It’s rare to get Bill O’Brien to speak on anything beyond the immediate upcoming game. (Incidentally, it’s difficult to get him to look back, either). But as he approaches the end of his second season as a head coach with a tough game at Wisconsin on Saturday, O’Brien was in a good enough mood for his final weekly press conference of the season to offer up a big-picture assessment on the status of the Penn State football program:
“I feel really good about where the program’s at. I think that recruiting has gone well. I think if you look at the ’13 class that we brought in here recruiting‑wise, from what I can see right off the bat, I don’t think there are any “busts.” I think there are role players and guys that will continue to have roles for us and I think there are some really good players that nobody’s even seen yet that are redshirting. And then obviously the guys that played this year for us, the Brandon Bells, the (Christian) Hackenbergs, the (Adam) Brenemans and those guys. We feel good about the future.
“We feel good about where we’re headed recruiting‑wise. Every single home game here we’ve had a lot of great prospects here. I can’t really get into the details of that because that’s an NCAA violation, but we feel good about the ’14 class, and we feel good about the ’15 class. – because you’re always trying to stay one step ahead. So we’re recruiting hard with the 2015 class.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys on this football team that gained a lot of experience this year which I think will really help them. Some guys were playing college football for the first time like Geno Lewis who redshirted last year and was playing in a college football game for the first time. You know, Jordan Lucas didn’t play a lot for us his first year. Now he comes in and he’s one of our better players. We have a lot of veteran players that have played a lot of football for us, that are coming back next year that we feel really, really good about.
“Look, I’m not going to get into predictions or anything like that. That’s not what I’m saying. But I think our program with the two‑year sanctions that we’ve been under and things like that with the limited amount of guys we could offer and guy that’s left the program, I think our program stands on pretty solid ground right now.”
On a related tact, O’Brien also uncharacteristically offered an assessment of the as-yet-completed season:
“It hasn’t been a consistent season, but I do think there’s been a lot of positives. I think the fact that we’ve been able to play a freshman quarterback in every game and he’s stayed healthy, and I believe he’s gotten better and better, I think that is a real positive. I believe that for the most part we’ve run the ball pretty well on offense – I think that’s a positive. We’ve been able to get our younger players a lot of work in practice with the Monday night developmental scrimmages. – that’s a positive.
“I believe our defense has improved every single week, and I think the last three weeks our defense has played well and a lot of younger players or guys that have years left here at Penn State have played a lot of football for us on defense. We’ve got to make improvement on special teams – everybody who watches Penn State knows that special teams has been a struggle at times, and at other times it’s been OK. But it’s been too inconsistent, and that is a big area, especially in the world that we live in right now, that’s where you have to do a better job of special teams. So we’ll look to do that.
“Whether I think of the season as a success or not a success, I’m not getting into that. But I think that there’s been a lot of positives from the season so far.”