Bill O'Brien Press Conference: UCF

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Night game. White out. Is it Saturday yet?

This week Coach O’Brien faces UCF and George O’Leary, who he worked under at Georgia Tech.  UCF’s defense is strong, and O’Brien admitted that the offensive line needs to step it up this week.  He also said that the offense has to play smarter on first down in order to improve on third down.

Christian Hackenberg plays in his first night game White Out this Saturday and I might be more excited for him than he is.  Has anyone ever started a petition to wear white uniforms for White Outs?  I’d sign that one.

Here are a few things BO’B wants everyone to know:

  • UCF is a tough opponent
  • The offense will improve on third down
  • Mike Hull will hopefully be back on the field on Saturday
  • Larry Johnson, Sr., rocks
  • Hackenberg brought that nice play action fake with him to Happy Valley (and he sits in the front row of his classes)

O-Line:

Q: After two games, how would you evaluate your offensive line play, running and protecting the pass?  Are they where you thought they would be?  Where are they headed the next week or two, do you think, those guys?

COACH O’BRIEN:  I think that some certain individuals up front have played really well.  I don't want to get into the specifics, but I think that overall we need to play more consistent up front.  I've talked to these guys about that and Mac (McWhorter) feels the same way.

Again, I think we've played decent.  I don't think we've played poorly, but I know we can play better.  I think the guys understand that.  We hold our offensive line to a very high standard here at Penn State, and those guys know they can play better, and we expect them to play better.

Again, it's not a fact that it's been poor, it's just that we know we can be better and more consistent than the way we're playing right now.

Wide Out:

Q: It seems like you have a lot of depth at wide receiver and a lot of guys who are contributing there.  How do you sort that all out in terms of who plays when?  Do you try to rotate guys and get a lot of guys in the game?

COACH O’BRIEN: It's about six guys that are in the rotation right now at wide receiver. What we try to do is by personnel.  We have a lot of different personnel groupings, so we try to get as many guys into that rotation.  Some of the personnel groupings are two, some of them are three, some of them are four and some of them are five wide receiver groupings, which we haven't even used yet.

We try to make sure that we're rotating guys in and out, and I think that helps a lot.  It gets guys on the field that are good players.  It helps morale because a lot of guys are playing and I think a lot of different guys have caught passes from Christian (Hackenberg) this year, which is good.

I think we just need to continue to rotate guys in and out.  It's not hard.  It's actually fun to come up with personnel groupings and where to put guys on the field and things like that.

Q: Can you talk about Allen Robinson and his athletic ability and what is it about him that's made him the top receiver in the Big Ten?

COACH O’BRIEN: Allen Robinson is a very smart guy.  He's very football smart and he's very smart off the field.  He's just an intelligent guy.  He really worked hard this off season to improve his individual skill set, just like DaQuan Jones and Glenn Carson, who have taken their game to the next level.

He came back with better knowledge of the offense.  He was stronger, faster, and he's shown that.  As the games go on, it's going to be more and more difficult because people, starting with Eastern Michigan, are going to put a safety over the top.

That helps other guys out, though.  That helps other guys get one-on-one match ups.  So it's just going to be up to us as a staff to make sure we continue to move him around and he understands where we're moving him and how he can execute the play from where he's at.  That's what we'll continue to do.

Running Back:

Q: When you talk about your running game, would you like to see one of the three running backs emerge as your go to runner or are you happy with spreading the carries around a little bit more?

COACH O’BRIEN: I like all three of these (running backs) playing.  I think one of the things that we try to do is, if a guy gets really hot, we'll stick with a hot running back.  I think it's hard for any one of these three guys to come out of the game and not play.

In the Syracuse game, Akeel (Lynch) didn't play, and I think it's important to get all three of these guys in the game and give them a shot.

If one of them gets hot, more than likely, we would stick with that guy, but running back by committee isn't so bad when you have three good running backs.

Third Down:

Q.  With some of the third down problems, how much of that stems from things that may or may not be happening on first and second downs as opposed to just third downs?

COACH O’BRIEN: We talked yesterday and we'll talk about it again this afternoon, but we’ve got to get off to a better starts on first down.  We've had too many penalties or lost yardage plays on first down.  So now you're in second and long, and you're already off schedule.  It's not a good thing.

Once we get to third down, we also have to execute better.  I thought on Saturday there were plays to be made there, but whether it was a protection breakdown or a poor throw or whatever it was, we just didn't make the play.

It will get better.  I can't guarantee it.  I'm not into guarantees, but I do believe we're working on it, and it will definitely, in my opinion, it will improve.  It needs to.  There's no question about it.  It has to improve.

Defense:

Q.  With Mike Hull expected to return to the field this week, how do you see the reps at linebacker playing out?  Do you see Stephen Obeng-Agyapong’s role affected at all by that?

COACH O’BRIEN: If Mike (Hull) can go, our linebacking corps will be Hull, (Glenn) Carson, and (Nyeem) Wartman.  If Hull has some issues throughout the week, we'll go with whoever we have there, whether it's Obeng-Agyapong or somebody else.  But Obeng-Agyapong will play and he'll have a role in the game just like he's had the past two weeks.

Q.  The university's been on a pretty good run with defensive linemen.  What is it about Larry Johnson’s coaching style that helps create this?

