Coach speak with Bill O’Brien: Lions still motivated despite struggles

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

Opponent: Purdue (1-8, 0-5 Big Ten)

Kickoff: Saturday noon, Beaver Stadium


Line: PSU is favored by 22; over/under is 46

About the Boilermakers: This has been a disastrous season under first-year head coach Darrell Hazell. Purdue’s only win came against Division I-AA Indiana State by just six points (20-14), and to show how unimpressive that was, Indiana State is only 1-9 in I-AA. The Boilermakers have a woeful offense that averages just 11.8 points, ranking 123rd out of 125 Division I teams. They are 122nd in rushing (68.1 ypg) and 112th in points allowed (37.2 ppg).

Players remain positive: O’Brien said the morale on the team remains strong despite PSU’s 5-4 record and 24-10 loss at Minnesota. “I’m telling you, at 2:40 [Monday] afternoon they are filing in that team meeting room and they are ready to go. It’s just the way these kids are built,” the coach said. There’s no bowl game to play for, and this has been a tough season, but that doesn’t mean the players aren’t still motivated. “It’s Penn State,” O’Brien said. “People question what is there to play for. There’s a lot to play for. There’s the respect of your opponent, there’s your teammates, there’s the tradition of Penn State football. At Penn State there will never be a question of what is there to play for.”

Staying focused: It would be easy to look past struggling Purdue and ahead to next week’s home finale against Nebraska. O’Brien said his team is not doing that. “We don’t have any problem focusing on Purdue,” he said. “We respect Purdue. … Our guys are very focused on this game.”

Analyzing Hackenberg: O’Brien fielded many questions about quarterback Christian Hackenberg and his development. He was candid about some of the good and bad elements of the freshman’s season but would not give him a letter grade. “I’ve got a lot of belief in this kid, and I think he’s going to be better and better,” O’Brien said. “We need him to be better against Purdue.” Hackenberg will speak to the media today, so check Wednesday’s Mirror for his thoughts on his progress this season.

Turnover trouble: Both running backs, Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, have had fumble issues, and Hackenberg had a big fumble at the goal line at Minnesota. “What we tell them is that when you’re a ballcarrier on our team, you’re carrying the hopes and dreams of this football team,” O’Brien said. Some of it is coaching, but he also added, “There are other times that, to me, it’s just a complete lack of focus.”

Media matters: Fans may or may not care about obstacles the media face in doing their jobs, but one point of contention Saturday for the media that made the trip to Minnesota was that O’Brien didn’t allow the players to talk after the game. That didn’t go over too well with some in the media. “We lost the game, and I wanted to have a good long talk with them in the locker room after the game,” O’Brien said. “I’ve let [the media] talk to players. But I think after the game on Saturday, I just felt like we had a bunch of guys that were not happy with the outcome of that game, and I wanted to talk to them more than I wanted you to talk to them.”

– Cory Giger