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October 31, 2012

Bill O'Brien

JEFF NELSON:  Thanks.  Welcome to our weekly teleconference with Coach O'Brien.  We will start with questions.  Go ahead.    

Q.  Bill, now that you have had a chance to review the film, why do you think your team committed so many penalties against Ohio State?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Really, to be frank with you, Rich, we have moved on from Ohio State and moved on to Purdue.  Hopefully we have corrected the mistakes from that game in practice and will continue to do that over the next three days here, but we have a big challenge for us at Purdue, and we've turned the page.  We're working on Purdue and we turned the page on Monday.

Q.  Bill, you talked a little bit about Purdue yesterday.  What's the bigger challenge in your mind?  Dealing with the size of their defensive tackles or just getting ready for their multiple offense?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Well, both are challenges, Bob.  I tell you, starting with our offense versus their defense, their two inside tackles are very, very good players with Short and Gaston.  These guys are active, they're big, strong, physical, they have a good size secondary, linebackers that are active.
We have a big challenge ahead of us.  Offensively they're a varied, multiple offense.  You're going to have to defend the field both horizontally and vertically, you've got to do a great job on third down, so it's a big job for our defense.
Special teams, we've got to play better on special teams than we have in the past.  Especially last week, so that's what we're trying to do is shore up some things on special teams and it's a big challenge for us.

Q.  Bill, for your seniors, they're down to four games left, after everything they have been through, and how will that affect them this final month? 
COACH O'BRIEN:  Again, this is indicative of our football team.  We have a resilient bunch of players and like I've said every single week, it's led by a fantastic senior class, a bunch of guys that have a passion for playing football for Penn State, for going to school here at Penn State, and they realize that there is only four games left, but, really, like I said in the beginning, we're just concentrating on Purdue.
They understand that they have four shots left, and it's been really neat to come to practice this week and watch these guys practice with great effort, with passion, compete against each other.  Yesterday's practice, the pads were popin' and that was really good to see.  Again, that's all because of our senior class and their leadership.

Q.  Bill, could you provide a quick update on Kyle Carter, and also with regard to the tight end, how long has that been important to you as an offensive coach, and what do you expect from the guys that play that "F" spot?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Kyle Carter is day‑to‑day, so we will have to monitor him at the end of the week and see how he can cut and do certain things, you know, obviously in the passing game to determine whether he can play or not.  I know he wants to play so he's working hard to get back on the field.
That tight end position, you know, really, we've always thought that the tight end was a big part of what we've done, whether it was Georgia Tech, whether it was Maryland.  Georgia Tech we had guys like J.P. Foschi, Maryland we had guys like Vernon Davis and Jeff Dugan.  And obviously New England the past couple of years with Rob and Aaron.  So we've always felt the F tight end and the Y.
What people have to understand is those positions are interchangable.  That F guy can be a Y and that Y guy can be an F, depends on the personnel group you called and what you're trying to do with your personnel groupings.  Those are two difficult positions in our offense to learn, second only to the quarterback position, because you're involved in all facets of the game.  You're a route runner, a blocker, all the things that go into playing that position, so it will always be an important part of what we do here at Penn State.

Q.  Yesterday you mentioned how you know you need to improve the kick‑off return game.  Do you think the issues are with the guys with the balls in the hands, the returners themselves, the guys in front of them block and go how close do you think you are to fixing the problems?
COACH O'BRIEN:  I tell you, it's a little bit of everything.  It's the blockers, it's the scheme, got to do a better job with the scheme.  Got to do a better job with the scheme.  It's the return guys.  It's 11 guys working together.  We've got to coach it better.  We've really worked on it this week and hopefully you will see improvement in it this weekend.
Again, when you're starting drives inside the 20 yard line, inside the 15 yard line, in the Big 10 it's hard to drive the ball consistently 90 yards, 85 yards.  It's easier to play on a shorter field, so hopefully we can show the improvement that we think we have seen in practice, hopefully we can show that in the game on Saturday.

Q.  I was wondering how Sam Ficken was looking in practice lately and is your confidence with him to the point where you will put him in in a tough situation the rest of the season?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Again, you know, Sam Ficken over the last couple of weeks has had a little bit of a quad issue, so we have been monitoring that and not kicking him as much in practice and, again, we have confidence in Sam's ability, but we have had to monitor his leg over the last couple of weeks, so that's what we're trying to do here leading into this game, too and hopefully by the end of the week we will have a better idea of what his range can be.
Now he was able to go in Saturday and kick off and I thought he had some nice kick offs.  I went for it on fourth down, and I think it would have been a 37‑yard field goal and again, that was more because I felt good about the play call and had nothing to do with my lack of confidence in Sam.  I have confidence in Sam, I just felt we needed to get a first down and get in for a touchdown on that drive, so that's where we are right now.

