no, we take that very seriously. Thats not something that we- we de?nitely address it right away, and we do not allow it. Believe me, Im just trying to get ready for Minnesota. I know in working in New England we had a very professional locker room with a lot of great guys in it, great coaching staff, and fantastic ownership. So things like that they never happened in New England. So I think there is a big difference there between pro and college football. I think college football is about getting an education. Playing as good of football as you can on the ?eld, and young guys earning their stripes on the practice ?eld, thats what its about. Not earning their stripes by getting their heads shaved. We dont do that at Penn State.
Q. Minnesotas been dominating time of possession in this winning streak. Does that impact what you do offensively at all?
COACH OBRIEN: You have to look at that you have to look at that. Because they average almost five minutes more than their opponents and thats a big deal. You cant totally change what you do, but you better make sure that youre not just playing at warp speed the whole game because you could play warp speed the whole game. If you score in a minute and 50 seconds, thats okay. But your defense has only been on the bench for a minute and 50 seconds and you better make sure you keep scoring. That is hard to do against Minnesota. Theyre a good defense. So we have a mix tempo and make sure that we give our defense a break. Make sure that we try to do the best we can to win the time of possession on our side.
Q. Have you noticed any difference in the way your team has played at home compared to on the road this year?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, obviously we havent played as well on the road. Its hard to pinpoint why. Hopefully, that changes. I think weve practiced well. I think weve been prepared for these games on the road. I know that these guys came out yesterday and practiced really well. I think well string some good practices together and be ready to go on Saturday. So hopefully we can change the tide of not playing well on the road right now.
Q. Allen Robinson is 42 yard as way from breaking the single season record for yardage here at Penn State?
COACH OBRIEN: Is he? Who has that, Bobby Engram?
COACH OBRIEN: Hes good, man.
Q. Is that something that you and Allen have talked about? Is that a goal he has now?
COACH OBRIEN: No, no, no. I just learned that from you. No, we dont talk about records. We talk about doing the best we can to make sure were ready to go for Minnesota.
Q. With Anthony Zettel, the last couple years, you look at his numbers and he has a lot of tackles for loss and sacks. Its something like 30% or more of his tackles are for loss. What is it about him that allows him to get into the back ?eld so well and make those kind of plays?
COACH OBRIEN: Thats a great question, because I was actually noticing that on Sunday. Hes a guy in the almost two years that Ive been here, he does. He makes a lot of plays. So why is that? I think number one, he plays extremely hard. He plays every play like its his last play. That is number one. I think the other thing he is, hes a very strong player. He has great playing strength, so hes able to play off blocks and explode off of a block and make a tackle for a loss. Or, if youd noticed against Illinois, he let Scheelhaase out of the pocket, but he grabbed him by the jersey and sacked him. So hes got strong hands and hes able to hang on and make those tackles or sacks. So I give him a lot of credit. Hes come up with some really big plays for us. I think it has a lot to do with how hard he plays and how strong he is.
Q. Going back to the Illinois game, was there any part of you that was expecting an intentional safety when they were backed up in their end zone and they pointed it to you guys it would have been a little bit better ?eld position for them. Was there any part of you that was thinking about that?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, we did. We talked about that. Thats something that they could do. Then we talked about it more on Sunday if that was something if we were in that situation offensively, what would we do? And that would be something that wed think about doing too. But they felt like thats nothing against Illinois. Im sure they felt like they had good plays there just like we all do. Sometimes they work and sometimes they dont, so they decided to do it that way. Our defense stepped up and played good football. And I thought that was a great example of complimentary football. Our defense held them. So we tried to block the punt and we forced kind of a rugby-type punt. I thought Vaughn could have caught the punt. We lost about ten yards there on the roll of the punt, so we got it at the 50 instead of the 40. But still with a couple better play calls maybe we could have scored a touchdown. But we ended up kicking a ?eld goal that took us into overtime.
Q. With Minnesotas offense and their running game, looks like they like to get people to come up and commit to the running game then they kind of take their shots. How careful does a coaching staff have to be to not overcommit to the run and get burned?
