Bill O’Brien is candid — particularly for someone who considers the ultra-secretive Bill Belichick a mentor — when it comes to his philosophy on punting.
Simply put, he doesn’t place a premium on playing for field position, something that makes the first-year Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s polar opposite in that regard.
“Once we get really close to the 50, I’m pretty much not going to punt it,” O’Brien said. “If it’s a manageable fourth down we’re going to go for it.”
What O’Brien defines as manageable will be become clearer as the season progresses. But his go-for-it mentality was apparent before O’Brien talked about it at his weekly news conference.
Penn State has already gone for it seven times in two games, compared to 18 fourth-down attempts in 13 games last season.
O’Brien’s players, naturally, love his aggressive approach to fourth down.
“In years past we never went for it on fourth and one,” senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. “Him having faith (in the defense) means a lot to us.”
“Some may not agree with that, saying you put your defense in a tough spot but we have a great defense,” quarterback Matt McGloin said.
So far O’Brien hasn’t put his defense in a bad spot as Penn State has converted five times on fourth down and also successfully executed a fake punt.
To those who think O’Brien’s propensity to go for it is a bit of a reckless, his approach is actually the opposite of that.
O’Brien is mindful that once the Nittany Lions get close to midfield he can call play with the idea that he has four downs to move the chains, not three. That makes what he is doing actually quite calculated.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the saying ‘We get four downs for a reason,’ ” McGloin said. “We’re not going to do it every time but we feel like when we have the right opportunity or the right play call then we’ll take advantage of it.”
– Scott Brown