Big Ten: George O'Leary

PSU defense disappoints in loss to UCF

September, 14, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Deion Barnes stared blankly ahead once the coaches shook hands near midfield. There was no changing the blinking lights on the scoreboard. Barnes hurriedly unbuckled his chin strap and headed to the tunnel.

The defensive end's stare told the story of the Nittany Lions' day. Barnes seemed angry, frustrated and in disbelief. Most of the fans were, too.

The Nittany Lions' defense was supposed to be the strong point of this team. The rush defense was supposed to be nearly impenetrable. (It had allowed just 1.8 yards a carry.) The secondary was supposed to be much improved. But against George O'Leary's Knights, these Nittany Lions allowed 507 yards -- including nearly 6 yards a carry.

Bill O'Brien called it a team loss, but it was clear it was the defense that disappointed.

"We knew what we had to do to stop them," defensive coordinator John Butler said between swigs of orange sports drink. "And, to be honest with you, we couldn't stop what we needed to stop."

Safety Adrian Amos didn't remove his helmet while fans swayed to the alma mater. He wasn't the only one. Neither Amos nor Barnes, staples of the interview room, stopped to chat with reporters after their first loss of the season.

Instead, Butler took center stage and tried his best to answer questions -- minutes after O'Brien tried to deflect most by reiterating that he'll watch the tape. Butler did, too, but he tried his best to explain just how PSU managed to allow 15 plays that went for 10 yards or more.

The defensive coordinator knew people would blame PSU's thud practices, in which no one is tackled to the ground, for the missed tackles. And he didn't try to dismiss that explanation, either.

"I think it's fair," Butler said. "But that's just a decision we have to make because when you only have 62 scholarship players, you've got to do your best to get what you have to the field. You don't want to take it to 57 because you're tackling in practice, and maybe two of those five players you lose are your best players.

"So I think we drill it, and I think we have to keep drilling it. And part of it's leverage and their athletes."

The defense had its chances to stop UCF and give the offense a chance at the comeback. In the final quarter, with PSU trailing by just a touchdown and with the students' deafening chants, Jordan Lucas was flagged for a pass-interference penalty on third-and-9. ("Shoot, I thought we had a stop," Lucas said.) Later on that same drive, on third-and-2, William Stanback rumbled ahead for the first down.

And then, on UCF's final drive, PSU allowed a 13-yard pass on second-and-9 to seal the game.

"Yeah, I feel like we should've won this game," defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. "But, at the same time, we didn't. They were the better team today."

DE C.J. Olaniyan missed a critical stop in the backfield. CBs Trevor Williams and Lucas led the team with six tackles apiece. And PSU came up with no sacks and no quarterback hurries.

The problem with the defense was that there was more than just one problem. At one point, wideout-turned-cornerback Williams took the bench while safety Amos moved back to cornerback.

Blake Bortles completed nearly 75 percent of his passes, so PSU needed to do something. Still, it didn't work. Butler moved around personnel, tried different game plans, but nothing seemed to slow down UCF.

"We tried everything. That's the one thing I know I can say," Butler said. "We emptied the game plan. We tried to play man, we tried to play zone, we tried to play half-man, half-zone. They did a good job."

Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson showed they can hang tough in a shootout. The unit with the most question marks -- PSU's passing game -- played well.

O'Brien said he'll have more answers by Tuesday. So hopefully, for the Nittany Lions, they'll find some answers for their defense in time for the Big Ten season.

Big Ten Week 3 primer

September, 14, 2013
Are you ready for Week 3 in the Big Ten? You had better be, as it's easily the best slate of nonconference games this season.

To get you ready for the big day -- and long night -- let's go through the vitals ...

Noon ET

Bowling Green at Indiana (ESPNU): After a disappointing loss to Navy, Indiana's challenge only gets tougher against Bowling Green, which has dominated its first two opponents. The Hoosiers' defense must tighten up against a more conventional offense led by running back Travis Greene. It will be interesting to see if Indiana coach Kevin Wilson actually uses Tre Roberson more at quarterback or sticks mainly with Nate Sudfeld.

Akron at No. 11 Michigan (Big Ten Network): Quarterback Devin Gardner tries to build on his five-touchdown performance against Notre Dame as the Wolverines face an Akron team that hasn't beaten an FBS opponent since 2010. Coach Brady Hoke wants to see a cleaner performance from his defense against the seemingly overmatched Zips.