COACH OBRIEN: Careful is the wrong word. Its a great question. If you go into the media room and say, hey, guys, you have to be careful now. That is the wrong way to go. I think you have to get your linebackers to think simply. Okay, what are their tips when they play action? What are their tips when they run? Maybe its the stance of a lineman, maybe its a back?eld set. Maybe its some little thing like a near setback versus a pro or an I-formation back. Whatever it might be, thats a tip that you use. Hey, theyre going to run it here. This is a play-action tip. Or when youre talking to your DBs, you have to tell them to be aggressively smart and stay on top of routes. They cant be too quick to react to what they see. They cant have their eyes in the back?eld. So you cant take away the aggression of your team. You have to do a great job of studying ?lm and showing the guys the difference between when they run it and when they play action it.
Q. I was hanging out with Phil Savage last night, and he made it a point to make it out to see DaQuan Jones and as a coaching staff how does it feel to get that recognition from the Senior Bowl?
COACH OBRIEN: Well, Phils very good at what he does. Ive known Phil for a while. Its a great track record. Phil will work, its like six degrees of separation. Phil worked for Mac McWhorter when he was the offensive line coach at Alabama. Phil was a GA there with Ted Roof. They were GAs together at Alabama when Bill Curry was head coach there. And Phil also worked for Bill Belichick in Cleveland that showed the football life for the 94 Cleveland Browns, Phil Savage showed that in the front of?ce with that staff. Pretty interesting deal. I think its great any time our guys- Ill be honest with you, I think we have a few other guys that should be considered for the Senior Bowl too. But those two guys are excellent players, great representatives of Penn State. I think thats what makes me most proud. You have two guys there, obviously, John Urschel, well-documented, great student, fantastic football player. DaQuan Jones in his own right has made a huge Mark off the ?eld with his work ethic and how hard hes worked in the classroom to get to where he is today. Then, obviously, hes a heck of a football player. So I think that says a lot about Penn State and the type of kids we have here at Penn State.
Q. Youve talked a lot about Bill Belton and always talked highly about him as a football player and in terms of character. Can you talk about what it means to you to see him playing as well as hes been playing these last come weeks?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, it means a lot to me when any of these guys play well. Its a players game. Its not about the coaches. Its all about the players who put it on the line every week. To watch a guy like Billy who, like I said, has really improved in the classroom. He wasnt doing well in the classroom when I got here. Hes doing better there. Its still a work in progress for him academically, but he works hard at it. Obviously, hes playing well on the ?eld, so it always makes you feel good when good kids do well.
Q. You brought it up on the radio show I think it was last week?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, the radio show. You guys tweet every line from the radio show. Why do they do that?
Q. Anyway, you were saying on the show about balancing kind of how you approach Christian on the sidelines, and I think you said you maybe only boiled over maybe twice, I think?
COACH OBRIEN: Couple times, yeah, two or three.
Q. You might have been able to add one from Saturday. But how important is that, the kind of balance how you approach him as far as you dont want to get too much into his head. But, obviously, you do coach him and you do critique him?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, thats a great part, thats a great question. We have a close relationship. Obviously, Ive recruited him and been in his living room and know his family. So its a dif?cult situation that hes in just being a freshman and playing major college football at that position for the ?rst time. Ill be the ?rst to tell you that many times I de?nitely in the beginning of the year had to be more patient with him. I think, you know, overall I do believe Ive improved on that with him and I try to get him over to the bench and sit down with him and talk to him about the previous series and I think thats helped. When he makes a mistake that I know he knows what to do on or he makes the mistake twice or something, it doesnt happen very often, thats when I lose my patience a little bit with him. I think he gets that. But we have a very good, honest, open relationship. On Saturday the one you might be referring to, he got mad at me because he got hit, he missed a blitz, missed a hot, so he got hit in the side of the head. So I was yelling at Bream to make sure they checked him out because I felt like he might have gotten hit there. So hes screaming back at me, Im all right, Coach, leave me alone. And Im like, check him out. So I was yelling at Bream, not him. No, hes a great kid. Fun guy to coach. But de?nitely a guy that any time you coach the quarterback position, you have to be patient with that position, especially when theyre young. Fortunately hes all right. I dont know if I am though?
Q. Has your philosophy changed on taking the ball? It will seems youve deferred the last couple of weeks. Wondered whats gone into that. And a quick one on how you felt Matt McGloin played?
