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Oct. 16, 2012
Coach Bill O'Brien Teleconference
October 16, 2012
Q. How did the players look yesterday in practice after the bye week?
Bill O'Brien: I thought they looked energized, and they came back with effort, good attitude, and you know, really, it's a good question because right now there's no question that Iowa has the momentum because they had a fantastic win over a very tough Michigan State team in double overtime. Our team needs to understand that, that it's one thing to have a bye week, but it's a whole other thing to be playing a team like Iowa, and we've got to try to go out here and practice and be precise and practice hard with great effort every day and try to equal out that momentum.
I thought yesterday was a decent start.
Q. Could you evaluate the play of your corners and safeties since the beginning of the season? I remember you had some definite concerns there early, and teams early in the season had made some plays on you guys on third down, down the middle of the field. Could you just talk about the play of the corners and safeties since then?
Bill O'Brien: I would say that the corners and safeties fall into the category of the whole team, meaning there's been improvement throughout the season. I believe there's been improvement in understanding of the schemes and understanding of zone coverage and pattern reads and then doing a better job with their man coverage techniques. I still think there's a lot of room for improvement, as there is with our whole football team, starting with me, with the coaching staff. We can look to do things better every single day.
But I think the corners and safeties have improved on a week to week basis, and hopefully that can continue.
Q. How close are you with Brian Ferentz, and is there anything you have to change up this week for the game because he's on the sideline?
Bill O'Brien: You know, I'm close with Brian. Any time you work with someone 24/7 six months out of the year for four years and you go to a Super Bowl with a guy and you have a lot of respect for his football knowledge and all those things, yeah, there's no question that that's a great friendship there. I obviously have a lot of respect for his dad and what he's done at the University of Iowa.
As far as changing things up, we're just going to stick with our game plan and take what Iowa gives us defensively. It's a very, very tough defense, and we just need to try to do the best we can.
Q. In recent history for Penn State it's been difficult to play at Iowa. How do you approach places that are difficult to play at on the road?
Bill O'Brien: Well, it is; it's a very difficult place to play, as are most of the places in the Big Ten. It's going to be an electric atmosphere. The crowd noise is definitely going to be a factor, so we've got to make sure that we deal with that in the right way. We've got to practice with crowd noise and make sure that our players do a great job of communicating offense, defense, special teams. But again, it's not going to be anything like what it's like on Saturday night, so hopefully we can just give them a picture of it, and then when they get there Saturday night, they have a better understanding of how to deal with those things.
But it's a very tough environment, and they're playing well right now. It's a very tough football team. It's not going to be easy.
Q. How do you think the bye week may have helped Bill Belton physically? How did he look yesterday, and just having him at 100 percent for his versatility, how does that help you guys?
Bill O'Brien: Yeah, I think it helped a lot of the guys that were banged up. That's what bye weeks are for, and again, it's pretty good when the bye week comes right in the middle of the season because you've had a long training camp and then six tough games, and that's it. It's better to have it then than it is after the first game or something like that. I think the bye week helped a lot of those guys, Billy included, and yesterday Billy did some nice things in practice, as did a lot of those guys that were banged up.
You know, again, we've got to have a really good practice week. We're playing a very, very tough football team on the road, so hopefully our improvement can continue.
Q. You commented last week about all the talk nationally praising you and your team. Did you talk to the players about not listening to the hype, and why or why not?
Bill O'Brien: Yeah, we don't we just try to focus on the task at hand. You're 4-2, you've done some decent things, we think we've improved as a football team, but like I said last week, this is the meat of the schedule, and this is a very, very tough schedule starting with an excellent Iowa football team that plays a physical brand of football that our players need to be ready for, no question about it.
So we believe that the players led by, again, a really good strong senior class, that these guys are focused on the game this week, and we don't really listen to all that. I think it's nice, and we respect the recognition and all that, but it's much more important to focus on the opponent.
Q. After the Northwestern game you said you'd practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then kind of see where you are. I think that's what you said. With that in mind, just how did you handle the bye week not only for the players but for yourself and the coaches? What did you kind of use the time for last week?
Bill O'Brien: We practiced Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. They were shorter type practices but intense practices, and they were practices that involved what we had learned in our offices about in our meeting rooms coaching wise about our self scout, trying to get better at some things and maybe trying to break some tendencies on some things we had been doing. I thought the players came out with really good effort in all three practices. We gave them obviously a little extra time to concentrate on their academics. Hopefully they got caught up on classes they were a little bit behind on because of their football commitments, and then over the weekend a lot of these guys were able to go home.
