I’m not sure how this happened, but all of a sudden it’s the middle of November and Coach O’Brien’s press conference is focused on Senior Day. There are two big games left for the year, and the Nittany Lions have the opportunity to clinch a winning season when Nebraska comes to town Saturday.
COACH O'BRIEN: Just looking at the injury report to update you, there are really no major injuries, just a lot of bumps and bruises. Some guys that may be held out of practice here and there, but should be ready to go on Saturday. I'd say the most the biggest injury of all is on the coaching staff, (running backs coach) Charles London went for a jog and broke his foot. So he'll be in a boot for four to six weeks. That is probably the biggest injury news.
One thing I'd like to say is this is a very important game for many reasons. But probably the most important reason for our coaching staff is and myself personally is it's the last home game for these seniors. So we're putting everything we can into practice and making sure that we do as good a job as we can to help these seniors go out on a winning note. We know it's a very, very tough opponent. Nebraska's a very, very good team, and it's going to be a big challenge.
But, we just can't wait to come into Beaver Stadium and hopefully it will be a great crowd. I'm not in charge of ticket sales or anything like that, but I would imagine that the Penn State fans will turn out in force to show their respect for this senior class that stuck with this university and stuck with this football program. So, I’m looking forward to the game on Saturday.
Q. What do you think this senior class has contributed to Penn State, and can you describe what kind of leader Pat Zerbe has been this season?
COACH O'BRIEN: This senior class has contributed quite a bit. I think when you look at it there are a lot of different personalities in this senior class. You have guys that are obviously really good players that have played a lot of football for us. You have guys that are great students. We have a number of topnotch students.
John Urschel gets a lot of pub and rightfully so because of his ability in the classroom. But there are many, many really good students in this class. You just mentioned one, Patrick Zerbe. We've got a lot of guys that have already graduated and are working on a second degree in some respects. So that to me is very, very impressive. Like I said, you've got a lot of good football players. You have guys in this senior class that have really embraced their role, whether it's Stephen Obeng or Pat Zerbe or Alex Butterworth, whoever...Brandon Felder, whoever it may be; Garry Gilliam, they've really embraced their role.
So to me that is a big part of it too. To me they set the tone every week. They showed our younger guys how to practice and came back with intensity whether it was following a win or a loss. Again, they stuck with this university, they stuck with this program, and they didn't have to after the sanctions came out. I think that says it all about this class.
Q. Garry Gilliam he was on the list of players to be honored before the game on Saturday. He decided not to return for that sixth year he was granted. What did he mean to your program?
COACH O'BRIEN: Again, I'm not going to get into the discussions because those are personal between myself and some of these guys including Garry, Kyle Baublitz, Alex Kenney, those guys basically they sat down with me and they've decided to move on to the next stage of their lives next year. They'd like to be introduced on Saturday, especially Baublitz and Gilliam, so that's what we decided to do. Those two guys are great guys. They've been really good players for us and good leaders for us. We're looking forward to watching them play these last two games, especially this last home game.
Q. On the senior class, how did these guys extend or advance what you and last year's seniors put in place last year?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think they did that in many ways. Number one is they did that through their work ethic. They continued to work hard in the weight room and on the practice field and do it with intensity. I thought that was a big part of it. They continued to embrace their roles. As long as you were clear with what their role was and defined it for them, they embraced that role. They continued to develop the relationship with the coaching staff. I think that's a big part of it.
The biggest thing to me is that they understand the word teamwork and working together. They embrace the younger players. You think about it, 10 years from now when you look back on the last two senior classes, they'll be an important part of Penn State football history. They'll be a part of it that however you guys define the history of Penn State football over the last two years. I would say these two senior classes would be a big part of it.
Q. I wanted to ask you about another one of your seniors, Eric Shrive. He made his first start for you guys on Saturday. I wonder if you've had any thoughts on his career both on the field and off the field and how you've seen him develop as a person in your time there?
COACH O'BRIEN: I've developed a close relationship with Eric. He's a great kid, he's a tough kid. A Scranton guy; what else would you expect? I'm sure he would tell you his playing career maybe hasn't worked out exactly the way he saw it coming out of high school. But, I tell you what he's brought is a toughness to our practice field. He's worked hard, accepted his role every week. It was good to get him that start last week. Then off the field, what else can you say about him? The work that he's done, especially with Lift for Life and involving the younger players to teach them how to carry that tradition on. The amount of money he's raised for kidney cancer research ($100,000+), you just can't say enough about what he's done.
I really believe that Eric Shrive will go on, and whatever he decides to do, he'll be a big success at it.
Q. Matt Lehman is listed as being honored on Senior Day. Is that a sign that he's either going to apply for next year, or been denied one or that's just in case to leave that option open for him?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think that's probably more a "just in case" deal. We're still waiting to hear on his application for a sixth year. That's a just in case. I think that any guy, and we did this last year, I think it's a special thing when you get introduced in front of the home crowd. So I want these guys, if this is their last home game, to have that opportunity because I think it's a special thing. It's a special stadium.