Western Illinois at Minnesota (BTN): Yawn. The Gophers continue their march of cupcakes and should have little trouble improving to 3-0. Their main objective is sparking a passing attack that has produced just 226 yards in two games. Minnesota wide receiver Jamel Harbison returns from suspension.

No. 16 UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska (ABC): It's the biggest matchup on the Big Ten slate and one of the better quarterback pairings in the nation as UCLA's Brett Hundley leads his team against Taylor Martinez and the Huskers. Hundley torched Nebraska last year as UCLA piled up 653 yards in a 36-30 win. He doesn't have running back Johnathan Franklin by his side, however, and Huskers defensive end Randy Gregory looks to apply pressure. Martinez needs more signature wins to go along with his record-setting numbers, and this would be a big one. Both teams will wear helmet decals honoring Nick Pasquale, the UCLA wide receiver killed in an accident last weekend.

2 p.m. ET

Youngstown State at Michigan State (BTN): The Spartans' quarterback quandary continues, and it could be freshman Damion Terry's turn to try and get a troubled offense on track. Connor Cook will start under center, but fan favorite Terry might make his collegiate debut. Shilique Calhoun and Michigan State's lockdown defense faces a Youngstown State team averaging 47.5 points and 579 yards per game.

6 p.m. ET

Iowa at Iowa State (FOX Sports 1): It's only Sept. 14, but Iowa faces a virtual must-win against Iowa State, which has won the teams' past two meetings and owns a 5-2 record against Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium. If the Hawkeyes fall Saturday, it's hard to see them reaching a bowl with a tough Big Ten schedule ahead. Iowa's best bet is to get Mark Weisman and the run game going against a Cyclones defense that allowed 228 yards on the ground in its season-opening loss to FCS Northern Iowa.

UCF at Penn State (BTN): Lions second-year coach Bill O'Brien faces off against his former boss and mentor George O'Leary in a sneaky good matchup in Happy Valley. Penn State's defense will be tested by UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, whom O'Brien expects to play in the NFL. Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg must limit mistakes against a dangerous Knights defense.

Washington vs. Illinois (BTN): A surprising start for Illinois could turn into much more if it knocks off an experienced and talented Washington squad in its "Chicago Homecoming" game. Washington star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns from suspension and will be a load for Mason Monheim and the Illini defense. Illinois hopes to crank up its big-play offense early and often after recording 17 plays of 20 yards or more in the first two games, fifth most in the country.

7 p.m. ET

No. 4 Ohio State at California (FOX): Junior quarterback Braxton Miller (sprained knee) traveled to Berkeley but will be a game-time decision. If Miller can't go, backup Kenny Guiton will lead the offense against a leaky Cal defense that has surrendered 1,061 yards in its first two games. Golden Bears freshman quarterback Jared Goff, the nation's passing leader at 467.5 yards per game, will challenge cornerback Bradley Roby and the Ohio State secondary.

8 p.m. ET

No. 21 Notre Dame at Purdue (ABC): The Fighting Irish try to rebound from a frustrating loss to Michigan, while Purdue hopes to jump start the Darrell Hazell era after a poor start. A mismatch on paper, Purdue's spotty offensive line must contain Notre Dame star front men Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. The Irish have captured the teams' past five meetings.

9 p.m. ET

Western Michigan at No. 17 Northwestern (BTN): Despite the continued absence of star running back Venric Mark, Northwestern's offense marches on after an impressive showing last week against Syracuse. Quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined to complete 22 of 24 passes in the first half of last week's game and face a Western Michigan team that fell last week to Nicholls State. Northwestern needs to tighten up defensively before Ohio State comes to town Oct. 5. Tonight would be a good time to start.

10:30 p.m. ET

No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State (ESPN): The last game of the day could be among the best, as two teams that have looked dominant against poor competition square off. Wisconsin's defense hasn't allowed a point but should be pushed by Arizona State's potent offense led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last four games. Wisconsin running backs James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement all have at least 250 rush yards and will try to control the clock and the tempo against a Sun Devils team that is 8-0 against the Big Ten at home.