For the coaching staff, again, a lot of people ask me about how was your bye week and having days off. Well, you never have a day off during football season. It's either getting the team ready to play or recruiting or whatever it may be. But I was able to I think I took my wife out to dinner on Saturday night and had a nice dinner, but that was about it. We were all working and trying to get ready for Iowa, do some self scout and do some recruiting. It's a pretty busy time for the coaching staff.
Q. Did you see any changes with special teams during the practices last week, and are you confident the kicking game can be better in the second half than it was in the first?
Bill O'Brien: I have seen improvement. Again, now we've got to go do it in a game. It's important to see the improvement in practice, and we've seen the improvement in practice, specifically with Sam (Ficken) and Alex (Butterworth) and then with our snappers, whether it's Ty Howle or Mike Fuhrman or Emery Etter. These guys work hard. These are great kids. These are great kids, and obviously they've been the focal point a little bit because we've struggled at times. But again, I've seen improvement, and I have faith that they're going to be able to do it in the games.
Q. Some of your players have talked about the written exams they take I want to say a day or two before an upcoming game. Is that something you picked up on at a previous coaching stop, and is that for everybody, or is it left up to each assistant if he wants to do that with his players?
Bill O'Brien: Every position coach, and myself as the head coach, we test these guys all the time. You know, it's important the old axiom to me is it's not what you know as a coach, it's what your players know. That's how your players function. So if you just stand up there as a coach and do all the talking and don't let your players talk or things like that, then you never really know what your players know and what you need to correct, and maybe they see something a little bit differently. Maybe you'll learn something from your player.
So we try to give them tests. We give them verbal tests. We give them paper tests. That's something that wherever I've been, whether it was George O'Leary at Georgia Tech, Ralph Friedgen at Maryland or obviously Coach Belichick in New England, we gave them tests. Giving a test to Tom Brady was a pretty interesting thing because those tests were very, very difficult, but he usually aced them. I couldn't believe it.
But those are things that we've done in the past and will continue to do here at Penn State. We think it helps the players.
Q. What has it been like the last few weeks to have some calm around this program? You've won four straight games; nobody has left the team for a few weeks. What has the calm been like and how have you guys handled that?
Bill O'Brien: I'll tell you guys, to me it's since training camp began, spring practice, yeah, there's been some things that have happened, no question about it. But what's impressed me about this team and this coaching staff through six games and training camp and spring practice, so we've got to continue this, is the poise, is the ability to focus, is the ability to understand the task at hand and don't worry about all the things that you can't control. Whether it's an individual player or position or unit or the coaching staff, I think we're we've got a bunch of guys there that understand, look, there's certain things that we can control. We can control how we practice, we can control how we study, how we prepare, how we go to class, how we act off the field, how we act on the field. But there's other things we can't. So let's just do the things that we can control and try to get better at those, and so far that's been okay. So that's what we need to continue to do.
Q. Curtis Dukes had some comments to his local media the other day about not getting enough carries. Do you have any comments on that and any disciplinary action coming from that?
Bill O'Brien: Nah, it's a free country. Curtis is working hard, and he's a member of the football team, and just continuing to work hard, and that's all I have to say about that.
Q. I know you can't talk about specific recruits, but a lot of your coaches went out this weekend recruiting. Did they get kind of positive reviews and more receptive because you guys are doing so well?
Bill O'Brien: Well, I will tell you that really from day one, whether it was winter recruiting when I was hired or spring recruiting after spring practice or the fall recruiting period, the reception for our coaches has been really, really good, really positive. And I think that says a lot about our staff. We've got a bunch of veteran guys that have good connections in the places that they've recruited, or they're recruiting now and that they've recruited in the past, and the reception has been good.
In my opinion this is a very special place with a great tradition of football and academics, and people have a lot of respect for it, and they understand our message and the direction which we're going. So whether it was this week or six months ago, I think the reception has been very positive.
Q. Iowa running back Mark Weisman got a little banged up at the end of the Michigan State game. He might not be able to go or be limited this weekend. Does that alter your defensive game plan?
