O’Brien shows some early-season frustration

Whether it was after losses or about plays that didn’t work, Joe Paterno always did his best to take the blame, and he’d get particularly annoyed at criticism directed at his individual players, positions or one of his assistant coaches.

Through his first 20 months and first 13 games on the job, Bill O’Brien hasn’t yet had to deal with anything of the sort.

Granted, his challenges, made worse by the NCAA, have been of a far different and more serious nature, and the way he’s handled them was more than partially responsible for him being named coach of the year by several national entities last year.

Finishing 8-4 and winning eight of the last 10 games had a lot to do with it, too.

Since virtually all Penn State fans are impressed with the job O’Brien has done, on and off the field, the transition has been fairly smooth.

In addition to reaching out to the Nittany Nation via the PSU caravan the last two years, O’Brien’s media relations have also been generally excellent as he’s provided unprecedented access and gone out of his way to be personable with a number of regulars on the beat.

This week, though, he took exception to a few questions about some of the inevitable potholes the Nittany Lions hit en route to a 23-17 season-opening victory over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium.

“I don’t know why people think that the offensive line struggled,” he said about the running game and emphasizing that, “The game plan starts with me … the problem was the coaching; starts with me.”

When the Lions’ third-down conversion rate – just 1-for-16 last week – came up, O’Brien said, “It’s your job … it’s the media’s job to evaluate the game, and you guys [are] knowledgeable football guys, but I think it’s important to look at the positives.”

And then he began ticking them off: winning with a true freshman quarterback (Christian Hackenberg), on the road, dealing with extreme heat (and having 15 fewer scholarship players than Syracuse), not having top receiver Allen Robinson (discipline) for a half.

“To me, I just think we should be talking about that a lot,” he said. “Look, it’s just one game, but I think it’s an important subject to make sure that we all understand how, again, we’ve got a great bunch of kids that have stayed committed to Penn State.”

O’Brien continued his theme on his weekly radio show (live from Damon’s in State College). A few questions from the fans bothered him, including one that minimized his role with Tom Brady, and it didn’t sound (or appear, to those on hand) like he appreciated it.

The message delivered through smiles on Tuesday came through clenched teeth Thursday.

It’s worth keeping an eye on as the weekly interactions help gauge a mutual relationship.

On one hand, even despite the sanctions, fans expect to be entertained – and this isn’t to say they weren’t against the Orange. They’ve been used to great football and, after all, they’ve suffered over the past two years, too.

On the other hand, O’Brien is meeting fans regularly and expects – and deserves – the benefit of the doubt considering he and the team could have left before or after last year.

And if that had happened, you’d see a whole lot more people disguised as empty seats than even the significant number that you’ll likely see at Beaver Stadium today.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoona