Coach O’Brien and the Nittany Lions have their work cut out for them this week, namely stopping Minnesota’s rushing game. Minnesota has the fourth best running game in the Big Ten, and O’Brien acknowledged them as "one of the better teams" Penn State will play this year.
BO’B admitted that his team hasn’t been playing as well on the road as compared to at home, but they’re focused on having a good week of practice going into Saturday.
COACH O’BRIEN: Injury wise, (Ryan) Keiser is doing well. They checked his hand out again. He seems to be healing well and he's doing well. I thought he did some really nice things for us on Saturday against Illinois. Ben Kline still nursing the shoulder, but he'll be ready for the game.
Akeel Lynch, he's day-to-day. In the Ohio State game he sprained his MCL and he's day-to-day with that, and that's why he didn't play in the Illinois game. I'm not sure if I mentioned that last week; I apologize for that. I think everybody else, there are some bumps and bruises. Obviously, Billy Belton carried the ball 36 times, and we're watching his contact in practice. He'll be ready for the game.
There are a couple of stomach bugs going around. I tell these kids I wake up every day with a stomach bug, but they don't laugh at that. But, I think we're doing okay.
Evaluating the Season:
Q. How would you describe the season to this point?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I think certainly, obviously, we'd like to be 80. I think we've played tough. I think we've battled hard. We've competed. It's been a little bit up and down at times. At times we've played well as a team, at times we haven't. I think after the season is when we'll really focus on that and see why that was. Right now it's important for us to level it off and continue to compete and play well. I think, like I always say, we had a good practice last night, Monday, and we're up to the challenge for Minnesota. Minnesota's an excellent team, and I think that question is a great question, and it's probably something that we have to really analyze after the season.
Q. Could you talk just a little bit more about Ryan Keiser? How important is he to your secondary this year? Also just in light of dealing with the hand injury, the broken hand, could you also just mention how he's come back and dealt with that in the play he made to end the game?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's a very valuable member of this football team. Just from the type of kid he is, the type of player he is, the maturity level he brings to the locker room. He comes from a coaching family. I believe his mom's a coach. Athletics has been a part of his life his whole life. I think he does a great job. I think he's an instinctive player.
I think he was a little rusty when he first came back from the hand injury. He'd probably be the first one to tell you that. But, in the Illinois game he really played a lot better and he made a nice play on the bubble screen, then he got the tipped interception. A fantastic guy, great guy to coach, and team guy. Just a really, really good guy to have on the team.
Q. With Anthony Zettel, the last couple years, you look at his numbers and he has a lot of tackles for loss and sacks. It's something like 30 percent or more of his tackles are for loss. What is it about him that allows him to get into the backfield so well and make those kind of plays?
COACH O'BRIEN: That's a great question, because I was actually noticing that on Sunday. He's a guy in the almost two years that I've been here, he does; he makes a lot of plays. So, why is that? I think number one; he plays extremely hard. He plays every play like it's his last play. That is number one. I think the other thing he is, he's a very strong player. He has great playing strength, so he's able to play off blocks and explode off of a block and make a tackle for a loss. Or, if you noticed against Illinois, he let (Nathan) Scheelhaase out of the pocket, but he grabbed him by the jersey and sacked him. So he's got strong hands and he's able to hang on and make those tackles or sacks. I give him a lot of credit. He's come up with some really big plays for us. I think it has a lot to do with how hard he plays and how strong he is.
Q. Now that you've had a chance to watch the Illinois game, can you evaluate the way your (offensive) tackles played (Adam) Gress, (Garry) Gilliam and Donovan (Smith)?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, I thought they played better than they did against Ohio State. They gave Christian time to step up in the pocket, and I thought that they did a great job run blocking. They were physical, and I thought that they worked with the tight ends really well. So I thought that for the tackles, it was a very good game.
Now moving to Minnesota, the tackles have a big challenge. The defensive ends for Minnesota are very athletic, very good players. I was just talking to Gress over in the locker room before I was walking over here just saying, "look, this is a big challenge for us this week."
Q. If I can follow that up, Gress is going to come in here. He played primarily right tackle early in the season, then he moved to left on Saturday. What is it that allows somebody to play both right and left where some guys maybe can't?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it's difficult. Number one, some guys have trouble just getting in a lefthanded stance. They're righthanded guys and it's difficult to get back and get in a lefthanded stance. "Is he flexible enough to do that?" And Adam is. Adam has helped us in that regard. He's a very large human being. He's a bright guy, a physical player, and hard to rush around. So we like to try to use him on both sides. He's definitely a swing tackle.
