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November 6, 2012

Bill O'Brien

THE MODERATOR:  Welcome to our weekly teleconference with Coach Bill O'Brien.  We will start with questions.

Q.  Bill, can you give us an update on the status of Jordan Hill and Kyle Carter for this week?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Both those guys, Rich, are day‑to‑day.  They come in every day for treatment.  Then, you know, we take a look at 'em in the training room, in the weight room, out on the field, and really that will be a later‑in‑the‑week decision, whether they can play or not.

Q.  What do you see as the similarities between Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez, both good throwing arms, solid quarterbacks?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Good question, I believe that both guys are tremendous athletes; they both have excellent speed.  I believe that both of those guys have worked on their throwing mechanics and improved throwing the football.  Taylor Martinez has done an excellent job.  I think he's completing 65% of his passes, he is an accurate guy, he can run, and they both‑‑ they have great command of their offense, so they know‑‑ they're coached very well.  They know what they want to do, how they want to attack things and obviously with both guys it's a huge challenge for any defense.

Q.  How do you think your depth overall on the team has developed this year, especially now that you have guys like Jesse James, Brandon Moseby‑Felder and James Terry to play bigger roles for you?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Sure, these guys have stepped up.  If you look at every position.  If you start on offense and you look at the offensive line, we played a lot of guys on the offensive line through the year, Ty Howle plays, Angelo Mangiro played, Eric Shrive played.  Look at the running back position, you guys know as well as I do we have played a lot of guys there.
We have played guys at receiver, Felder has come along, Matt Zanellato had a catch last game, Trevor Williams, Alex Kenny, Evan Lewis has seen time.  You look at the tight end, you just mentioned Jesse James, all the guys have done a nice job stepping up for the most part.
You look at the defensive team and the defensive line, I believe we do a really good job of rotating guys in there, keeping guys fresh and you mentioned James Terry, Kyle Baublitz has played, Pete Massaro has played, a number of guys contributed there, Mike Hull plays linebacker, and we were able to get Yancich and Kline in there.  Those guys went in there and played hard.
The secondary, those guys don't have as many numbers there, but we've got guys in, and most of these guys are on full scholarship, and that's their role, to step up and play when we ask them to play.

Q.  How do you expect the atmosphere playing a road game at Nebraska to differ than the other three Big 10 road games you've played?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Well, I would expect that this atmosphere will be very loud, very intense, from what I hear.  I've never been to Nebraska but from what I hear they have respectful fans, they're loud, they cheer for their team and they appreciate an opponent that plays hard and plays clean.
We're really looking forward to it.  It's, again, it's like Nebraska ‑ Penn State, that's what college football is all about.  You have two big‑time college football programs that have two good coaching staffs and a lot of good players and playing in a great game in Lincoln, that atmosphere, hopefully it's fun.

Q.  I was wondering if you could talk about back‑up offensive line guys, Baublitz, Terry, have they given you at this point in the season kind of what you were expecting in that position?
BILL O'BRIEN:  They sure have.  I've been pleased with both those guys.  You know, they're guys that don't start but they play.  When they go in there they play hard, and they do what they're supposed to do.  They play their assignment as best that they can and they're Penn State football players.
They accept their role and they do‑‑ they try to excel in their role, and they've made plays for us this year.  James Terry had a couple of big plays in the Purdue game, had a sack in the red area, Kyle, when he has gone in there, he's played hard, too, and he's a tough guy.  Great kid to be around.

Q.  The Big 10 is going to be announcing All‑Big‑10 teams in a few weeks.  First, I wanted to know your thoughts about all‑conference teams, and given Matt's production in the passing game, do you feel like he deserves consideration as one of the first two All‑Big‑10 teams at quarterback?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Joe, I respect the question, I'm focused on Nebraska.  I'm not thinking about all‑conference teams.  We're focused on a very good football team in Lincoln, Nebraska and the University of Nebraska with a great coaching staff and great players.  After the season I'll read who is on the all‑conference team, but right now I am just focused on the opponent.

