Penn State's O’Brien eyes a more aggressive secondary


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the most part, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien held true to his promise.

Saturday night, after hesitating to say much of anything about the debacle at Ohio State, he said there would be a full explanation come Tuesday, and there was, with O’Brien illuminating some of the team’s flaws and hammering back at some of its critics.

“Obviously, Saturday night was not the defense’s best night,” O’Brien said of the 63-14 defeat. “You know, let’s call it like it is.”

What O’Brien saw was a failure based on a combination of coaching and playing. He blamed himself and the coaching staff for not having players in the right positions at times, but, that overall — aside from Saturday — he had seen some improvement in certain individuals on defense. He identified the secondary as a place where they could improve more.

“We’re a little soft in coverage,” O’Brien said. “We need to be more aggressive in coverage, like don’t be afraid to go make a mistake. Go take a shot.”

In three Big Ten games, Penn State has given up 44, 40 and 63 points. It has allowed an average of 520.3 yards per game. Despite these numbers and the fact that communication issues have been common, O’Brien said he has faith in defensive coordinator John Butler.

“He’s doing a hell of a job,” he said. “I don’t care what the scoreboard says or what the yardage says. This guy is our defensive coordinator. He’s my defensive coordinator. I’m proud to coach with him. … If anybody should take heat, it’s Bill O’Brien, not John Butler. I don’t know where that’s coming from, but, hopefully, that will get squelched. That’s a bunch of crap that he’s taking heat.”

Safety and punt-returner Jesse Della Valle said everyone on the team respected Butler and his passion for coaching.

Competition in offensive line

One of the more prominent images from the Ohio State game was offensive tackle Donovan Smith getting beat several times by Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence, who finished with three tackles for losses and a forced fumble. On the depth chart this week, Smith is listed as a possible starter with Garry Gilliam after starting every game this season.

“You have Adam Gress, Garry Gilliam, and Donovan that have had their bright spots and had their not so bright spots,” O’Brien said. “So, we’ve made that a very competitive situation this week, and that’s why you see the others there.”

Hackenberg recovered

Any prolonged injury to quarterback Christian Hackenberg could be lethal to Penn State’s chances for success the rest of this season.

The good news is that his shoulder should not be a lingering concern.

O’Brien said Hackenberg practiced at full-speed Monday and didn’t require extra pads or protection.

Hackenberg was hurt when an Ohio State player tackled him after a whistle blew for an offside call.

O’Brien said he hadn’t brought up the lack of a roughing penalty call to the Big Ten.

“I don’t cry about spilt milk,” he said.

Whether I agree with it or not, it doesn’t matter. I play by the rules. We all play by the rules.”

O’Brien said he didn’t consider the hit to have been dirty.


Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.

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