Q.  Earlier today in his interviews, John Urschel said that he thought that you got a little‑‑ the team got a little too excited for the game, and they need to calm down and stay collected.  Did you see any of that?
COACH O'BRIEN:  No, I didn't see‑‑ again, I respect John and his opinion.  John's a highly respected guy on our team but, again, we've moved on to Purdue and that's what we're working on right now is getting ready to play Purdue.

Q.  Alex Kenney, can you talk about his progress and why his role has decreased as the season has gone along and also would he be a guy that you might be looking at for kick offs, since it sounds like you're going to open up the competition this week?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Sure.  You know, there are a lot of positions on our football team that are very competitive.  If you look on offense, the running back position is very competitive.  The receiver position, the tight end position.  The offensive tackle position, the guard position, especially the left guard position.  Very competitive positions.  So you have to go out there every single day on the practice field and you have to compete to the best of your ability.
You have to know your assignments, you have to catch the ball, you have to run good routes, you have to block properly in the running game.  That's what we're striving to do with every position and at the end of the week we determine who plays based odd how they have practiced so that's what we would say for every position on the team.
In the return game we're looking at a few different guys this week and by the end of the week we will make a decision on who is returning kicks.

Q.  At the risk of hitting you with another John Urschel question, he mentioned that they have been working on improved communication between the linemen and between Matt and the linemen.  Do you think that's an important thing and how do you go about working on that in practice?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Sure.  Again, we have tried to really work on that with the music and the loud noise during practice, using signals and using different cadences that we've had and I think it's improved.
We've also met about it, I've sat down with Stank and Matt McGloin about it, two great kids, bright guys, and, again, I think it starts with me, with coaching, so we have tried to coach it better and be more detailed about this week and hopefully it will be better this week.

Q.  The NASCAR offense is exceptionally demanding.  How much of that can be credited to the stuff that Fitz is doing with his new strength and conditioning program?
COACH O'BRIEN:  I do feel like we have a team that's in good condition.  I watch these guys on Monday nights after practice we condition and we condition pretty hard and that's only two days after the game and I've been very impressed with the level of conditioning, really, since the beginning of the season.
I think that does have a lot to do with the off‑season conditioning program of Fitz, and that helps in the up‑tempo way we play.  I think we practice fast, we run from drill to drill, a lot of you guys have been at practices and you can see we go from stretch to sprint to the next drill and we try to practice at a fast pace and I think that helps the level of conditioning.

Q.  What do you think of Fitz' pregame routine with the worm and all that?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Fitz is a flexible guy, he's a guy that's always been known for his dance moves, and I'm going to recommend him for "Dancing with the Stars" because since he's been at Penn State he's become a rock star.  He does a great job.

Q.  Bill, in your three losses you've been outscored 42‑3 in the third quarter.  Does that concern you, and what do you have to do to play better in that quarter?
COACH O'BRIEN:  That's definitely a problem, and I think that leads back to myself and coaching.  We've got to do a better job of adjusting at halftime and coming out with a better plan for the third quarter.
I think in some games, like you said, that's our three losses but obviously in our five wins we have done a better job of coming out at halftime, but that's a fair criticism and we have to make sure that starting this week we do a better job at halftime.

Q.  On Fitz, Mike Hull said earlier today when he was asked about the craziest thing Fitz has done, he said he licked the floor.  Is he a different kinda guy?
COACH O'BRIEN:  He's a very intense guy, he's a fun guy.  The guys really enjoy going into the weight room.  He's a bright guy.
They enjoy lifting in there, conditioning with him, they enjoy going in there and talking to him.  As far as, like, licking the floor and things like that, you'll have to get him over here and you can ask him.  I don't know about that.

Q.  What type of defensively end has Deion Barnes been for you this year and what has his relationship went with Sean Stanley?  What type of relationship do they have?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Deion has been a athletic player, he's big, he's athletic, and he's rangey, he's instinctive, he understands things that he sees, offensively, he can think about what's going to happen before it happens so he's able to react faster.
He and Sean Stanley, that whole defensive line, that's a close group.  Offensive lines and defensive lines are always close with each other and with their coaches, because that's a very, very physical position that they play.  It's a different deal playing those positions, offensive line, defensive line, and you're getting hit on every play and it's just different.  So they have close relationships with each other and with their coach.

Q.  I'm wondering if there are challenges in practicing through the storm this week.  I know you were inside for a lot of it, was it hard to get everybody together?  Was that difficult for you guys?
COACH O'BRIEN:  No, I think, again, it was rainy and windy but it wasn't anything that really held us back, it was just more of practicing inside because we felt like we could get the most done inside.  I don't like going inside but because of the wind and the rain and the field conditions, again, at this point in the season I would rather go inside and get productive work rather than risk having somebody get injured on a slippery field or something like that.
We're going outside today for at least part of the practice, if not the whole practice.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH O'BRIEN:  Sure, there are always risks, that's why we'll work on the turf today, we'll go on that outdoor turf today.