Q.  The secondary is a unit that maybe we haven't talked about as much as some of the other position groups on the team.  Seemed like they were pretty big on Saturday.  Talk about their progress, especially since you don't have quite the depth there that you have with other position groups.
BILL O'BRIEN:  Sure.  I believe they're one of the most improved units on the team.  They're very well coached by John Butler.  I think that anybody that's been to our practices and watches John coach those guys with detail and intensity and he's a teacher, you know, he accepts nothing less than their best.  So I think he's done a great job with those guys.
Then you have to give them a lot of credit.  Stephon Morris, Adrian Amos, they have done a really good job.  Morris was one of the players in the game for us against Purdue.  He's worked hard at his individual technique and done a really good job.  Adrian has had a really good year for us.  He's a big kid, he's a tough kid, fun guy to coach.
Then you look at the safety position with Malcolm Willis and Jake Fagnano and Steven Obeng, these guys have played well for us.  Then you look at the role guys that are in that position like Jesse Della Valle, he's come up big in special teams for us.  Then you look at freshman like Jordan Lucas and Da'Quan Davis; these guys have improved every week.  You can't say enough about the players in that position.  We have three games left, let's hope they improve, but to this point in the season they have done everything we have asked them to do.

Q.  Watching Nebraska play it appears that their receivers are about as physical as any group of receivers in the conference when it comes to run/blocking.  Is that something that stands out and is that a match‑up that you think will be important this week?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Sure, there is no question, it's a big, big match‑up.  Nebraska has very talented players at every position and, you know, there is going to be times during the game where our secondary players have to make players in space and get off blocks and that will be a big challenge because Nebraska does a nice job with their scheme.

Q.  Has Zach Zwinak done enough to become your starter, or will the guys have to compete in practice and you will pick your starter based on practice?
BILL O'BRIEN:  That will be a competition every week.  Zach has done a really good job for us for the most part, he's a tough kid, he's big, he breaks tackles, he can catch the ball well, he's smart.  So he will always be in the competition, but that will be a competition every week with all those guys, Billy Belton, Zordich, Derek Day, all those guys.  That will be a practice competition every week.
And you know that's really what we try to do at every position, at every position.  Is it easy to beat out Matt Stankiewitch at center?  No, of course he's probably going to be our center, but he knows every week that he has to perform well in practice and that's the same for every position.  Is Jordan Hill going to be our starting defensive tackle?  Probably, but he knows he's got to go out there and practice, and same thing with Hodges and Moseby and Carson.  You name it if they're a starter, they know they have to earn it every day on the practice field.

Q.  Were Hill and Carter able to do anything in practice this week?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Yeah, yep.  They've been able to do some things, yeah.

Q.  You were asked about the running back situation.  The message sent to Bill Belton, how important do you think it is to send that message, to work hard in practice, first‑year program?  What does that tell everybody on the team for ya?
BILL O'BRIEN:  I wouldn't say it's so much of a message, as I would say that from day one that I arrived here and our staff arrived here we've talked to our guys about the importance of practice and producing in practice.  Everything you get is earned.  It's earned on the practice field.
So there is no message being sent.  That was just‑‑ that's what we do.  There is a reason why you practice.  You practice to compete and get ready for games, and life is about competition.  We try to compete every day and we try to be as fair as we can as coaches and tell the players who are starting or who are going to play important roles, why they're playing and the other guys need to step it up and tell them why.
Those are conversations between myself and those players but that's really the deal with us, always, will be at Penn State that we're going to practice hard and reward players that practice the right way.

Q.  How aware are you of the history of Nebraska's walk‑on program, and what lessons can you take from their walk‑on program to build here?
BILL O'BRIEN:  There is no question, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, those places have great traditions of run‑on programs, and those guys‑‑ they just have done an excellent job, whether it was Coach Pelini or Tom Osborne or Frank Solich when he was there.  They've done a good job of making sure that they bring in kids, whether they're scholarship kids or run‑on guys, that they're going to be good players for them.  They develop them in practice.
Nebraska is famous for how they practice, especially back when I started coaching, when they had unlimited roster numbers so they could practice‑‑ almost have two separate practices, where they were developing practice squad‑type players over here and over here they were getting ready to play Oklahoma.  So they've really been one of the pioneers for run‑on‑type programs in the history of college football so, sure, I have a lot of respect for what they've done there.

