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Bill O'Brien Press Conference: Wisconsin

The Nittany Lions are headed to Wisconsin for one last kickoff in 2013.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know how we got here, but once again we’re at the end of the Penn State football season.  The Good Guys travel to Wisconsin this week for one last kickoff until next fall.  The team is working through Thanksgiving Break to prepare for the Badgers, and they’ll celebrate Thanksgiving at Pollock Hall.  This year, as every year, I’m thankful for the Nittany Lions.

So what’s Coach O’Brien thankful for?

COACH O’BRIEN:  I'm thankful for my family.  I'm thankful for this football team, these players.  I really am.  I can't tell you enough how much I enjoy coaching these guys.  I wish that some of these games had gone our way, but they didn't.  It is what it is.

I'm very thankful to come in here every day and coach these guys.  I really am.  I'm thankful for that.  I’ve made some good friends here at Penn State and State College, I'm thankful for that.  But, mostly I'm thankful for my family and the guys that I coach.

Injury Update:

COACH O’BRIEN: Injury wise, pretty much it is what it is.  Von Walker should be able to go this week.  He had a concussion a couple weeks ago.  Should be fine now.  (Bill) Belton looks like he's going to be good to go.  We'll see that throughout the week.  (Zach) Zwinak, he was banged around pretty good (35 carries vs. Nebraska).  Obviously, a very physical game on Saturday.  He looks to be okay for the game and the rest of these guys, we've got a bunch of bumps and bruises, but they should be good for the game.

Adrian Amos has a foot sprain. Have to see how that is, but he seems to be moving around better and better every day.  So that's pretty much an update on injuries.

State of the Program:

Q.  I know your focus is on the Wisconsin game.  But given the possibility that this is the last time we'll be speaking to you in this forum for awhile, I was wondering if you could tell us how the program is positioned going forward from now?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Yeah, like you said, we're very focused on Wisconsin.  We really are.  But the reason we're focused on Wisconsin has a little bit to do with the future.  Number one, we're focused on Wisconsin because we want to, again, have another chance to send these seniors out on a winning note.  That is really important.  But it's also a chance for our younger players who are coming back next year, younger and veteran players who are coming back next year, to go out there against a very good football team and play well.  So it's an important game for that.  So we're focused there.

I feel really good about where the program’s at.  I think that recruiting has gone well.  I think if you look at the '13 class that we brought in here recruiting wise, from what I can see right off the bat, I don't think there are any "busts."  I think there are role players and guys that will continue to have roles for us.  I think there are some really good players that nobody's even seen yet that are redshirting.  And then obviously the guys that played this year for us, the Brandon Bells, the Hackenbergs, the (Adam) Brenemans and those guys.  We feel good about the future.  We feel good about where we're headed recruiting wise.  Every single home game here we've had a lot of great prospects here.

Can't really get into the details of that because that's an NCAA violation, but we feel good about the '14 class, and we feel good about the '15 class, because you're always trying to stay one step ahead.  So we're recruiting hard with the 2015 class.

We've got a bunch of guys on this football team that gained a lot of experience this year which I think will really help them.  Some guys were playing college football for the first time like Geno Lewis who redshirted last year and was playing in a college football game for the first time.  Jordan Lucas didn't play a lot for us his first year.  Now he comes in and he's one of our better players.  We have a lot of veteran players that have played a lot of football for us, that are coming back next year that we feel really, really good about.

I'm not going to get into predictions or anything like that.  That's not what I'm saying.  But I think our program, with the two year sanctions that we've been under and things like that with the limited amount of guys we could offer and guy that's left the program, I think our program stands on pretty solid ground right now.

Hack Attack:

Q.  Christian Hackenberg said one of his main goals this season has been to be a game manager, and I was wondering how do you think he's done in that regard?

COACH O'BRIEN:  I’ll tell you what, I think he's done a good job.  I think that we could all do a better job in certain areas, and I'm sure he has some plays he wish he could have back, but we don't get those plays back.  I think, overall, when you look at being 18 years old and coming in here and playing pretty much every snap of every game, I think he's gotten better and better at doing that.

What's that mean?  You've got to define what a game manager is.  A game manager is somebody that understands when to run the ball.  That does a good job of using the clock at the end of the half, using the clock at the end of a game, understands coverage reads and when to throw it, when to check to a run, things like that.  He overall has gotten better and better at that throughout the year.  I think as time goes on, he'll be even better at it.

The Positives:

Q.  You were just talking about the program.  Regardless of your record after this weekend at 75 or 66, in what ways do you think this season has been a success?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Well, I think that obviously you are what your record says you are.  So we're a 65 team, barely above .500 with a chance to be 75 or 66.  So, certainly the season has had its ups and downs.  It hasn't been a consistent season.  But, I do think there's been a lot of positives.

I think the fact that we've been able to play a freshman quarterback in every game and he's stayed healthy, and I believe he's gotten better and better, I think that is a real positive.  I believe that for the most part we've run the ball pretty well on offense.  I think that's a positive.  We've been able to get our younger players a lot of work in practice with the Monday night developmental scrimmages.  That's a positive.