COACH O’BRIEN: First of all, (Larry) is a great person.  So the players like to be around him.  His office door is always open to anyone in our program.

Defensive line coaches and offensive line coaches, they have their own world.  They are very tough positions in football to play and coach.  I say those are about 100 car crashes a game.  So it's a little bit different than playing corner and wide receiver, just a little bit.

So there's a very deep bond with your coach at those positions, wherever I've been and Larry’s connection with his players is no exception because of the type of person he is.

He's very technical in how he coaches these guys.  He understands pad level.  He understands hand placement.  He understands the work ethic that the position requires.  So when you watch him at practice, those guys really don't take a drill off.  They are going, and if they're not going the way he wants them to go, they're going to do up-downs.

He demands a lot of his players, but he is a great family guy, too.  He has them over the house, things like that, whatever's allowed by the NCAA.  They're very, very close to their coach.

I'd say the same thing about (OL coach) Mac McWhorter.

Hack Attack:

Q.  Being an 18-year-old college student and starting quarterback at a school like Penn State can be extremely overwhelming.  What have you as coaches done to try to simplify things for Christian both on the field and off the field?

COACH O’BRIEN: That's something I think about a lot, obviously.  Like you said, being 18 years old and the starting quarterback at Penn State, that's a big deal, everybody understands that.

Christian is a guy that is very calm and he has a good demeanor.  School's important to him, so he won’t miss class.  He'll be in every class and he'll be sitting in the front row.  He works hard at it, but when it's time to do football, he'll do football.

I don't think he's like this guy who's kind of all over the place.  He's a very focused guy.  He works at whatever the task is that he needs to accomplish.  He's shown me to date that he's been able to get it done.  So I don't think he allows all that stuff to really factor in.  He's very, very focused.

It's been fun to watch.  Hopefully, we can keep talking to him about that, staying focused, winning the day, taking it one day at a time, and he'll continue to be that way.

Q.  Christian's play action fake is something I've noticed over the first two games, how effective it's been.  Is that something he had coming in?  Is that something you had to work with?  How valuable is that for a young quarterback and as a play caller as well?

COACH O’BRIEN: It's something that he had coming in, but I think we've worked on him a lot, just based on how we fake the ball and the different play fakes that we have.

But right from day one, he came in with (that kind of ball fake).  It's not easy to understand how to fake the football, and great quarterbacks, whether it's (Tom) Brady, (Peyton) Manning or (Aaron) Rodgers, or one of these young guys like (Colin) Kaepernick, they are great fakers of the football.

Christian is not on their level, yet, but I think he's got a good start in that department, and we just need to keep working with him and reminding him how important it is.

Q.  Last week it seemed like the offense really calmed and got in a rhythm when you got in your NASCAR package.  Can you talk about that going up against a tough defense in UCF this week and how that style is catching on nationally and in the NFL?  You see a lot with Chip Kelly last night, an amazing first quarter that he had.

COACH O’BRIEN: It was unbelievable, but it's kind of a fine line that you walk with your tempo.  You're trying to control the tempo of the game.  A lot of it has to do with how your defense is playing.

With the way our defense has been playing in the last couple games, it was probably appropriate for us to be in more of a fast tempo because our defense was playing pretty well.  I think you have to get the flow of the game to see how the game's going.

It's hard to start a drive with ultra-fast tempo.  It's important to gain the initial first down, and that kind of gets you flowing from there.

We've been kind of inconsistent offensively with that, but when we've been able to get into a rhythm we've been able to play at a faster pace.  I love to play at a fast pace.  I think it's a lot of fun for the players.  It's fun in practice.  They enjoy it.  They have a lot of confidence in it.  So we'll try to keep mixing it in there.

Coming Up:

Q: What has the UCF defense done to really limit the big plays by their opponents this year?

COACH O’BRIEN: UCF is very sound on defense.  They're going to line up, and they're going to know what to do.  They're very physical and they're well coached. That has a lot to do with the players that they have and the coaching staff they have, but the type of defense they play doesn't really lend itself to giving up explosive plays.

In order to get an explosive play, we're going to have to work real hard to come up with something we think will work and then execute it on game day.  This is a very difficult defense to go against, and you can see that every snap on the tape.

Q.  Can you just evaluate UCF as an opponent and what challenges you guys are going to face this Saturday?

COACH O’BRIEN: We face a big challenge this weekend against UCF.  They're an excellent football team.  They're very well coached.  They're sound and they're physical at all positions.  It's not like they're just physical on the offensive and defensive line.  To me, they're a physical team at every position.

Our players have to be ready for a physical football game because this won't be a game for the faint of heart, and that's a coach O'Leary trademark.

One thing you need to understand about their offense is that they have a really good quarterback.  It's hard to totally stop a guy like that, but you've got to try to contain him.  He's very, very good.  He's a pro prospect, Blake Bortles.

Defensively, they're tough and they're physical.  They do some different things that are not easy to go up against and we're going to have to have a great practice week.  We have to limit our mistakes on Saturday.  Central Florida has turned the ball over this season and we've turned it over way too much.

If we go in there and we turn the ball over, we're going to have a long night.  We can’t commit line of scrimmage penalties and things like that or we're going to have a long night.  So we've got to understand that and have a great week of practice and come out focused and ready to go on Saturday.


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