- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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During a week where Penn State's camp didn't talk much about Illinois or its poaching coach Tim Beckman, Bill O'Brien's long pause said it all.
Asked on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' conference call about Beckman's claim Monday that he had reached out to O'Brien during Big Ten preseason media days in an attempt to diffuse any tension between the two, O'Brien hesitated for several seconds.
"Uh, I think I met him at the Big Ten media days," O'Brien said. "That's about it."
Translation: don't expect any pregame pleasantries between the two coaches Saturday in Champaign, Ill. The post-game interaction could be a little frosty, too.
O'Brien hasn't forgotten Beckman's not-so subtle attempt to lure Penn State players to Illinois after the NCAA imposed heavy sanctions on the Penn State program and made it as easy as possible for players to transfer, even within the Big Ten. Although O'Brien is trying to keep the focus on what Illinois' players do between the lines, the subplot of whether Illini coaches went over the line this summer undoubtedly adds to Saturday's game.
"It takes a lot to bother me," O'Brien said, "so I would tell you that, again, our players, myself, our staff, we're very focused on the task at hand."
O'Brien and his players were bothered in late July when Beckman sent eight assistant coaches to State College to pursue Penn State players. The Illini coaches weren't on campus but set up shop in town, making sure Lions players knew they were there. O'Brien passed a group of Beckman's assistants at the State College airport two days after the sanctions came down.
Penn State senior linebacker Michael Mautididn't offer much about the Illinois recruiting push after last Saturday's win against Temple, only saying, "You can kind of gather how we feel about them." He didn't hold back in July during Big Ten media days, saying, "You're going to sit here and wish our program well and then try to pull the legs out from underneath us and take our kids? Well, you are playing by the rules. But there really are no rules. If you're gonna wish us well and then try to take our kids, then I got a problem with that."
He's not the only one, although the sentiment is different for each Penn State player.
What's clear is this: the Lions know what Illinois did last summer.
"Definitely, that's your first instinct," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "But it's all fun and games. Nobody's like, 'I hate these guys' or anything like that. It's just motivation. ... When it affects you in a negative way on and off the field, then you know it's going too far. You never want to take it too far to where it's affecting you badly."
Illinois ended up landing one Penn State player: reserve offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki. Beckman on Monday said he didn't regret the recruitment, noting that Illinois broke no rules, alerted Penn State of its intent and had been first contacted by Nowicki.
While Beckman wishes the situation hadn't attracted so much attention, he simply wanted to give Nowicki the opportunity to transfer.
"We did everything under the rules, and everybody was notified prior to anything happening," he said Tuesday. "... I'm sure it has a little bit of an effect on this football game, but it's still about tackling and blocking and doing the things right fundamentally to be successful."
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase expects to see a geared-up Penn State squad Saturday, and while he's aware that the summer recruitment attempt could fuel some of the men in white helmets, both teams share the same primary objective: to start 1-0 in Big Ten play.
"Bulletin-board material and things that happened in the past can only last you for so long," Scheelhaase told ESPN.com. "At the end of the day, you've got to strap up and play football. That's what it comes down to."
During a week where Penn State's camp didn't talk much about Illinois or its poaching coach Tim Beckman, Bill O'Brien's long pause said it all.Asked on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' conference call about Beckman's claim Monday that he had reached out to O'Brien during Big Ten preseason media days in an attempt to diffuse any tension between the two, O'Brien hesitated for several seconds.