STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Whether it’s after a win or a loss, a controversial call or a season-ending injury to a key player, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien focuses on the next game.
There’s no sense looking back, except to learn how to improve. Next up for the Nittany Lions (6-4, 4-2 Big Ten) following last week’s loss to Nebraska is a visit from Indiana.
“Of course, we hate to lose. Like I’ve always said, losing will never be accepted here at Penn State,” O’Brien said yesterday. “Everyone wishes we could have done a better job ... but we’ve moved on.”
Playing football has been the respite for players under near-constant scrutiny for things had nothing to do with them. It’s been that way for a year now, since ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sex abuse charges, and the NCAA levied landmark sanctions on the program for the school’s handing of the scandal.
Many Penn State fans have been irritated that players bore the brunt of the NCAA’s wrath. Frustration boiled over again following last week’s 32-23 loss to the Cornhuskers over what was ruled a fumble just before Matt Lehman reached the goal line for what could have been a touchdown.
Quarterback Matt McGloin said he thought Penn State wouldn’t get that call against any team. “That’s just the way it is. Write what you think. It’s us against the world and we’re not going to get those types of calls in these types of games,” the senior said after the game. McGloin wasn’t made available to reporters this week.
“At the end of the day, it’s a free country and Matt can say what he wants, and that’s what he did,” O’Brien said yesterday. “He’s an emotional kid but, look, it’s time to move on to Indiana and that’s it.”
When asked what he would tell fans wondering if there’s a bias against Penn State, O’Brien gave an impassioned response.
“I would tell our fans that nobody is against Penn State,” he said. “Penn State has a football team this year that plays with extremely good effort, plays hard. Penn State has a senior class on this football team right here that to me will go down in the history of college football as one of the better senior classes of any college football team.”
Apparently, the only time that issue has come up in recent days was when initiated by reporters yesterday. Right tackle Mike Farrell said O’Brien hasn’t touched on the issue at practice, and that the team stood behind McGloin.
O’Brien “really preaches playing the next play and not dwelling on the past,” Farrell said.
If anything, the Nittany Lions would like to figure out if there are any common threads in the poor play in the third quarters of each of their four losses. The latest post-halftime hiccup came after Nebraska opened the third quarter with touchdowns on two straight drives, the last one coming after McGloin was intercepted deep in his own territory.
To date, Penn State has been outscored 89-28 after halftime in each of its four losses, including 56-6 in the third quarter. O’Brien said the coaching staff would have more time after the season to dig into what they could be doing better after halftime.
“At the end of the day sometimes those adjustments work and sometimes they don’t,” O’Brien said. “I wouldn’t make too much out of the second half thing ... but we just need to coach it and play it better.”
There is at least one big adjustment to make — 6-foot-3 tight end Kyle Carter is out the rest of the year after leaving the Nebraska game with what appeared to be a right wrist injury. The redshirt freshman emerged to become a big part of O’Brien’s tight end-friendly offense with 36 catches for 453 yards, both second on the team behind receiver Allen Robinson.
Carter has turned into an athletic, dangerous receiving threat between the hashes. The emergence of Carter and Robinson from relative obscurity, and O’Brien’s near-flawless handling of the program in light of the sanctions, are among the reasons why O’Brien’s name has been floated out on the NFL rumor mill as a potential coaching candidate.
O’Brien is in his first year as a head coach after spending five seasons as an coach for the New England Patriots, where he was offensive coordinator. Asked twice yesterday about the NFL rumors, O’Brien insisted his focus was solely on preparing for the Hoosiers.
O’Brien’s deal was extended in the offseason to cover the length of the NCAA sanctions, and he’s now signed through 2020. However good a job he’s done steering the program and his players through tricky times, O’Brien even seemed to acknowledge that his won-loss record may not seem too attractive to potential suitors.
“We’re 6-4,” he noted to a reporter. “I’m flattered that you would ask me that question.”