PSU QB healthy, will play against Illinois

A capsule look at Bill O’Brien’s weekly news conference

Opponent: Illinois (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten)

Kickoff: Saturday noon, Beaver Stadium


About the Fighting Illini: They are, frankly, a mess. They’ve lost 17 consecutive Big Ten games, are coming off a 42-3 blowout loss at home on homecoming to Michigan State, and their coach, Tim Beckman, is very much on the hot seat in just his second season.

Last time vs. Penn State: The Lions won on the road last year, 35-7, and lead the all-time series, 16-4.

Line: Penn State is a 10-point favorite; over/under is 58.

Hackenberg OK: The most important news Tuesday is that quarterback Christian Hackenberg is fine and will be ready to go this week. He was pulled midway through the third quarter at Ohio State after suffering a right shoulder injury, but he practiced Monday. “He won’t wear a protective device. He’s good to go, as we sit here today,” O’Brien said.

Setting the tone: Saturday’s 63-14 loss to the Buckeyes had the media wondering how O’Brien would react at his Tuesday press conference. Would he be angry and curt? Would he want to talk about the game, which he said he would Saturday, or would he only want to look forward as he did after the loss to Indiana? As several media members noted afterward on Twitter, the coach did a very good job during his media session as he answered questions with details, didn’t shy away from tough questions and handled everything professionally.

Team still focused: O’Brien said he had a team meeting Monday afternoon, and it didn’t take long for him to realize the players were focused and ready to move on from the blowout loss. “I knew when I opened those doors, every one of them would sitting there ready to go. That’s the type of kids we have,” he said.

Confidence in Zwinak: The past two games have been brutal for running back Zach Zwinak, who went from starter to barely being able to get off the bench because of fumble problems. O’Brien did declare, for the first time, that Bill Belton is the starting running back. “I have a lot of confidence in Zach Zwinak,” O’Brien said. “I have confidence in [Akeel] Lynch. I have confidence in Belton. We have three guys there that are pretty good, so it’s a competitive deal. If there’s one guy making mistakes, obviously the other two guys are going to play more. Right now Zach’s got a little bit of a fumble issue. I do think it’s a little bit mental.” O’Brien said he talked to Zwinak on Monday, and the message was to not be so hard on himself and just work on ways to correct the problem.

Not quite Tight End U: Penn State’s tight ends didn’t catch a pass Saturday, a stunning stat given how much focus there has been on that group since O’Brien came from the Patriots, who use the tight ends a ton. O’Brien, though, believes the tight ends were utilized correctly. “We threw the ball to the tight ends eight or nine times on Saturday, and we didn’t connect, whether it was a drop or a bad throw or maybe not the greatest route in the world,” he said. “So maybe it’s coaching. Maybe we’ve got to put them in a little bit better position. But I’ve played the tight ends very similar [to last season]. Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe we’re doing some things that we need to change up a little bit.”

– Cory Giger