Bill O'Brien: Again, let me just say about Weisman, he's a very tough, big back that they've done an excellent job with. They've blocked well for him, and he's broken tackles, and he's having a heck of a year. And then whoever they bring in next, whether it's the young guy there that's another guy that's a good player it doesn't alter our game plan. We just have to go in there and we have to play against the guys that line up against us.
Q. There's three coaches that have worked with Belichick. Are there some things that you all take away from that Belichick coaching tree that you use later in your career, characteristics, things like that?
Bill O'Brien: Sure. I think we all I don't want to speak for Coach Ferentz or Brian, but I'll speak for myself. I would tell you that the discipline of the teams, hopefully we're not a very penalized team, we don't get penalized a lot, hopefully we don't turn it over a lot. The way we practice, we try to create a physical practice environment and situational football. We really try to work on that quite a bit.
Again, I'm not going to speak for Coach Ferentz on that. You'd have to ask him what he took from Coach Belichick, but when you watch Iowa, you see a very tough, physical smart football team that doesn't beat themselves, and again, we've got a very big challenge going against them on Saturday night.
Q. Following up on that, a lot of these games with Iowa have been low scoring, real physical. Is this going to be the biggest physical challenge that you guys have had so far?
Bill O'Brien: It's a big challenge, no question about it. This is a physical team. They play a very tough brand of football. I believe we play a tough brand of football. So I think it's two very, very evenly matched teams. Like the old saying goes, you are what your record is and says you are, and we're both 4-2, so to me it's two evenly matched teams that are going to really fight it out physically to see who can win the game.
I think you've also got an Iowa team there that's very, very well coached. They know what they want to do. They do it well. The techniques are good. They're a smart team. They don't make a lot of mistakes, if any, and hopefully our team can show that the same way on Saturday night, and it should be a heck of a college football game.
Q. Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in this conference. You're a first year coach. Does it say something about college football that a guy that's only been around 13, 14 years would be the longest tenured coach in a conference and how difficult it is to keep a job of this magnitude?
Bill O'Brien: Yeah. I'll tell you what, first of all, it's a ton of credit to Coach Ferentz. I've gotten to know him because of my relationship with Brian a little bit, and I've even I went out to Iowa when I was in New England, I worked out Ricky Stanzi, and so I watched firsthand what he did out there in spring practice, and just does an excellent job of teaching fundamental, physical football, smart football. And I think it is a statement a little bit.
I think obviously I'm a coach, I'm biased, I think there's a ton of great coaches in the country. Everybody has got their own style, and I respect that, and I think all the coaches deserve time. When you're a new coach, it's important that you're given time. It's important that you're given time to put your own direction on the program.
So Kirk has done a really good job of that at Iowa, and obviously he's stayed. But again, like you said, 14 years, in my opinion he should be at Iowa for however long he wants to be there. He's done a great job there, and he deserves to be there for a long time.
Q. You mentioned that Bill Belton looked really good in practice yesterday. I'm curious what specifically he was doing well and whether he's returned to 100 percent yet.
Bill O'Brien: I don't know. I mean, he was doing some things well. He caught the ball well, he ran well, he stretched well (laughter). He did some good things. You know, hopefully he'll play well on Saturday.
Q. I know when you first came here, you want on the Coaches' Caravan and you made friends with some other Penn State coaches. How important was the support they gave you when you first were adjusting to the job here?
Bill O'Brien: I can't say enough about the other Penn State coaches, you know, whether it's Patrick Chambers, who everybody knows I've become close with. He's a really good friend, tough guy, competitive guy, really fun guy to talk to about coaching; or it's Coquese (Washington) or Char Morett, who had a huge win the other day versus Iowa 5 1, which that's a great win for Penn State field hockey. Guy Gadowsky - I stopped by the AIC game the other night - that was cool to see. You know, we all support each other. It's a pretty neat thing to see. And I should mention all the coaches: Erica Walsh and Bob Warming and Russ Rose, they've all been very, very supportive of me, and I'm very, very supportive of them. I think they do an excellent job, and they have proven records.
Q. As far as this game being at night, Allen Robinson had said maybe earlier on this season you guys had a couple practices at night. Is there any sort of atmosphere you have to get ready for a night game?