Q.  Can you talk about the development of your running game how it's develop throughout the first eight, nine games?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Yeah, I believe it's‑‑ I definitely believe it's improved.  I was sitting there this morning thinking about how much this team has improved from the first day we started spring practice to where we are now.
It really an ongoing process, and football is about improvement and how can you get better, and how does that translate to winning games.  I think the running game has improved; I believe it can be even better.  I think some of that has to do with me as a head coach and making sure that‑‑ and as the play caller, making sure that I'm putting these guys in the best position to run the football.
I think our offensive line has improved, I think our offensive line plays together and communicates well and they're tough and smart and they're coached very well by Mac McWhorter, and I think our running backs have competed, competed in practice, and they've improved as the year has gone on with different seems.
These are different schemes than these kids ran before.  We run the power one way; they ran it different from I got here, outside zone, inside zone, so it's not that easy to get used to the different ways of running the football and blocking schemes and things, so I do think there has been improvement and hopefully it can continue.

Q.  When you are assessing quarterback talent, how much do you weigh someone's physical skills versus mental or intangible qualities?  Can you talk about Matt's development in those areas?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Great question.  They're really very equal.  There are some things that are givens when you look at a quarterback.  The guy has to be accurate.  Doesn't necessarily mean that he has to have a rocket arm, he has to be accurate.  So that's number one.
Beyond that what else do you look for, decision making.  So when you're watching a high school game, a high school tape you have to do the best you can to decide or judge is this guy making good decisions on tape.  You don't really know what he's being coached to do, you're looking at the film and saying, okay, it's cover one, and he tried to stuff the ball in over here where really he should have gone over here‑‑ you're trying to make educated decisions on how he makes decisions.
And then when you meet the young man which in college, and it is difficult because you're not allowed to be around them as much because of the rules, but when you do you just try to talk to them and learn about him as a person, learn how he communicates, how his mind works, how he thinks about things and obviously intelligence becomes a big, big factor.
In Mattwe knew right away we had a smart guy, a guy that was going to work, we knew we had a competitive guy.  You have to give Matt a lot of credit because to this point in the season he's‑‑ people have critiqued him and this and that, but this guy has had a good year.  The proof is in how he's played and he's meant a lot to our football team, and I'm proud of the kid for how far he's come.

Q.  A lot of the guys, a lot of other players say that Mauti and Hodges, one reason for their success is their motor and everything that they have on the field, but how much of it do you think you can trace to the amount of time they prepare and study and watch film, perhaps even outside of practice?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Well, again, a lot of these questions today lead back to the players themselves.  Also the coaching, I think, Ted and ‑‑ Ron Vanderlinden and Ted Roof have done an excellent job of coaching these guys; Ted in the scheme of things and Ron in the techniques of how to play the position, and you have to give all those linebackers, Mauti, Hodges, Carson, Hull, Yancich, Kline, they all watch film together on their own, they're self‑motivated guys, they practice hard.
Practice is very important to them, they lift hard in the weight room, they prepare their bodies and they prepare their minds, and it's been pretty cool to catch these guys play this year.

Q.  At this point in the season, are you able to find you are able to get nuanced with Matthew McGloin a little bit?  Does he come to you and say, "Hey, I think we should do this?"  Does he come to you that way?
BILL O'BRIEN:  No question he's earned my trust and he studies tape and I wouldn't say that he comes to me a lot with ideas, you know, but he does‑‑ during the games he sees things and he'll say, "Hey, they're doing this, we might want to try that," and they're good thoughts.
The touchdown against Purdue, that was Matt.  He said, "Hey, Coach, they're jumping that slip screen, we might want to go" ‑‑ that was Matt.  So as you learn more about your role and the offense, you have every right to have communication between coach and player and Matt has definitely earned that right.