I believe our defense has improved every single week.  I think the last three weeks, our defense has played well and a lot of younger players or guys that have years left here at Penn State have played a lot of football for us on defense.  We've got to make improvement on special teams.  Everybody who watches Penn State knows that special teams has been a struggle at times, and other times it's been okay.  But it's been too inconsistent, and that is a big area, especially in the world that we live in right now, that's where you have to do a better job of special teams.  So we'll look to do that.

But I think success or not a success, I'm not getting into that.  But I think that there's been a lot of positives from the season so far.

Getting Physical:

Q.  The physical nature of the game, how physically demanding has this season been?  How will that translate to Saturday at Wisconsin?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Yeah, it's definitely been physical, you're right.  I think what we try to do is give them 48 hours rest.  Tried not to hit them yesterday.  We usually hit on Mondays, and we didn't yesterday.  I believe that will help.  I think Thanksgiving week, not having classes, being able to sleep in a little bit, come over, get some treatments in the training room and then come back after practice and get another treatment, I think that will help.  And there's only one game left, so you should  our guys will be ready to go out there and lay it on the line, I know that.

Junior Leadership:

Q.  Mike Hull was just talking about how he feels more comfortable in a leadership role at this point of the season.  How much have you seen that from him and the junior class as a whole developing in that regard and looking to lead the team going forward?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Yeah, I think we have some good guys in that class.  You know, Hull, and on offense you have (Miles) Dieffenbach and some other guys.  Obviously, Allen Robinson.  You have some really good leaders in that class.  He's one of them.  He's a very tough guy.  He plays through pain.  He hates missing practice.  He's a good player as he's become healthier he's played better and better.  Yeah, he's a definite leader.


Q.  Could you evaluate Brandon Bell's performance against Nebraska?  He looked pretty active out there.  I was wondering what your thoughts were on the challenge of facing the Wisconsin run game this week and those running backs, James White and Melvin Gordon.

COACH O'BRIEN:  Brandon played a really good football game.  He had been playing well earlier on special teams.  So we decided to get him more run at linebacker.  He really played well.  He had a really good tackle near the goal line on the quarterback.  He almost, at the end of the game when they fumbled the shotgun snap, he almost recovered that.  He instinctively took off and went after it and almost got that one, which would have been a huge play, obviously.  And there were many plays throughout the game.  He does a good job of understanding blocking schemes at a young age.  He's an instinctive player and does a good job.

This is a big challenge.  They run the football very well.  They're very well coached.  They're physical, they're big.  Gary Andersen has done a good job coming in there and putting his style of play and putting his mark on that program right away.  Big challenge.  These are two good running backs; guys that have each gained a lot of yards.  Our guys will be there in Wisconsin on Saturday.  That's what I will tell you.

Q.  When you go against your defense in practice, you run a 43, is there an added difficulty then going up against a 34?  What are the difficulties of playing against a defense like that?

COACH O'BRIEN:  We ran a 34 in New England for the years I was there, and it's very difficult especially when you have the type of personnel that Wisconsin has or that we had at the time in New England where you have a nose guard in Vince Wilfork or the guy from Wisconsin (Beau Allen) who is 330 pounds, like a big, stout dude.  You have two, what they call four eyes.  Four eyes means they line-up on the inside of the tackles that are 270 pound guys that are in a difficult position to block.  How do you count them?  Do you count them on the guard or do you count them on the tackle?  Then you have the Sam and the Will (linebackers) that are lined up on your two tight ends that are two yard or two outside and they're there to set the edge and funnel everything inside.  Then you have two inside backers that are really stout.

So it's different than going against a 43, which is more of a four down look and three linebackers in the box.  So different plays are better than against a 34 than they are against a 43 and vice versa.  So you've got to retrain your players.

So, to me, it's a difficult task.  That's what we're doing right now is trying to train our players about these are the 34 plays that we need to run to move the ball against Wisconsin.


Q.  Wisconsin has been pretty stout on the defensive side, guys like Chris Borland and stuff in there.  Can you break them down a little bit?

COACH O'BRIEN:  They're very stout.  I think there's been six games where they haven't given up a touchdown.  But, they play a 34 look, which is tough.  They have two good outside backers that set the edge really well, and then Borland, another guy on the inside.  There are actually three guys that play inside linebacker with Borland being the guy that plays in there all the time.  Borland is a really good player.  He's about six feet tall, a 240 pound kid.  He's stout, he's tough, he's smart.  He's what you're looking for in a linebacker.  A lot like our guy, Glenn Carson, just a tough, tough dude.

Then they have, what I think is good about them, too, that is maybe overlooked, is they have two really good safeties that support the run really well.  They come up and tackle you.  If a run breaks to the second level, they'll tackle you for a three yard gain instead of a 10 yard gain.  So I think they do a lot of things well.

Then, on third down they have a good pressure package, and we'll have to be ready for that.  Then red zone, they change a little bit in the red zone, not too much.  It's a big challenge for us.  On the road, stout defense, but again, I say that every week.  I think every week is a challenge.  We got blown out in one game this year, we've had some really close games.  We've had some really close games and we've got to figure out a way to come out on top in these close games.  This is one that could potentially be a close football game.

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