UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien met with the media on Tuesday afternoon to
preview Saturday's game against Navy.
Take a look through some of the key remarks from the Navy week press
Challenge of Playing Navy
Navy's offensive style is unique. The triple option attack requires a complete overhaul of defensive preparation for coordinator Ted Roof. Everything about preparations for Navy is different because of its style of offense. Playing well against Navy's offense comes down to being very disciplined on every play.
"Navy is so good at what they do, they're attacking your discipline, and they're attacking your toughness," O'Brien said. "Now, we've got a tough defense. In my opinion we have a tough football team. We have a tough defense. But what we've got to do defensively is we've got to play responsibility football. And these guys, what was good about the Virginia game is you saw guys playing responsibility football against Virginia. They've got to do that and up that another notch against the Naval Academy."
Preparation on the practice field is very challenging for Navy.
"It's very difficult to practice it because you're talking about cut blocks and triple option and triple option play action," O'Brien said. "What we do is we get our 'dirty show' offense team out there a little earlier and they run through the plays they're going to run with our defense. So hopefully it's executed when they come out for practice and they can see a picture of what they're doing. It's a difficult team to play against. I didn't schedule Navy. Just kidding (laughter)."
The kicking game will always be a point of emphasis for Coach O'Brien and the staff as it prepares for a game. The team spends a great deal of time on special teams work during the week. This week will be no different, and execution on special teams comes down to repetition. Penn State missed four field goals and failed to convert on an extra point at Virginia. With that being said, Coach O'Brien has confidence in sophomore placekicker Sam Ficken, and the kicking unit will work to be more consistent moving forward.
"It's repetition with the units," O'Brien said. "We do it every single day...I think really what's important for all kickers and starting with Sam (Ficken) is to think about his what we call the plant foot. And wherever the plant foot is pointed is where that ball is going to go. So we've done a lot of work starting yesterday and continuing on today and tomorrow and the rest of the week of just working technically with him on his plant foot and understanding that hey, it can't be pointed in a different direction every single kick. It's got to be the same direction as it relates to where we're trying to kick the football. So it's 11 guys doing a better job of protecting and Sam getting better at his overall technique."
Converting in the Red Zone
The Nittany Lions will spend a lot of time working on red zone offense leading up to the Navy game. Coach O'Brien said on Tuesday that he wants to see an improvement inside the red area. He was asked to evaluate the team's play in the red zone, play-calling and if the Lions would take more chances on plays to the end zone when it gets inside the 20.
"I felt like I always want to try to run the ball in the red area," Coach O'Brien said. "I think the one run I called where I called basically a lead play, wasn't a great call. I wish I could have that call back...Most of the other calls I felt were good calls, but we've got to do a better job executing. And then you're right, from the 20 to the 15 you got a chance to take a shot in the end zone. Maybe we do that a little more. But there's some calls I would take back and some things I want to try to improve on this week, no question about it."
Sophomore running back Bill Belton (ankle) and senior Derek Day (shoulder) are both day to day this week leading up to the Navy game. Coach O'Brien said on Tuesday that he is not sure either player will be available. If neither player is capable of playing on Saturday, Curtis Dukes and Zach Zwinak will see increased roles. Additionally, Coach O'Brien noted that senior fullback Michael Zordich could see more time at tailback.
"We've got six guys there that all can play and run the football and protect and catch the ball in the back field," O'Brien said. "So that's not a position that's lacking for depth, and I thought that on Saturday Derek Day ran very, very tough. Curtis Dukes went in there and ran tough. Zwinak did some good things. So that's a pretty solid position, and we just got to keep grinding away with those guys."
Military Appreciation Day
Penn State will honor the men and women in uniform on Saturday with Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium. It is always special for teams to play one of the academies, but this week's game takes on some extra meaning for two members of the team. Senior fullback P.J. Byers is currently active in the Navy, in addition to playing football for the Nittany Lions. Byers is seeking to be a dive specialist, and he will become an officer upon graduation from Penn State.
Additionally, 26-year-old freshman defensive end Brent Smith was in the Marines for eight years, including two tours in Iraq, before attending Penn State. Those two Nittany Lions bring a unique perspective to the locker room. Look for video interviews with both players later this week, but here is what Coach O'Brien had to say about Military Appreciation Day.
"You're talking about a very special week for a lot of guys in our program and we have so much respect for the military and what it means to our country and so much respect for the Naval Academy and the work those guys put in, and we're looking forward to playing the game on Saturday," O'Brien said.
Navy Strong When Scoring First
In Ken Niumatalolo's five seasons as head coach at Navy, the Midshipmen have been a tough team to beat when they score first. Under Niumatalolo, Navy is 27-4 when it scores first. When its opponents have scored first in the Niumatalolo era, Navy is just 5-18. Additionally, Navy has lost its last eight games (over the last three years) when its opponent has scored first. With Navy's triple option attack, getting ahead by more than a touchdown takes the Midshipmen out of their comfort zone of being able to run the ball on first and second down on every drive.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony