On Monday, Illinois coach Tim Beckman did not express any regret over the decision to send eight assistants to Penn State, whose players were free to transfer and play without sitting out a year due to unprecedented NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Guard Ryan Nowicki transferred to Illinois after Penn State was fined $60 million, docked scholarships and wins, and banned from postseason play for 4 years.
O'Brien said his players are going to get up for the Illinois game simply because it's their Big Ten opener. The Lions don't need any extra motivation, he said.
"I certainly understand the question, I do," O'Brien responded when asked about the actions of the Illinois coaches becoming a motivating factor. "But at the same time, the biggest thing is that this is our first Big Ten game and it's just our players are very focused on the Big Ten schedule."
The players took the same stance.
"Truthfully, I don't think we really need any extra motivation for this game," senior running back Derek Day said. "This is the first Big Ten game, and that's really what we're focused on . . . [the Illinois coaches issue] is really water under the bridge."
Eight other players also transferred from Penn State, including star running back Silas Redd (USC) and top wide receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma). Several others left the program but remained enrolled at the university.
As far as the commitment from the players who stayed with the program, O'Brien has no concerns.
"I believe our players are committed to this football program and I believe that they're a fantastic group of kids that believe in the coaching staff, and we certainly believe in them," O'Brien said.
It's the brightest outlook in weeks, as running backs Bill Belton (ankle), Derek Day (shoulder) and Michael Zordich (knee) should all be able to play. The same goes for tackle Donovan Smith (ankle) and defensive end Sean Stanley (back).
Meanwhile, oft-injured defensive end Pete Massaro (shoulder) probably won't play, Bill O'Brien said. Linebacker Nyeem Wartman (knee) and guard Mark Arcidiacono (foot) remain sidelined.
Bench for Bench
When asked if he believes it's important for backup quarterbacks to get playing time, Bill O'Brien said, "I believe it's important to win the game."
That doesn't bode well for the playing time of true freshman quarterback Steven Bench, Matt McGloin's backup. O'Brien said he is not a big believer in rotating quarterbacks, and that it isn't going to happen this season.
Bench went 2-for-7 for 12 yards in a loss to Virginia after McGloin hurt an elbow, but Bench did not see playing time at the end of the Navy win, although Penn State was crushing the Midshipmen en route to a 34-7 smackdown.
Bill O'Brien said building strong relationships with players is very important, no matter what situation the program is in.
"That player has to trust what you're coaching and telling him is the truth. So whatever position our program is in, that's the way we'll always coach here," O'Brien said. "We're always going to be up front and honest with our players. We feel that's important. We feel it's important for our players to know, and we feel that's important for future prospects to know."
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