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Rudel: Making adjustments an O’Brien strength

October 6, 2012
The Altoona Mirror

Halfway through his first season, there have been many things about Bill O'Brien that have been extremely impressive.

Here are a few - offensive creativity, willing to take chances, defensive aggressiveness, open communication with players, media and fans and saying all the right things off the field in the face of incredible adversity.

Let's add another: the ability to adjust quickly.

Given that this is his first head coaching job in which anyone deserves a learning curve, O'Brien and his staff have promptly identified and corrected negative situations.

The Lions threw 48 times in the opener against Ohio while attempting just 22 running plays. In the four outings since, they've averaged 40 rushes and 32 passes per game.

Red-zone offense issues surfaced at Virginia with the Lions scoring just one touchdown in five trips. Since? They've ventured inside the 20 a total of 14 times with eight TDs.

Third-down defense was a problem in the 0-2 start as Ohio and Virginia converted a staggering 22 of 36.

In the last three games, Navy, Temple and Illinois converted just 11-of-42.

When the original and strange choice of Gerald Hodges as the punt returner was made for the opener and Hodges looked tentative and fumbled, O'Brien didn't try to prove a point by sticking with Hodges. He accepted the fact that he made a mistake and immediately inserted Jesse Della Valle with better results.

O'Brien has also adjusted well to tailback injuries and in-season defections (Shawney Kersey, Paul Jones) with a next-man up attitude that is prevalent in the NFL.

The results have brought positive contributions by many in backup roles. Reserves are interchanged, depth is being developed, and consider that two of the more prominent players so far - running back Zach Zwinak and linebacker Mike Hull - have not started a game.

Now, the one thing O'Brien hasn't yet fixed in the place-kicking. It's clear he's befuddled on when to cross his fingers with Sam Ficken and when to go for it, and O'Brien has found himself second-guessing, defending and having to live with his choices.

But that's provided further intrigue in a season that thus far, despite the two early losses, has at least matched the most optimistic of expectations for what the new coach would be like.

A win today against unbeaten Northwestern would be significant in that it would be the Nittany Lions' fourth straight and allow them to head into their bye week with momentum.

And should they fall to 3-3?

Well, you get the idea that Bill O'Brien will adjust.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or You can also follow his PSU comments on Twitter@neilrudel.

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