Q.  Did you want to have that as a coach, with a player that makes suggestions?
BILL O'BRIEN:  I want a player that understands that he needs to earn the right to do that, but then once he shows us and gains our trust that he can go out there and make plays and get us into the right play and make good decisions, that, yeah, as the relationship builds you definitely want to hear what he thinks.

Q.  Coach, especially in Big 10 play, Nebraska finds an extra gear in the fourth quarter.  I wondered what you think about that?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Yeah, I would agree, this is a heck of a team, it's an explosive football team that's very well coached.  This is a huge challenge for us.  They have, and I think that goes back to coaching.  Bo does a great job‑‑ I have a lot of respect for Bo.  I think in many ways we see the game in similar ways, and just from watching them on tape, and they do, they seem to especially in Big 10 games they have really good fourth quarters.  So, again, it's going to be a huge challenge for us and trying to keep it close so in the fourth quarter it's still a game, that's what we're going to try to do.

Q.  In the Big 10, they're averaging about 2 minutes a drive, two parts to that.  How much does it help that your defense is used to that pace, and do you do anything to slow that down?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Number one is they do a great job with their uptempo, no‑huddle package, so basically every time we have practiced that out on the practice field some form of fast‑pace, no‑huddle, so hopefully our players will be ready for the tempo.  You never totally get that same tempo in practice that you're going to get in a game but hopefully they will do it.
Then there are different things we do to try to slow the tempo down a little bit but I will keep that between myself and our coaches but there are tricks of the trade that you can do to slow some things down.

Q.  You talked about the improvement the team is making and without a bowl game.  I'm wondering if you can frame what this game means to the three‑game stretch that you have and how much a strong finish would mean to what you've built here in this year.
BILL O'BRIEN:  Again, I believe that every game has meant a lot to us.  Some games we always wish that we could have back.  We wish we could have coached better, played better, but when you have 12 opportunities, every single game is a big game.  This game is no bigger than any other game; it's just another big game!  It's against a very, very good team.
We just want to continue to try to play well, build off Purdue, the Purdue game, and know that we're going into a tough environment and trying to play as well as we can.

Q.  Your secondary, how do you feel those guys have caught the ball and your defense in catching the ball in general.  Seems there have been more opportunities for interceptions.  I'm wondering how you assessed that?
BILL O'BRIEN:  I believe that we have left some interceptions on the field that we could have caught and our players know that.  Our players work extremely hard at that, ball drills during practice.  Catching the football is not as easy as maybe Alan Robinson makes it seem.  Catching the football is an acquired skill, and our guys are working hard on it and hopefully you will see over the last three games some improvement there.
You would like for the ball, when it's in the air and you have a shot at it, to come able to come down with it, and overall we probably need to do a better job there.

Q.  You've been at the grind for a while and now you don't have a bowl game to play for.  Has there ever been a point in the past couple of weeks where you have been worried about players' focus or intensity?
BILL O'BRIEN:  I really have not.  I really haven't and if I ever sensed anything, I've tried to nip it in the bud as soon as possible, but this is one thing that impresses me about this football team, is that they come out to practice every single day and they have‑‑ they practice hard, and I think they really enjoy practicing and they have fun.  We do try to have fun, you know, you've been to practices, we crank the music, we move fast, it's not just like huddle, break the huddle, run a dive play.  Huddle up again, run another dive play, you know what I mean?
We try to mix things up and practice situational football and compete against each other, so these guys have really taken to the way we practice and they have had fun doing it.

Q.  Have you done anything different in the last week to change it up?
BILL O'BRIEN:  I would say that last week early in the week I did something different, but I'll keep that between myself and the team.

Q.  Veteran's Day coming up, not a lot of football teams have a military veteran on their team, but you guys do with P.J. Byers, what does that bring to this team?
BILL O'BRIEN:  We also have Brent Smith, who, I believe, served two tours in Iraq.  It's a big deal and it's really neat to have these guys around because they're a little older and obviously they've been through a lot more than any of us.  So the players on our team have a lot of respect for them and the perspective that they bring to the football team is pretty neat.  Obviously, I've said this before, our football program, myself, we have so much respect for our military and our veterans who are fightin' in all corners of the world and for us, for our ability to play football on Saturdays and go to school at Penn State Monday through Friday.  It's a big deal and we're lucky to have two of those guys on our football team.