Q.  You have some players from NewYork and New Jersey, any of them have impacts in terms of the storm and the flooding?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Again, it's a tough deal, having been in a hurricane myself in Massachusetts in the early 90s, I was in a hurricane.  It's a tough deal.
I think right now all of our players' families are doing okay.  Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those folks in New Jersey and everywhere that you're seeing on the news, it's a brutal deal, but I think our players haven't been necessarily affected by it.

Q.  You were pretty hard on yourself last week after the loss.  Are there one or two areas you are trying to improve on going against Purdue?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Yeah, I try to do as good of a job every day of self‑critique in making sure I'm doing the best I can for these players and this University.  That's every single day, whether we win or lose.  I'm always trying to figure out what I could do better than the day before or the practice before or the game before.  That will never change; that's what I always try to do.

Q.  What have you seen out of Purdue's secondary on film, particularly their safety, Landon Feichter leading them in tackles, what stands out?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Feichter, one thing that stands out is his range.  He's got really good range, he can run, he's got good ball skills, he's instinctive and I would say that about the whole secondary.  You're also talking about Taylor Richards, good range, instinctive player.  Josh Johnson, their corner, 6‑feet tall, 200‑pound guy, he's had a good season, an aggressive player and then Ricardo Allen and Frankie Williams, the guys on the other side have played well, too.  It's a big challenge for our offense and for our receivers and our tight ends in this game, no question about it.

Q.  Is there an art to building a coaching staff?  Do you lean on your contacts more or is there recruiting gamesmanship on keeping an eye on what good assistants are doing a good job around the country and at some point looking at bringing in outside guys.
COACH O'BRIEN:  The number one I think about when I look at a staff and the number one thing I think about with regards to a recruit are their character.  Are they good people?  Are they honest?  Do they have a great work ethic?
When it comes to coaching, are they guys, in my opinion, that I have worked with before or that I trust somebody that I know that's worked with them before and trust their opinion of them.  Things like that.
We have an excellent football staff of coaches that communicate well with the players, that are smart, that have been in a lot of different situations footballwise that are good teachers and excellent recruiters, so this is a staff that can hopefully stay together for a while.

Q.  In terms of balancing, retaining assistants, young assistants oftentimes have desires to move up the coaching ranks.  How do you balance stability versus bringing in new coaches for fresh ideas so that your product doesn't become stale over time.
COACH O'BRIEN:  Well, we just got here, Nate, so I would hope our product isn't getting stale.  I haven't been here a year, it will be a year Jan 6th, so the word "stale" isn't being used, hopefully, quite yet, but at the end of the day I want our coaches to be willing to work extremely hard to do the best they can with their own careers.
I've been only a head coach for nine months; I just was there.  I always wanted to be a head football coach.  I think you want guys on your staff that aspire to those things, too, and some guys are older, and they don't necessarily want to be that; they just want to do the best job they can for Penn State and in their role on the staff.  But this is a smart staff, a good teaching staff, a good recruiting staff, a staff that gets along together and a creative, bright staff.
So I don't see the word "stale" being used for quite a while with our staff.

Q.  You were just talking about getting better every day and always wanting to improve with your coaching.  What are the biggest challenges that you've encountered as a head coach eight games in now at this point?
COACH O'BRIEN:  There are challenges, every day, that's a great question.  There are challenges every day, whether it's administrative challenges or maybe players come into you and they have personal issues that you want to talk to them about.
The one thing that I've tried to do every single day is work extremely hard and be organized in my work.  That's what I'll always try to do here and the other thing I've tried to do is be open, honest with our staff, with our players, and to make sure that everybody has an idea every single day of where they stand, what do they‑‑ you can't stay the same, you have to figure outweighs to get better.
Hopefully I've done that every day.  Other than that there has been a lot of challenges, just being a first‑time head coach there is a ton of challenges.  We would have to be here all day for me to tell you exactly all that there are, but there are challenges on the field, off the field, everywhere.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH O'BRIEN:  Never been a head coach so just went into it and said I'm going to be as organized as I can be, I'm going to be as hard working as I can be, and still have time for my family, and I'm going to do the best job I can for Penn State and these players.
I can't tell you how much I enjoy these players.  I've had the most fun coaching that I've had compared to any year.  I had a ton of fun last year, we went to a Super Bowl, that was great, and this has been just as much if not more fun and rewarding, coaching this team and being around these players.