So is Garry. Garry can play right and left too and Donovan is primarily a left tackle. So we have a good luxury there. And Gress is a guy that can do both and has done it pretty well.
Q. You've talked a lot about Bill Belton and always talked highly about him as a football player and in terms of character. Can you talk about what it means to you to see him playing as well as he's been playing these last few weeks?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, it means a lot to me when any of these guys play well. It's a players’ game. It's not about the coaches. It's all about the players who put it on the line every week. To watch a guy like Billy who, like I said, has really improved in the classroom. He wasn't doing well in the classroom when I got here. He's doing better there. It's still a work in progress for him academically, but he works hard at it. Obviously, he's playing well on the field, so it always makes you feel good when good kids do well.
Q. You were saying on the [radio] show about balancing kind of how you approach Christian (Hackenberg) on the sidelines, and I think you said you’ve maybe only boiled over maybe twice, I think?
COACH O'BRIEN: Couple times, yeah, two or three.
Q. You might have been able to add one from Saturday. But how important is that, the kind of balance how you approach him as far as you don't want to get too much into his head. But, obviously, you do coach him and you do critique him?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, that's a great part, that's a great question. We have a close relationship. Obviously, I recruited him and have been in his living room and know his family. So it's a difficult situation that he's in, just being a freshman and playing major college football at that position for the first time. I'll be the first to tell you that many times, I definitely in the beginning of the year, had to be more patient with him. I think, overall, I do believe I've improved on that with him and I try to get him over to the bench and sit down with him and talk to him about the previous series and I think that's helped.
When he makes a mistake that I know he knows what to do on or he makes the mistake twice or something, it doesn't happen very often, that's when I lose my patience a little bit with him. I think he gets that. But, we have a very good, honest, open relationship. On Saturday, the one you might be referring to, he got mad at me because he got hit, he missed a blitz, missed a hot, so he got hit in the side of the head. So I was yelling at (Tim) Bream to make sure they checked him out because I felt like he might have gotten hit there. So he's screaming back at me, "I'm all right, Coach, leave me alone!" And I'm like, "Check him out!"
So I was yelling at Bream, not him. He's a great kid; fun guy to coach. But definitely a guy that any time you coach the quarterback position, you have to be patient with that position, especially when they're young. Fortunately he's all right. I don't know if I am, though?
Q. Little bit I've seen of Minnesota, they have a kid, Ra'Shede Hageman, No. 99. He looks like a pretty amazing player, a 300pound guy with great athleticism and everything. How do you deal with a guy like that? I would imagine he presents unique challenges?
COACH O'BRIEN: You're right. He's an excellent player. One of the better defensive linemen we've gone against. He's explosive. Plays with good pad level. He's quick. Seems to me that he's going to be has a chance to be a first or secondday draft pick. He's a very good player.
So you have different ways of having to deal with him. You're going to have to double him. You're going to have to get help from places where you don't normally get help from and make sure that you know where he is on every play and try your best not to have him single blocked all the time, because he is a challenge. He's a good player. They have a lot of good players. They're good.
Q. Minnesota's been dominating time of possession in this winning streak. Does that impact what you do offensively at all?
COACH O'BRIEN: You have to look at that. You have to look at that because they average almost five minutes more than their opponents and that's a big deal. You can't totally change what you do, but you better make sure that you're not just playing at warp speed the whole game because you could play warp speed the whole game and if you score in a minute and 50 seconds, that's okay. But your defense has only been on the bench for a minute and 50 seconds and you better make sure you keep scoring. That is hard to do against Minnesota. They're a good defense.
So we have a mix tempo and make sure that we give our defense a break. Make sure that we try to do the best we can to win the time of possession on our side.
Q. With Minnesota's offense and their running game, looks like they like to get people to come up and commit to the running game then they kind of take their shots. How careful does a coaching staff have to be to not overcommit to the run and get burned?
COACH O'BRIEN: Careful is the wrong word. It's a great question. If you go into the meeting room and say, "Hey, guys, you have to be careful now." That is the wrong way to go. I think you have to get your linebackers to think simply. "Okay, what are their tips when they play action? What are their tips when they run?" Maybe it's the stance of a lineman, maybe it's a backfield set. Maybe it's some little thing like a near set back versus a pro or an I formation back. Whatever it might be, that's a tip that you use. "Hey, they're going to run it here. This is a play action tip." Or when you're talking to your DBs, you have to tell them to be aggressively smart and stay on top of routes. They can't be too quick to react to what they see. They can't have their eyes in the backfield. So you can't take away the aggression of your team. You have to do a great job of studying film and showing the guys the difference between when they run it and when they play action it.
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