  • Bloomington, Ind: Sunny, 64-70 degrees, winds at 4-5 mph
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.: Mostly sunny, 61-66 degrees, winds at 4-6 mph
  • Minneapolis: Mostly cloudy, showers possible late in game, 64-70 degrees, winds at 10-12 mph
  • Lincoln, Neb.: Partly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rain, 67-75 degrees, winds at 16-19 mph
  • East Lansing, Mich.: Mostly sunny, 62-66 degrees, winds at 6-7 mph
  • Ames, Iowa: Partly to mostly cloudy, 66-72 degrees, winds at 13-16 mph
  • Chicago: Mostly sunny, 61-69 degrees, winds at 8-9 mph
  • Berkeley, Calif.: Mostly sunny, 61-68 degrees, winds at 12-15 mph
  • West Lafayette, Ind.: Mostly clear, 52-63 degrees, winds at 3-4 mph
  • Evanston, Ill.: Partly cloudy, 61-68 degrees, winds at 8 mph
  • Tempe, Ariz.: Clear skies, 91-97 degrees, winds at 4 mph

And, finally, check out some of our top posts from this week ...

Big Ten lunch links

September, 9, 2013
I think the Bengals defense just called another timeout. Sorry, couldn't resist #bears.

To the links ...
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien is a product of the Emerald Isle.

His father's family hails from Cork and Clare in Ireland, while his mother's side, the Murphys, come from Sligo. O'Brien traveled to Ireland as a teenager and always has had a strong connection with the country. When the possibility surfaced of Penn State playing a game in Ireland, O'Brien was all for it.

"From a personal aspect, I’m very excited about going over there," O'Brien said.

O'Brien and Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner think Lions players and fans will have the same enthusiasm about the team's 2014 season opener against UCF at Dublin's Croke Park. The Aug. 30, 2014, game will mark Penn State's first on foreign soil in the program's 127-year history.

Joyner was intrigued by a game in Ireland after watching the 2012 season opener between Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin. Although Penn State also considered games in Hawaii and California, the Ireland contest quickly came into focus. UCF made sense largely because of O'Brien's connection to Knights coach George O'Leary, not only a fellow Irishman but one of O'Brien's coaching mentors. O'Brien joined O'Leary's staff at Georgia Tech as a graduate assistant in 1995 and remained with O'Leary for eight seasons.

UCF actually will be the home team for the Ireland game as it completes a home-and-home series with Penn State that begins Sept. 14 at Beaver Stadium.

"The excitement of playing in this game because of the O'Leary-O'Brien component to it," Joyner said, "and the fact UCF is a very good opponent, it’s just a great way to give our football team and our university a marquee place to play."

The Ireland trip will serve as a bowl game of sorts for Penn State players and fans, as the program is entering Year 2 of a four-year postseason ban imposed by the NCAA last summer. Joyner said the school might have explored the Ireland game even if the sanctions weren't in place, but he added, "It’s not bad that it falls right in the middle of everything that we need to get done with the four-year period. It's sort of a shot in the arm."

Penn State likely will travel to Dublin only a few days before the game as school is in session during that time. Joyner is comfortable with the team accommodations and practice sites, and O'Leary, who recently traveled to Ireland, filled in O'Brien about the setup at Croke Park with the press box, sidelines and locker rooms.

The biggest challenge could be getting all the players their passports.

"It was important for our players to be able to travel somewhere overseas," O'Brien said. "A lot of these guys, probably all of them, have never been overseas. That’s a great experience for our players. I also believe it's a fantastic opportunity for our fans."
  • O'Brien confirmed that quarterback Tyler Ferguson remains home in California visiting his mother, who has breast cancer. Ferguson's absence from last week's Lift for Life event in State College raised some eyebrows, but O'Brien reiterated that summer workouts and summer school are voluntary. "His mom is sick, and he’ll be back here for training camp," O'Brien said. "That's something, [the media] made a mountain out of a molehill on that one."
Penn State's wait for a head coach finally ended Saturday as the school introduced Bill O'Brien as its new leader. O'Brien came across well at his news conference, and while I waited for him to get on the phone Sunday, I could hear fans wishing him well at Penn State's basketball game in the background. But there are challenges ahead, namely juggling his new job with his current one (New England Patriots offensive coordinator). He also has to try and salvage a recruiting class and form a staff that will include current Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who will lead the team's recruiting efforts for the time being, as well as Charles London from the Tennessee Titans.

Here's what O'Brien had to say during our conversation.

What has been the reception so far for you at Penn State?

Bill O'Brien: It's been unbelievable. To arrive at this place and to drive onto campus from the airport, you realize what a special place it is. It's been a great experience so far, had a great reception at the women's basketball game [Saturday] and another great one today at the men's game versus Indiana. They've welcomed my family and I with open arms.