Again, I hate to use the word hope. I'm not a big fan of that word sometimes, but I'm hoping that it's a great crowd. I think these kids deserve a great crowd, so I wanted to make sure he got introduced.
Q. Can you talk about Glenn Carson's importance to this team as he gets ready for his last home game of his career?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he's been a big part of our program. He's an emotional leader. He's done a great job of talking to this team during the year. He's played hard, he's brought passion to the practice field, passion to the game field. He's a guy that you're going to miss. Just like you said the same thing about (Michael) Mauti last year. Glenn Carson just loves the game. He'll have a chance to play pro football, so I don't think his career is over. But he's a guy that's meant a lot to our football program, no question about it.
Q. The emotional factor of the Senior Day, a couple things about that. Did you feel last year against Wisconsin that you guys raised it? Is it unique to you? Do you like this compared to the NFL?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it is an emotional day, and you have to be really aware of that. I remember last year, having not been really a part of anything like that, obviously. I remember shaking their hands (the seniors) when they came out of the tunnel and the looks in their eyes and there are a lot of kids with emotions because they know that this is the last time they're going to play on that field. It kind of strikes you as you're a little bit older than them, "Whoa, these kids are being affected by this." Then last year, with the 2012 up there (on the East side suites), which added to it too, so I understand that.
I think what we'll do is introduce them, go back in the locker room and get re-focused on the game and what we have to do to win the game. At the end of the day, like I said a few weeks ago to you guys, if you keep reminding them and keep them focused on what the keys to victory are, then I think that's what they focus on. But, again, that will be a little bit of an emotional time for them.
Q. As Christian (Hackenberg) has become more experienced and more comfortable in your offense, how much have you increased his workload you've given him from week to week? I was wondering if it was a steady progression? How would you say he's picked up the new information every week?
COACH O'BRIEN: We've definitely increased his package every week. I think if you look at last week's game against Purdue, he made a lot more decisions at the line of scrimmage probably than he had made in most games. Some of those decisions he made on his own based on film study which is really, really good. That's when you know that a guy is starting to get it. So he's made tremendous strides and we've continued to feed him more and more of the playbook on a weekly basis.
Q. Can you talk about what you saw in Allen Robinson when you first came here last year to get him as involved as you did as quickly as you did? Did you think when you first came here he would end up being the player he is today?
COACH O'BRIEN: No question about it. I remember we went out on the practice field the first time I was here, and he was a big guy. He was a fast guy; he was a bright-eyed guy. He was a competitive guy, and he was raw. He was raw. He was a young guy that hadn't played a lot before we got here because he was a freshman.
But you could tell right away that he was going to be a really, really explosive, good player. He's worked at it. Give him a lot of credit. He's been coached well. I think he's in a good system for what we do. But, give him a lot of credit. He's done a great job and gone up and made some fantastic plays for us over the last two years.
Q. Did you get a chance to watch Matt (McGloin) play on Sunday for the Raiders? If so, what did you think? What is it about him that's made him what's been the key to his development to go from walk on to NFL starter?
COACH O'BRIEN: Did I watch Matt McGloin? Yeah, I watched the game. I thought he played a heck of a game. That's not an easy defense to go against, the Houston Texans. Wade Phillips, he's an excellent coach; been in the NFL for a long time. J.J. Watt, some of the guys they have on that side of the ball. So I thought he played well, the team played well, they ran the ball well, and they were balanced.
He completed passes. He threw the ball accurately, played with poise. Can't say enough about him. He's a smart guy. Smart guys that work hard that have talent, they really thrive in that league. They really do. I think that he'll thrive in that league.
Q. Nebraska's has a gamechanger in Ciante Evans and all the talent and the length they have in the secondary might be the most complex defense that Christian will see this year because of the blitzes that they bring from the inside and everything. Do you prepare differently because of that or is this just another week of game prep for Christian?
COACH O'BRIEN: Every week is different; every team is different. This team, like you just said, is very, very talented. They have tall, rangy guys, physical guys at every position. They run well, they're explosive players. They've played well. In my opinion, recently they've played really well.
I wouldn't say at many times it's not the most complex, because the type of players they have, they play a coverage that is very, very difficult to go against. So that's going to be the challenge for us is can we get open against these guys and that will be the big challenge. This is a very good team. One of the best teams we've played. It's going to be a big challenge for us on Saturday.
Q. Ameer Abdullah and their ground game, they're a little banged up front. But can you talk about the challenge of holding him down presents to you?
COACH O'BRIEN: Ever since (Taylor) Martinez has been out he's become even more of a focal point for him. He's a really good player; one of the best players in this conference, explosive guy. He runs with a great lean. He's got great quickness. I think he's obviously got a pro career ahead of him. He's just a really good football player and we'll have to make sure we know where he is on every play.
See you Saturday, Happy Valley.
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