Bill O'Brien: Sure, that's a good question. It's hard to practice at night here at Penn State because of the class schedules and the tutoring and the study halls and everything that takes place, so we won't be able to practice at night, but what we can do is maybe go out there a little bit later so when the sun is going down, put the lights on so maybe we're fielding some punts in some lights or catching some long balls in some lights, things like that, and then obviously the crowd noise. We've got to pipe crowd noise into practice because it's an extremely loud place. Our players are only going to be able to communicate with each other through verbal communication and through signaling. So we've got to do a great job of that. That's a big part of practice this week, and that's what we're trying to do.
Q. A couple of your guys, Kyle Carter, Allen Robinson, are on mid season award lists for the end of the year, while a guy like Michael Mauti is not. I was wondering, because there's no Bowl game to play for over the next couple years, do you put any extra importance on some of your guys winning these individual awards to put Penn State in the spotlight?
Bill O'Brien: I think that's a good question, and let me just say first off, I don't think any of these guys here really care about individual awards. I will say that about these guys. These are a bunch of competitive guys that love being a part of a team. They're team players. So I'm sure that they would tell you we just want to win because that's what they're all about.
But I do think that there's a certain amount of ridiculousness that a guy like Mike Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill, those three guys defensively aren't on I don't even know the awards, guys. You'd have to sit down and explain to me the awards. But if there's a linebacker, defensive lineman award, whatever the awards are, I would imagine I can't imagine that there's that many linebackers or defensive linemen in the country better than those guys. And I'm telling you, Glenn Carson has had a heck of a year.
Now, it's only halfway through the season, so I understand that, and we've got to see but these award lists, they come out halfway through the season. I don't know, I'm trying to figure it all out, like shouldn't the award lists come out when the season is over and we compile the whole 12 game season? I don't know. I don't know how the awards work, but for those guys not to be on award lists. I don't know. You guys know better than me.
Q. Do you think there's a stigma attached to Penn State?
Bill O'Brien: I don't know. I would certainly hope not. I think this is a special place with a bunch of tough, hard nosed kids that go to class and do things the right way and play as hard a football as they can play. Every year is different, so hopefully this year we can continue to play hard with great effort. We have got a very, very tough schedule coming up, and I'm proud of these players, and I just think that they should be recognized just like or given that chance to be recognized just like every other player.
Q. With Nyeem Wartman, has the final decision been made on whether he can make it back this year or are we looking at a medical redshirt?
Bill O'Brien: Final decision hasn't been made on that. He was out there. He practiced yesterday, did some individual drills and things like that, so we're just going to continue to monitor that. He's a really good young player. It is getting later in the season, so something is going to have to be made probably pretty soon, but right now we haven't made that decision.
Q. Over the weekend a cheerleader suffered a pretty tragic fall, five stories. As a football coach, do you take any responsibility in reaching out to the cheerleading coaches' community and try to lend support?
Bill O'Brien: Yeah, sure, I feel terrible about that. Actually I've been so immersed in our own deal here getting ready for Iowa, I actually just heard about it to be honest with you. I apologize for that; I just heard about it this morning. My heart goes out to Paige and her family, and I feel terrible about that. When I get back over there I'll make some calls and make sure that their family understands. I know her brother is a great gymnast here, and it's a terrible thing. Like I said, my heart goes out to that family.
Q. Stephon Morris said on Twitter last night, "we hate them, they hate us," in regards to Iowa. Do you sense any talking to players, do you sense any type of extra?
Bill O'Brien: Do you know what I hate? I hate Twitter. I think these guys are young guys, and I think "Tweet this, Spacebook that." Whatever. We've got to go play the game. We don't have any hatred for Iowa. We respect Iowa. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their football program and for how they play the game, for how they're coached, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for their coaching staff and their players and the longevity of Coach Ferentz at Iowa and the amount of wins he had his 100th win last week. Just done a great job there. So there's a lot of respect there.
I think that's just young guys Tweeting this, twitting that, and that's how it works, I guess.
Q. You kind of alluded to it a little bit earlier. Can you talk about Glenn Carson? You've got two highly touted or talked about linebackers. He's kind of the forgotten man at least externally.
Bill O'Brien: No, not internally. He's a very tough, tough kid from New Jersey. I hope we can recruit guys like him every year that I'm here because he is all about football. He is prepared, he is coachable, he's an extremely tough guy. He cares about the game. Just a very, very just one of those guys that you love being around as far as football playing goes and practicing and just a really tough individual. I can't say enough about Glenn. Can't say enough about him.