Q.  Can you describe your adjustment and satisfaction to the Big 10 officiating process‑‑ not specifically the officiating but the process.  Obviously there is going to be a couple of calls per game, do you break that tape down, send it to them?  In particular the call at the end of the half, the hold.  I'm curious whether that came up in terms of questioning.
COACH O'BRIEN:  Right, right, okay.  I respect the question but I have to be very careful on how I answer this question, because I don't want to do anything to represent Penn State in the wrong way, and I want to make sure that people know that I have a ton of respect for the Big 10 referees and Bill Carollo, the head of the referees.  But after the season when we get together I'm going to have questions.  I want things defined, what is this, what is that, what are we looking for, here?
And we do send‑‑ if we have questions on certain calls that were made we do send it in, but that will be one of my questions, okay, what happens when we send 'em in?  We get a response, but what's done about that?
Do we try to fix the problem, do we just, okay, that was the answer, all right, next game?  So those will be things I will try to address after the season, but I have a lot of respect for the Big 10 officials, they're good at communicating, and I'm sure they haven't had a lot of fun with me, certain crews haven't had a lot of fun with me, and I'm going to fight for my staff and for Penn State and that's the way I'm always going to be.

Q.  You have talked about your seniors.  You're not going to have a bowl game, are you seeing junior leadership develop and particularly how important for the next month or so?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Great question.  Yeah, I've definitely seen junior leadership show up.  As a matter of fact the way our stretch lines are set up, our seniors lead, and then the first row that faces our seniors are all juniors, mostly juniors, and so I've seen‑‑ I look at those guys every day and I say those are the guys that are going to be the leaders of this football team next year with the addition of other players, like Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter, but I do see some guys there that will be leaders next year and have taken on that role this year.

Q.  You talked about Sean Stanley, he had a nagging back problem earlier in the season but Saturday he had arguably his best game of the season.  How have you seen him develop over the season?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Sean Stanley is one of those guys, I was just talking to him in our stretch line, he plays instinctively hard and he's tough.  He has played every game this year with the games he's played in, with a back issue.  If you know anything about back issues to play defensive end in the Big 10 conference and play the way he plays is a credit to him.  He's a tough guy, I've enjoyed watching him play and getting to know him and I wish we had him for longer than we do, but I've seen him develop and get better and better and he plays with great effort.
He almost blocked a punt the other nature and we were only in punt safe and he came close to blocking a punt because of his own effort, his own work ethic.

Q.  Kyle Carter, how surprised are you with his success?  Is there a tight end in New England that he most reminds you of?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Yeah, I'm not surprised at all with his success.  In spring practice I noticed right away that he had very good hands, he was an excellent athlete, I knew that he was going to continue to develop in the weight room with his strength and things like that and just saw where he was, a unique athlete, and that's a big, important term because he's nothing like anybody that we had in New England.
Rob Gronkowski is 6‑7, 275 pounds with a low percentage of body fat, Aaron Hernandez is 6‑4, 245, 250 pounds that runs a 4.5 40, so you're talking about totally different players, all thee of these guys, and Kyle being a college player, those guys are professional athletes, but they have different skill sets, and I haven't been surprised at all with the production that Kyle Carter has this year.

Q.  I know you like to focus on what you have going here but with Danny Hope on the hot seat and Purdue needing a couple of wins to be bowl eligibility, is there any doubt in your mind that your team will be able to match their intensity on Saturday?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Again, this team only has four games left and every game is a bowl game for us, every time we go out there.
You only‑‑ like baseball plays every other day, sometimes every day, basketball plays every other day.  We only play once a week.  We play once a week.  We practice five times very hard for that one opportunity to play a game.
So, you know, regardless of whatever is going on with any team that you play, and vice versa, we've got to go out there and our players, I believe, understand that we have only four more opportunities.  We only play once a week, that's all we have.  So we're going to put it all out there hopefully on Saturday.

Q.  If Kyle can't go, how does that impact your personnel sets and are there particular guys that you think will have to step up?
COACH O'BRIEN:  If Kyle can't go, the next guys have to do an excellent job and that includes obviously Jesse James, Matt Lehman, Garry Gilliam would be involved in certain things.  You know, we have talented guys in that position.  That's a luxury to have three guys there, you have four total with Kyle, to play the bulk of those snaps; if one goes down you still have three.  That's a pretty good deal.  Those guys know what the challenge is in playing Purdue and they'll be looking forward to it.

Q.  Adrian Amos got the first interception for the secondary, Saturday night.  Do you and Ted pay attention to turnovers, and are there specific practice drills that you guys work on to increase that?
COACH O'BRIEN:  We work every day on take aways, whether it's fumble recoveries, interception drills, tip drills, whatever it may be, we work extremely hard every single day on all of our guys and their ball skills so hopefully we will continue to see improvement on that in the weeks ahead.
THE MODERATOR:  Thanks, Coach.

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