The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Sports

October 29, 2013

O’Brien defensive about shaky defense

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State coach Bill O’Brien is defensive about his defense.

O’Brien stuck up for defensive coordinator John Butler after a historic defeat that saw the Nittany Lions allow the most points surrendered by the program.

Just this season?

Nope. Try 114 years.

Not only that, but a program built as “Linebacker U” has turned into “U Get to Score,” because of a leaky defense that has allowed 40-plus points in three straight games.

Time to regroup? For sure. But O’Brien also says it’s time to lay off laying the blame at Butler and the defense.

“If anybody should take heat, it’s Bill O’Brien, not John Butler,” O’Brien said Tuesday.

“I don’t know where that’s coming from, but hopefully that will get squelched. That’s a bunch of (garbage) that he’s taking heat.”

Turns out, allowing a staggering 686 yards in one game is a pretty good reason for fans to crank the heat on the defensive coordinator.

O’Brien said, yes, the defense may need to “simplify things” as it preps for Saturday’s game against Illinois. And yes, the Nittany Lions were “a little soft” in pass coverage. But other than those pesky details, O’Brien said Butler is still the right coordinator for this defense. O’Brien and Butler meet several times a time, every day of the week, to fine tune the defense.

“He’s doing a hell of a job. I don’t care what the scoreboard says or what the yardage says,” O’Brien said. “This guy is our defensive coordinator. He’s my defensive coordinator. I’m proud to coach with him.

“Look, at the end of the day, it wasn’t a great team effort. We didn’t do anything on offense to help the defense either. We scored 14 points, got down 21-0, and we couldn’t even score a touchdown. So it’s a team effort.”

From O’Brien down, all the Nittany Lions took some share of the blame for the 63-14 whopper of a defeat in Columbus, Ohio.

It was the most one-sided margin by the Buckeyes and their most points scored in the 29 meetings in the series. The teams had split the last four meetings, with Ohio State holding a cumulative 79-66 scoring advantage. All of those matchups were close.

So much for the blossoming rivalry.

“In order to have a rivalry, you have to win, and so we’ve lost two years in a row to them,” O’Brien said. “I think they have one rival, Michigan, and that’s the way it goes.”

So it goes for Penn State, as it tries to put the loss behind and focus on the Illini. The Nittany Lions know how little one game transfers to the next, moving from the exhilaration of beating undefeated Michigan in a four-overtime thriller to coming out of an off week with a beating of epic defeat.

“We had a team meeting yesterday, and I knew when I opened those doors, every one of them would sitting there ready to go,” O’Brien said. “That’s the type of kids we have. Saturday night was not a great night, but it’s one game, and it’s important to learn from it, learn from the experience.”

O’Brien shook up the lineup Saturday night and moved Adrian Amos to corner in Trevor Williams’s spot, paring him Jordan Lucas. Lineup shake-ups are always expected out of a defense that has allowed 40, 44, and 63 points in the last three games.

“If we can put them in better positions to make plays, that will help,” O’Brien said. “I think guys have got to go out there and make plays. We have guys over on that side of the ball that love to practice that came out last night and had a good practice and made a lot of plays on defense. That needs to carry over to the game.”

One bright spot, O’Brien said quarterback Christian Hackenberg was healthy and ready to play after spending the end of the Ohio State loss on the sideline and his right shoulder wrapped because of a big hit. Hackenberg leads the Big Ten in completions (144) and yards passing (254.9 ypg) and is tied for fourth in touchdown passes (12).


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