Coach O’Brien spoke excitedly and respectfully about Ohio State during his press conference this week (slightly more respectfully than I would - I’ve been to a couple of games in Columbus and I probably wouldn’t refer to it as a "fantastic place"). The focus of the bye week was to get everyone healthy, and everyone is healthy and ready to go.
BO’B said everyone's excited about playing in front of 90,000 in the Horseshoe, but come kickoff, the team will be focused on doing their job. To quote Coach, "Beaver Stadium is loud on offense, too."
I can’t be the only person in Ohio who’s tired of hearing about Urban Meyer’s winning streak. Let’s go, State.
COACH O’BRIEN: Just to update everybody on the injury situation, Ryan Keiser is full go. He's been practicing. Basically everybody else, it's a lot of bumps and bruises but nothing serious. Seems to me that, other than the guys that are out for the season, everybody is healthy for this game.
Q. I wanted to ask you about one of your defensive players. Anthony Zettel the past couple weeks, the defensive end, has made some plays in a limited role. He had a sack at Indiana and he had the big interception at Michigan. Can you evaluate his development, and is he a guy that might play more in the second half of the season?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's a guy that has improved a lot since we've arrived here. I talk about improved players, and he's definitely in that category. He's a very tough, tough kid. He plays hurt. He practices hard. He's an instinctive player. That interception he made in the last game (Michigan) was a very instinctive play off of a zone blitz. So he's a guy that all of the playing time, I think, as you know is determined by how you practice, so as long as he continues to practice well, he'll play for us.
Q. How has Zach Zwinak responded the last few practices after the fumble
against Michigan, and have you seen a change in Bill Belton confidence wise after what he did to help you in the second half of that game?
COACH O'BRIEN: I think Zach has practiced well this week. He came out and had a good practice yesterday, and [he’s] a great kid, tough kid, and he's going to play, obviously. And then Billy has improved quite a bit. He's another guy that's in that category of a guy that's really worked hard to improve and this year he’s taken advantage of his playing time when he's been out there. We'll continue to rotate guys in at that position, and both of those guys will play against Ohio State.
Q. A lot has been written about the hurry up offense. You said last week that you have three tempos that you use. How do you strike a healthy balance between keeping a defense on its heels but also trying to extend your possession time where obviously Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offense can't do anything against you guys if they're not on the field?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, great question. It's very, very difficult. It's really more about what your plan is going into the game. Maybe it has to do with field position. Maybe it has to do with the time of the game. Maybe it has to do with personnel groupings. Maybe there's certain personnel groupings where you want to slow it down, other personnel groupings where you want to speed it up. So it's a plan. Obviously, I'm not going to talk about the details of it here, but then once you get into the game, it's a feel for it. And then once you get a feel for it, then it's more about to me if the players have confidence in it. They'll even say to you, they'll say, "hey, Coach, can we speed it up again?" and then as a coach, you're going, "maybe we need to slow this down." But these kids, and there's a lot to be said for a kid that has confidence in what you're doing, they want to speed it up. So there's a lot of factors that go into it, and again, it's week to week, it's a different challenge, and obviously it's a big challenge for us this week versus Ohio State.
Q. The Michigan game was about as healthy as we've seen Mike Hull yet this year. A lot of emotion on the defensive side of the ball in that game with guys throwing their arms around, kind of high stepping all over the field. How much stock do you put into guys showing that kind of emotion in a game and do you think Mike is a catalyst, one of those players that spurs that on?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, it's an emotional game. I think you've got to do a great job of controlling your emotions, but what I always talk to the team about is when a teammate makes a great play, number one, that guy who makes the play should be looking to celebrate with his teammates, and then his teammates should be looking to celebrate with him. It should never, ever be an individual celebration. That was one of the things about pro football that used to just bother me to no end, that it was always this individual choreographed celebration that you couldn't do anything about. In college, I think it's important to play with emotion, be enthusiastic when your player makes a great play, your teammate makes a great play, and I think that's a big part of what we're doing. Mike Hull is definitely one of our leaders on defense. He's a tough kid. He plays a very gritty style, instinctive style of football, so when he makes big plays like the pass he broke up against Michigan on the wheel route, that fires the team up. That's just the type of player he is. So yes, he has a lot to do with the enthusiasm that you see on defense.