How much will you be reaching out to different sectors of the Penn State fan base in the next couple of days? Is there any damage control to be done?

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesNew football coach Bill O'Brien and his family made an appearance Sunday at the Penn State-Indiana men's basketball game.
O'Brien: Any time you had a transition where there's been a coach [Joe Paterno] here for 60 years and now you're transitioning into a new coach, there's obviously going to be people who are going to be a little bit skeptical. I'm not naive to that. I've been coaching for 20 years so I understand that. I'm going to do the best I can to reach out to the Penn State community and the Penn State lettermen. I've already started that process with my press conference [Saturday] and different phone calls I've received and players I've spoken to already. Again, I'll reiterate what I said [Saturday]: I want everybody in the Penn State community to just give us a chance to allow us to earn their trust and respect. I promise you that we're going to work very hard to do that every day.

What are the biggest challenges you face at Penn State?

O'Brien: Again, any time you're a new coach and there's a transition, it's getting the staff in place. It's securing the guys that are committed right now and getting guys on the road. We're fortunate that there's a little bit of a dead period here in recruiting, so we've got a couple days to get the staff in place, get them kind of settled in here in State College, and then hit the ground running when recruiting opens back up toward the end of the week. That's probably the biggest immediate challenge, and then from there we've got to evaluate everything that's here, and make decisions as we go along.

Where do things stand with your staff and how much will you lean on them the next few weeks as you have other responsibilities?

O'Brien: I'm going to lean on them a lot. Right now, I really don't want to get into specific things, but we're still in the process of putting the staff in place. You'll see soon enough. By the middle of the week, you'll have a good understanding of who the staff is. It's a very, very strong staff, a mixture of college and NFL experience, a mixture of great recruiting experience, national championships won. It'll be a very, very strong staff.

How would you describe the offensive philosophy you want to bring to Penn State?

O'Brien: It's a game-plan offense. The first thing we've got to do is evaluate our own personnel, see who we have, and then we've got to make sure we're putting our players in the best position to attack the defenses we see. We're not this offense, we're not that offense. We're a diverse offense, and we require our players to learn a lot of different things about defense and offense. We're going to have to have some smart, instinctive players here as we go forward, and I hear that we have some. I'm not going to get into specifics. You'll see what it is when the season starts next year.

You're meeting with the players later today. What are some of the most important things you want to get across to them about you and the direction of the program?

O'Brien: I think the expectations I have for them, especially in the immediate future while I'm not around. I'm going back to the Patriots, so I'm not going to be right here on campus. Those expectations that I have, both off the field and on the field. That's the first thing I want to get across to them. And then there are some different things I really believe in. Anything other than that is going to be kept between myself and my team. They'll know that, too. That's going to be a very private conversation.

And as far as the coaches they'll be reporting to during the next few weeks, is it just Coach Johnson or whoever else you name?

O'Brien: By Wednesday, there will be at the very least seven full-time coaches. You're allowed nine on staff, and seven of those guys will be in place by Wednesday in the building, in addition to a couple guys that are coming on board for different roles. So they'll know who their coaches are very soon here.

You've been a guy who said he has followed Penn State for a long time. What was your reaction to everything that happened back in November?

O'Brien: I'm here now. I'm the head football coach now, and it's my job to put the best football team out on the field and off the field. That's my job. There are very many people here, special people that are in charge of that situation. I wasn't here, I'm here now, so just moving forward, that's all I'm going to say about publicly because again, I wasn't here. I'm just here to lead the football program, from my start date that was [Saturday] moving forward.

How much patience do you have?

O'Brien: Oh, you know, it depends [laughs]. Some people would say I don't have a lot of patience. I don't have a lot of patience with mistakes that are made over and over again. I have patience with the first mistake, but once we learn from that mistake, you can't make the same mistake twice.

Are there guys you're planning to reach out to who were in similar situations, taking over a program? Coach [Charlie] Weis is one that comes to mind. Have you already done that or do you plan to in the future?

O'Brien: There's no question. I don't know Coach Weis, so that specifically would be no because I don't know him, but there's a number of coaches, starting with Coach [Bill] Belichick, who's been very, very good to me during this whole process. There's a lot of guys -- George O'Leary, Ralph Friedgen -- guys who have already reached out to me, and I'm definitely going to be reaching back out to them when I get a chance to and talk to them about different advice that they would have for me going forward.