Penn State focusing on future, not past

ASSOCIATED PRESS Penn State's Allen Robinson makes leaping catch in fourth quarter against Michigan.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Penn State's Allen Robinson makes leaping catch in fourth quarter against Michigan.
Posted: October 17, 2013

STATE COLLEGE - Even coming off one of the most unforgettable wins in Penn State history, Bill O'Brien is not spending his time getting nostalgic.

When he was asked yesterday about what moments stuck out the most in the Nittany Lions' four-overtime classic against Michigan on Saturday, O'Brien noted a few plays, but kept most of his attention on the upcoming task at hand - No. 4 Ohio State.

"Our staff, our players, we've moved on," O'Brien said. "We have to start getting ready for the best team in our conference, Ohio State. There are certain plays, the throw from Christian [Hackenberg] to Allen [Robinson] at the end of regulation, Billy's [Belton] 4th-and-1 run, [Anthony] Zettel's interception, [C.J. Olaniyan's] strip sack there, those are plays that stood out."

Penn State will have an extra week to prepare for Urban Meyer's undefeated bunch, as the Nittany Lions have their second idle date in 4 weeks this Saturday. Extra rest certainly is not a bad thing for a team that just journeyed through a game that featured 172 plays.

O'Brien said he had some of his team's younger players scrimmage Monday while veterans just ran through conditioning drills before returning to regular practice yesterday. The Lions didn't have any players sustain serious injuries Saturday, but this week allows for any bruises and soreness to subside.

"We'll practice [yesterday, today] and probably Thursday," O'Brien said. "But a four-overtime game is a long football game and the biggest goal for us is to get healthy."

Since there is no game this week, Penn State did not release an updated depth chart, but when it comes out next week, the running back spot is one to keep an eye on. The Lions have generally used a three-back system this year with Zach Zwinak starting, and Belton and Akeel Lynch getting some carries.

However, after Zwinak fumbled - which was returned for a Michigan touchdown - on the first play of the third quarter, Belton became Penn State's primary tailback and scored the game-winning touchdown. Zwinak did not see the field after the mistake, and Lynch did not take a carry all game.

O'Brien - who was not asked about a starter in a brief 10-minute call with reporters - said the plan was initially to use all three running backs against the Wolverines, but he liked the way Belton was running as the game progressed.

"Once we had Billy in there, we felt like Billy was doing some things really well," O'Brien said. "So, we didn't really want to take Billy out. That's the decision I made, that's my decision. It's not a reflection of Akeel Lynch. We think the world of Akeel Lynch and we'll try to continue to work him into the lineup."

On the defensive side of the ball, Penn State responded after allowing 486 yards to Indiana in a 20-point loss to limit Michigan to only six points in four overtimes and a total of 2.8 yards per rush for the game.

O'Brien credited defensive coordinator John Butler for a game plan that featured plenty of different looks from Penn State's front seven, and called the win a "very, very hard-fought game."

"We're going to hit you in the mouth if you try to run it on us," linebacker Mike Hull said. "We made plays when we had to. [Against Indiana] it was a lot of communication mistakes, and this week we cleaned them up."

A week ago, the narrative was still a lot about Indiana, and how O'Brien dodged questions about Penn State's first loss to the team in program history. There was even a report from the [Harrisburg] Patriot-News that fans were told not to ask questions to the second-year coach about Indiana at his radio show last Thursday. O'Brien was asked about it yesterday.

"Any question that anyone wants to ask me, they can ask me," O'Brien said. "I'm going to answer it however I feel like answering it. I'm not sure if that happened. I'm not in charge of my radio show, but if that did happen, I will make sure it doesn't happen again. My thoughts on those things are it's a free country, and anybody can ask any question they want."

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