Q. Can you evaluate the Ohio State defense, including Ryan Shazier?
COACH O'BRIEN: This is the most athletic defense that we've played. They have guys on that side of the ball that are well coached. I think Luke Fickell, Mike Vrabel, those guys do a real good job of getting those guys lined up in different looks, and it's a very challenging defense. They have a number of guys on that defense that are good players. You asked about Shazier. He's a very athletic guy, very instinctive guy, a guy that can slip blocks very easily. You'd better know where he is in the passing game, whether he's blitzing or in coverage, just a really athletic, good instinctive player. Obviously Bradley Roby, this guy is one of the top defensive backs in the country, a guy that has a very good knack for understanding what type of route is being run against him. He's got a knack for making sure that he makes a play on the ball just from his film study. You can tell he studies film. So he's a very challenging guy to go against, and then obviously there's a lot of other guys on that defense that are playing well, too. You don't get to 7-0 without having a good defense, and they have a very, very good defense.
Q. How important is it for you guys to contain Braxton Miller, mainly on the scrambles and broken plays? It seemed like against Michigan for you guys Gardner did as much damage on those plays as opposed to the design keepers in zone reads.
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it's a very difficult challenge playing a guy like Braxton Miller; in my opinion one of the top five players in the country, a really good football player who has improved immensely since he's been in the system. Last year was his first year in the system. Now I think he's got great grasp of this system. He's throwing the ball well. I thought they played real well offensively against Iowa. And, like you said, if he gets outside the pocket, he's a dangerous guy. Sometimes those things are going to happen. We've got to play hard and play with great effort and do the best we can to keep him in there, and when he gets out, we have to make sure that we understand our rules, our scramble rules when he gets out. But again, that's the difficulty with a lot of these teams that you face with these quarterbacks that are dual threat guys. It's just a dangerous thing when they get outside the pocket there. They're excellent quarterbacks in the pocket and they're good outside the pocket. We'll just do the best we can.
Q. As a coach, how much do you look forward to the challenge of playing No. 4 on the road, 90,000, 19 straight wins, all of those things?
COACH O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah, I think it's a great opportunity. I think about that all the time. I love...Penn State versus Ohio State, and you think about what that means in the history of college football and these two teams playing each other and the tradition of both schools and two great coaching staffs with a lot of good players on both sides of the ball. You know, it's a lot of fun. Game day, that's the best day of the week for me. We're just really looking forward to the challenge. We know it's a huge challenge. I mean, 19 games in a row, No. 4 team in the country, we realize that it's a huge, huge challenge. But we look forward to it.
Q. What have you seen out of Buckeyes running back Carlos Hyde? He's a guy, a hard runner, might not get a lot of attention compared to say Braxton Miller, though.
COACH O'BRIEN: He gets a lot of attention from us, I can tell you that, when we watch the tape. He's six feet tall, he's 240 pounds, he's a downhill runner. You'd better wrap him up. He had an unbelievable, I think, 19 yard touchdown run against Iowa last week where the guy hit him, he bounced off him, he kept his balance, and then he ran the rest of the way and dove into the end zone. It was just a great individual effort. He's obviously one of the better backs in the country. Again, we've got to make sure that we wrap him up, that we tackle him. It's a huge challenge for us.
Q. A lot of fans would consider Ohio State to be Penn State's biggest rival in the Big Ten. I was wondering, do you think it's important for you guys to have like a "rival?" Is that something that feeds more energy to the team or anything?
COACH O'BRIEN: I don't know, I have a thing about this. We talk about playing 12 one game seasons, like every game is important. I understand, I totally understand the rivalry thing. But I think like everybody is a rival, because everybody comes on the football field and wants to beat you and you want to beat them. So that's a rival. I think the other thing that defines a rival is a balanced series, a series where it's maybe split half and half. They've won half, you've won half. That's a rival. I think that can be a rivalry, too. But I also know that I have a tremendous amount of respect, too, for the teams in the Big Ten, and I think all of the teams in the Big Ten are very well coached, good football teams. So I think any time we take the field, we respect them all, and they're all rivals. You know what I mean? They're all rivals.
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