Q.  Brandon Moseby‑Felder is a guy we didn't see a whole lot of in the beginning of the season but the last four weeks he's gotten more and more targets.  Why has he seen so much more work and how much has he improved?
BILL O'BRIEN:  He's improved a lot, but he's played the whole season and you have seen him over the last few weeks catch a few more balls.  He's improved in his route running, he's done everything we asked him to do in the running game, blocks, blocks the down safety, blocks corners, blocks for the screens.  He's a team guy, one of the more improved guys on our football from a route running standpoint, from a health standpoint, durability standpoint, he's catching the ball better, and hopefully he can continue to improve over the next three weeks.

Q.  Jesse James stepped in for Kyle Carter pretty well against Purdue.  How has he developed this season and what kind of potential do you think he has going forward?
BILL O'BRIEN:  He has unlimited potential.  He is a 6‑7, 265‑pound young kid who came out of high school early, took a while to learn what we were trying to do, but, you know, he kept working at it, he's a hard‑working Pittsburgh kid and he is coached well, again, by John Strollo, and he's done well in the weight room and we're expecting big things from over the next few years, no question, and the next few games.

Q.  You said about Nebraska, talked about the run‑on program.  Will you reach out to them at any point to pick their brain about that and if so when and how do you expecting it to go?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Not just Nebraska, I'm going to reach out to a few programs.  I'm going to leave that between myself and our staff right now but a few programs here in the off‑season.  It's all about‑‑ in my opinion, a little bit of professional development, but also some programs that, like you just said, for example, that have great examples of run‑on programs in their history.
We will definitely‑‑ personally I will reach out to some of those coaches or athletic directors and see how exactly they went about doing that.  And I already have, I already have done that so continue to do that.

Q.  You touched on Nebraska having an up‑tempo offense, maybe similar to you guys.  Is that the only similarity you see between the two offensive schemes or do you think it goes past that?
BILL O'BRIEN:  I would say the biggest similarity is that we do like to play up‑tempo, but I would say totally different offensive schemes, two different schemes.

Q.  I guess Nebraska might not have Burkhead again this week.  How much of a difference have you seen in their offense between whether they have Burkhead or Abdullah in there?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Burkhead is an excellent player but they've got three other guys there that are really good players with Abdullah and Heard and Cross they've got good players at that position so we're going to have to be up to the challenge of whoever is playing against us on Saturday.

Q.  You focus so much on everything that your team has to play for and you've always kind of brought it back to your team.  Nebraska has obviously a lot to play for with the Big 10 title game birth and a possible Rose Bowl.  Does that present a different challenge for you maybe than going up against Purdue or Illinois or Iowa where they're not quite there in the standings?
BILL O'BRIEN:  I don't think we‑‑ we don't think about it that way.  Obviously Nebraska does, for their team they do have a lot to play for.  We have a lot to play for, we have history, tradition.  Our senior class, our student body, our administration, our University, but really what it comes down to is what we look at is okay what do we have to do to win this game as it relates to Penn State versus Nebraska, offense versus defense, defense versus offense, special teams versus special teams, third down, fourth down, red area, two‑minute, what do we have to do to handle the crowd noise in Lincoln.
So it's more about the two teams.  We don't think it about‑‑ I don't go into the team meeting today and say, hey, look, guys, these guys are fightin' for the Rose Bowl.  I go in and say, "Look, guys, this is what they do offensively, defensively, special teamswise and this is what I think we should do to combat that and give our players the best chance to win the game." 

Q.  What do you think a stereotypical November Big 10, football, are Zwinak and Zordich ‑‑ are they the type of guys that you need to win in this type of country?
BILL O'BRIEN:  Actually I was talking to Tony about when is it going to start snowing around here?  But when I think of NovemberBig 10 football I think of snow, tough, sound, fundamental football, good defense, good situational football and I just think of good teams going against each other with a lot of tradition so that's basically what I think of when I think of NovemberBig 10 football.
THE MODERATOR:  Thanks, Coach.

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