He is not the forgotten man in the football building, I can tell you that. He's a big part of that defense, and I think he's played good, tough football this year, so hopefully he can continue to improve and keep playing well.
Q. Obviously we've seen Kyle Carter make some big plays, but what is it about his personality that's allowed him to step up the way he has?
Bill O'Brien: Yeah, he's a very smart guy. He's a very instinctive player, and he's one of those football players that you only have to tell once. There's a difference between being smart in class and smart on the field. Some guys don't have both. Some guys are very bright students but not as smart on the field or vice versa, and this guy has both. He's a very smart guy in the classroom, he's a very smart guy on the football field, and he's only going to get better. He practices hard. He gets it. He's just a great kid to be around. He's got excellent hands. He's a tough guy, and obviously we're fortunate to have him here at Penn State.
Q. You've talked all year about your one game season philosophy. I'm just wondering how the team has adapted to that philosophy.
Bill O'Brien: Well, we talk about it quite a bit. We talked about it yesterday. Now we're into six one game seasons here, so this is the first game of a six game deal here. We've got to make improvement. We've got to understand that we're playing a very tough team on the road that had a very big win over Michigan State, and they've got momentum right now. We've got to go out and practice very hard, very physical, and this is the one the first game of this six game season. So I think our guys are focused on that.
They don't think about anything other than Iowa. I can tell you that. We show them tape. We talk about it all the time, and that's what they're focused on is Iowa.
Q. With losing the first two games and all the 3rd down conversions, there was a lot of criticism early about Ted Roof. The defense has played a lot better lately. How would you evaluate the job that he's done so far?
Bill O'Brien: Yeah, I think it's the media's job to observe and report and make sure that make their own opinions of what's happening on offense and defense. But I can tell you that Ted is one of the best defensive coaches that I've ever been around. He's a multiple guy, he's an aggressive guy. The players respect him. They love to play for him, and he's done an excellent job.
You know, football in a lot of ways is about improvement. Football is about improvement. It's about improvement of players, it's about improvement of coaches, it's about being disciplined, it's about understanding who you're playing, and each game is different.
So I think that all of us have shown improvement throughout the year, and like I've said, hopefully that can continue because this is the toughest part of our schedule. But Ted Roof has done a really good job, and I'm glad he's here.
Q. You guys ran 99 offensive plays against Northwestern. Did you think the team was capable of doing that early in the season, and is that a sign of the progress the offense has made adapting to your system?
Bill O'Brien: Well, I think every game is different. What happened in that game is we got a pretty good tempo going, and the defense did a really good job of creating a lot of three and outs in that game, which gave us a bunch of possessions and things like that. So I think every game is different. It's whatever it takes to win the game. Maybe it's 70 plays in a game, but you end up winning the game because maybe the defense held, but it was a little bit longer drive for the offense, whatever it may be. But I think our offense has improved, and hopefully I can, like I've said, we can continue to improve.
Q. With 4th downs, I know you've been asked about this a lot, but I'm wondering is there any sort of formula or anything like that you use that says I'm definitely going to go for it in this situation and this situation I'm definitely not going to go for it, or is it just kind of a play by play thing?
Bill O'Brien: No, there's definitely a lot of thought that goes into it. I wouldn't say it's exactly a formula. It's more about game planning and knowing what you might get on 4th down, where is the ball, what's the how's the game going, how's your defense playing. Because any time you go for it on 4th down or most times you go for it on 4th down you're going to give up some field position, and if your defense is playing really well, then you have confidence that they can stop them if you don't get it on a shorter field, then that has a lot to do with it, too.
But it is a feel for the game within the game, but it's also something that we game plan for.
Q. What will the schedule be like on Saturday specifically regarding the kids being around all day for a night game at a hotel? Not always the easiest thing to deal with.
Bill O'Brien: Yeah, well, it is new for me here at Penn State, but it's not new for me. We played all night games in New England. We played a bunch of 4 o'clock and we were either on Monday Night Football or Sunday Night Football quite a bit. I understand that number one is we'll let them sleep in a little bit, get some rest, and then we'll wake them up, we'll have a nice breakfast, and then we'll meet, we'll walk through, we'll let them go chill out a little bit more, then we'll meet again, we'll walk through again, and we'll just continue to kind of keep them moving throughout the day and let them watch some football that's going on during the day and then continue to go over their notes for the game and all those things and just be as prepared as we can be once we start the game.