The first half at Minnesota wasn’t pretty. The defense looked a little bit better in the second half, but offensively the Nittany Lions couldn’t get it done. Bill O’Brien, much like the rest of us, was frustrated with Penn State’s inability to score touchdowns. He remains confident that Christian Hackenberg will continue to develop and improve and have a bright future in Happy Valley.
As far as team morale goes, O’Brien assured everyone that there is no question about what there is left to play for at Penn State. "There’s a lot to play for," he said. "There’s the respect of your opponent, there’s your teammates, there’s the tradition of Penn State football. At Penn State there will never be a question of what there is to play for."
As usual, BO’B is focused on this week’s opponent, and he said the team has no trouble focusing on the game despite the fact that Purdue does not have a winning record. "With our guys it’s never a matter of focusing on who the opponent is," he said. "It has nothing to do with records or anything else. It’s about playing the best football we can play and trying to get better from the mistakes that we made last week."
COACH O'BRIEN: Ben Kline will be out for the season. Ben tore a chest muscle and he'll have surgery on that and he'll be out for the remainder of the year.
Just a little note on Ben Kline, he tore his pec muscle on the second play of the game, and he played the rest of the game. I can't say enough about him, he is a tremendous kid and he's a 4.0 student. We’re going to miss him out there.
Somebody asked me about Allen Robinson after the game and I didn't know anything at that point, but he got a little bit of a shoulder issue, but we expect him to play in the game on Saturday.
Other than that, it looks like we’ve got some bumps and bruises, one case of tonsillitis, but other than that it seems like everybody is doing okay and should be expected to play on Saturday.
Q. Linebacker was the one area where you really had to stay healthy, and with the news of Ben Kline, you've been unbelievably unlucky in that area. Do you feel like the defense has done a pretty good job considering the physical situation that you've been in?
BILL O'BRIEN: I think that injuries are a part of the game. I think every team out there has to deal with injuries, and that's just the way it goes, especially this time of the year. You have to give our players a lot of credit for stepping in and trying to fulfill their role, whether it's Stephen Obeng-Agyapong or maybe even Brandon Bell this week. He’s maybe going to get some playing time this week if he practices well.
Injuries happen and we're expected to go out there and play well, and that's what we need to do.
Q. [Kline] still has two seasons left and he's already had a lot to overcome. What do you expect out of him and can you just kind of talk about the type of career he has left that you think he's capable of?
BILL O'BRIEN: I think with the surgical procedures that will take place, I think he can definitely come back from those, I really do. I think a lot of it has to do with the rehab. Knowing Ben Kline, I know he's going to rehab, and I actually brought him in yesterday and had this exact conversation with him. I said "Hey, we're looking forward to you coming back here and being one of our leaders next year." I told him that I still want him around the program right now, so he's in the meetings, he's out at practice. I look at Ben Kline as just a tough kid, kind of like in the two years I've been here, kind of like a Mike Yancich. Tough dudes that love football, love Penn State, and I would expect him to come back and play well for us.
Q. How are your true freshmen, in particular Christian Hackenberg, handling the later part of the season and what do you want them to get out of the last couple of weeks?
BILL O'BRIEN: I think that's a good question. I think that every true freshman definitely hits that wall. Everyone does. I think that the ones that are able to climb that wall, so to speak, are the ones that are able to come out and focus on football even if they are not having such a great practice or they don't feel very well, or maybe they had a tough exam schedule that day.
I think when you look at some of our guys like Hackenberg, I thought he had one of his best practices yesterday. Here's a guy who's 18 years old, who, like I've always said, everything he sees in college football he's seeing for the first time, and I just thought that yesterday in practice there were things that started to click for him, so let's see what happens today. It's a little bit colder today, and today won't be an easy practice, so hopefully it continues to click for him. I would say in some regard it's the same for all the freshmen. We feel really good about our freshman class. We had a great developmental scrimmage last night, some guys really stood out in that scrimmage, so we feel good about the young players in our program.
Q. You've said all along that Christian is an intelligent quarterback, what are the primary lessons that you taught him once you got a chance to coach him and how has he responded to those lessons?
BILL O'BRIEN: We've spent a lot of time together, obviously, since August. There's been times when it's been tough because we haven't made the plays or maybe made the play call that we wanted to make, and I think there's been other times that have been some great times as far, like the Michigan and Illinois overtime wins. I think he made really great throws there at the end of both games. It's an ever evolving process, and I think one of the things that's great about Christian is that he's very resilient. He's smart, he's has a tremendous work ethic, and he's 18 years old.
That's not an excuse for anything, it just is what it is. Like they say, you are what your record says you are. You're 5-4, that's what your record says you are, that's what you are.
I do think that over the next three weeks you'll see improvement, and I think you'll see Christian get better and better here in his years at Penn State.
Q. Adam Breneman got a good number of snaps for you at Minnesota. How far has he come since the start of the season and how challenging is it for a freshman tight end to come right in and learn the offense?
BILL O'BRIEN: He's definitely improved and I thought he played very well against Minnesota. I thought he blocked well and I thought he caught the ball when it was thrown to him. He made some big plays for us in the game. He's another guy that I think is a young player who's got a really bright future here. He's a great kid, practices hard, practices hurt. He's had some ankle issues and foot issues this year, and he's practiced with it and done a nice job. Hopefully he'll keep contributing over the last three games and we can continue to try to get him the ball and help him in that area, too. I've got a lot of confidence that he's only going to get better.
Q. Allen Robinson has had a tremendous year. How would you evaluate the progress of the other receivers?
BILL O'BRIEN: I think there's been improvement with our receivers, I really do. I think Brandon Felder has had some chances to make plays and probably wishes he made some more of those plays, but he works extremely hard. He's a good route runner, and he came out to practice yesterday and made some plays.
Richy Anderson and Eugene Lewis are both young receivers, and it's not the easiest thing in the world to come in and play wide receiver right away in any offense, not just the offenses that we run, and they've improved every week.
They work extremely hard. I think for Richy, when you're a true freshman, it's hard. You've got to get your classes straight, you've got a lot of things going on, and it's hard to always focus on improving on the field. I think you'll see a lot of improvement in the offseason with those guys.
Eugene is a guy that will play more against Purdue, and I think he's a guy that we need to continue to try to get the ball to. He's got to continue to be a better route runner and really work on that, and I know he'll do that.
Q. Allen Robinson’s season has drawn a bunch of pass interference penalties this season, how does that kind of impact his overall ability to affect a defense as they try to plan for him? Also, do you coach a young quarterback about a scenario like that, that we can get that flag?
BILL O'BRIEN: When Allen gets doubled, that really helped us in the running game against Minnesota because they had a high safety over the top of him to one side, and so now we're able to have one less guy to deal with in the running game to that side, so it helps there.
Then you always have to coach the quarterback that if they take Allen away, here's your other options. Then when those guys are throwing the ball, they've [the defense] has to make a play on it if it's a good throw. So that's part of the process of teaching and getting the offense to improve, and that's what we're trying to do.
But, when Allen gets doubled, it hurts Allen because he's getting doubled, but it can help the rest of the offense.
On the Road:
Q. Can you put your finger on why you think you've been more successful at home than on the road, or is that something you maybe have to get away from the season to get perspective?
BILL O'BRIEN: I think we've probably got to look at that when we get out of the season. It's hard to put a finger on that. In the Minnesota game I felt like we did some pretty good things. We had some good drives that we didn't finish in the first half on defense. We couldn't stop them on third down [in the first half], but we did in the second half. We just didn't put together the game, obviously.
So whether that had to do with being on the road or not, I don't know. I don't see our guys acting any differently on the road. I just think that we've got to continue to coach it better and figure out a better way to do it in the offseason, and that's what we're going to try to do.
Q. How do you assess turnovers, not only in practice from drills, but the mental aspect behind them, as well?
BILL O'BRIEN: Turnovers have been an issue this year, and last game we fumbled the first play of the game and we fumbled the last play of the game offensively and that's not very good. We address it, we emphasize it and we find different ways to drill it. There's a fine line between over coaching it, too. What we tell them is that when you're a ball carrier on our team, you're carrying the hopes and dreams of this football team, and that's what you try to relate to the guys. The guys don't mean to fumble, it's just something that happens, and we've got to try to correct it and we've got to stop doing it.
Q. As coaches are you constantly talking about consistency and not turning the ball over on game day, and when it's not happening, what can you guys as coaches do?
BILL O'BRIEN: I think some of the things we look at are did the defense make a good play, maybe the guy caught a pass and turned and the ball was stripped right away and it was difficult for that guy to secure the football. There are other times that, to me, it's just a complete lack of focus. It's not like we love the kid any less for fumbling. We just try to stress that we can't go into playing a Minnesota team and fumble the first play of the game. That doesn't bode well for the game. I know it's just the first play, but we've got to take care of the ball.
It's not yelling and screaming. What we did yesterday is we came in, just like I do every Monday, and have the good, the bad and the ugly of the game on Saturday. We show it to them, but we don't yell and scream at them. We teach them. We love teaching them. We really enjoy coaching these kids, so we just continue to teach them, find better ways to coach them, and that's what we'll always do here at Penn State.
Q. Are there any things you are doing differently?
BILL O'BRIEN: In certain instances, yes. I would say that we have tried some different things. Zach is wearing gloves now, so that's one that was something he asked me about. I said, "yeah, if it makes you feel more confident in holding onto the ball." I think one of the things with Zach, the ball has been in his left hand [when he fumbled], so we've looked at that. Billy is taking care of the ball better than he has in the past, and we fumbled that first one on Saturday, that's not good. On the fumbled center-quarterback exchange, Christian and I talk about that all the time. When you're on the goal line and the center has to make a hard reach block to the left or to the right, it's like the golden rule of quarterbacking, you always have to stay with the center a little bit longer. That's the first thing you learn when you coach quarterbacks or you play quarterback. He pulled out a little bit early and that's why the ball was on the ground. We just have to execute better and emphasize that in coaching, but there are technical aspects to it like you're saying and that's what we try to teach.
Q. The defense has also had some bumps in the road this year. Do you feel that what you guys turned out in the second half will be something that can carry over?
BILL O'BRIEN: I think there were a lot of positives in the second half. I think we stopped the run well and I think that we challenged their receivers more. I think we need to challenge some receivers a little bit more, but I think that we play good run defense, I really do. I know some teams have run the ball on us in different schemes, but I think the core of our defense plays good run defense.
I think that it will carry over, and I hope it does. It's a different scheme that we'll go against this week, but I think our defense will continue to improve, and I believe it will carry over.
Q. How do you and the staff teach these guys about dealing with the media? I know you talked about it before to get used to the cameras and questions and that kind of thing.
BILL O'BRIEN: On the training, we talk to them a lot about being honest. We talk to them a lot about making sure that you talk about your teammates, as in praising your teammates and not talking about yourself a lot. We tell them to talk about teamwork because that is what the game is all about. But mostly, we let them go.
On Saturday, we lost the game and I wanted to have a good long talk with them in the locker room after the game. I've let them [the media] talk to players, but I think after the game on Saturday, I just felt like we had a bunch of guys that were not happy with the outcome of that game, and I wanted to talk to them more than I wanted you to talk to them.
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