COACH OBRIEN: That changes week to week. We talked about that as a staff. Its a game-to-game decision that we do. Its based on the weather. Its based on the sun here in Beaver Stadium where the sun is. I know it sounds crazy, but based on things we want to do on special teams in the beginning of the game and the throwing game. Its based on the other team and their offense. Like, for instance, if youre playing Navy, you know, a ball possession team or maybe Minnesota, maybe you take the ball ?rst because you know you may not get many possessions, things like that. So there are a lot of factors and its really game-by-game. I couldnt be more proud of Matt McGloin. A self-made guy, competitive guy. He deserves everything hes getting, and maybe hell get his shot to start. But he led them down the ?eld. I think they had a couple long drives. I know one was a touchdown drive. Nothing that he does surprises me, and it shouldnt surprise anybody. Hes a guy thats worked very hard to get where hes at.
Q. Now that youve had a chance to watch the Illinois game, can you evaluate the way your tackles played Gress, Gilliam and Donavon?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, I thought they played better than they did against Ohio State. They gave Christian time to step up in the pocket, and I thought that they did a great job run blocking. They were physical, and I thought that they worked with the tight ends really well. So I thought that for the tackles, it was a very good game. Now moving to Minnesota, the tackles have a big challenge. The defensive ends for Minnesota are very athletic, very good players. I was just talking to Gress over in the locker room before I was walking over here just saying, look, this is a big challenge for us this week.
Q. If I can follow that up, Gress is going to come in here. What is it about it? He played primarily right tackle early in the season, then he moved to left on Saturday. What is it that allows somebody to play both right and left where some guys maybe cant?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, its dif?cult. Number one, some guys have trouble just getting in a left-handed stance. Theyre right-handed guys and its dif?cult to get back and get in a left-handed stance. Is he ?exible enough to do that? And Adam is. Adam has helped us in that regard. Hes a very large human being. Hes a bright guy, a physical player, and hard to rush around. So we like to try to use him on both sides. Hes de?nitely a swing tackle. So is Gary. Gary can play right to left too, Gary Gilliam and Donavon is primarily a left tackle. So we have a good luxury there. And Gress is a guy that can do both and has done it pretty well.
Q. What have your impressions been of Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson? Is it trickier preparing for a guy that struggled passing the ball? Now hes coming off a season high in passing yards, almost twice as much as what he had before?
COACH OBRIEN: Right. Hes improved every week. Hes a good runner. Hes a very bright kid. You can tell he knows what hes doing running the offense. Doesnt make many mistakes. They dont turn the ball over very much. Hes done a really good job of that. I think hes gotten better as a passer. So now thats a big challenge for us, because you know they can run the ball, but now they have the threat of the pass. I think its going to be a big challenge for us. Hes a young quarterback that I think is playing really well.
Q. Can you just talk about Coach Claeys? Hes thrown into a uniques situation and hes led them to three wins most recently. I know youve never been in an interim coaching role. Can you talk about how dif?cult that might be mid season for a coach to take over?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, thats got to be dif?cult. I dont know how youd prepare for that. Obviously there are a great bunch of assistants with him that buy into their own roles and work well with him. They understand what Jerry Kill wants and theyre able to carry out those orders and be good soldiers. Tracy is the lead dog on that. So hes done a great job. Im telling you, this is a really good football team, really good football team. Do they play Ohio State? Minnesota? No. Theyre good.
Q. Following up on Travis defensive tackle question, how about the secondary? You slide Amos up, have Della Valle in there a little bit. What were your thoughts on those guys after you got to watch the ?lm?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, I think Amos, his natural position is corner. I think hes a good corner. I think hes aggressive. He played his best game against Illinois. He did a nice job coming up and made two or three tackles out there in the ?at that were important. Obviously, broke up the pass at the end. I just think thats a good spot for him. Hes at home there. Were going to keep him there as long as we can. Injuries occur, and we may have to move him back. But hopefully we can keep him at corner. Jesse is a guy that I think very highly of. Hes a much improved player. I think in the Illinois game he had a couple plays he probably wishes he had back. He missed a couple tackles. But there are other plays he came up and did a really nice job. I think hell continue to improve with the more reps he gets and coaching he gets, hell continue to improve. Im pleased with where Jesse is right now.