Against Virginia, coach Bill O’Brien lost his cool with an official because he said the play clock had started too early on one play, forcing the Nittany Lions to burn a time out.
Quarterback Matt McGloin, who has developed a reputation as a fiery player in his own right, played the role of peacekeeper.
The players have embraced O’Brien’s hot-blooded manner on the sidelines, and so have the assistant coaches. Especially when the Lions stumble on a play, O’Brien has preached the mantra of focusing on the next one.
“I know that's a cliché a lot of coaches talk about, but we just say, ‘Look, there's nothing that you can do about that last play,’ ” O’Brien said. “So what's the situation for the next play? Stop dwelling on the last play. Don't sit and think for a second that the play’s, you know, woe is me. It's more about, ‘What am I going to do to do a better job on the next play?’ ”
O’Brien said the process of attaining this mindset comes through live game experience. He constantly tells his players to forget when they do something bad by doing something good again as soon as possible.
Although Penn State had a comfortable lead against Illinois, defensive tackle Jordan Hill said the defense deflated when quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase lateraled to tailback Josh Ferguson, who then threw an easy touchdown pass to Spencer Harris.
“We got to keep our fire at all times,” Hill said. “We lose it sometimes, like when they scored the halfback pass. We got to be ready for those trick plays and stuff like that.”
But when Hill jogged over to the sidelines, the coaches already had them looking to the next defensive stand.
“[O’Brien] and [defensive coordinator Ted Roof] don’t let us get down on ourselves with something like that,” the senior added. “That’s a momentum shifting play, and he doesn’t let us do that.”
The environment in Illinois was less hostile than in Virginia, where a combination of stalled drives and missed field goals cost Penn State what could have been an easy victory.
“Sometimes, [it’s tough] when it keeps happening over and over again,” Hill said. “But we got to respond to it and that’s what we did [Saturday].”
Linebacker Michael Mauti added that Roof and secondary coach John Butler have always displayed that extra level of emotion on the sidelines, and that strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald carries over his intensity from the weight room.
But O’Brien said all the coaches play a part in keeping the players amped up during the game.
“Some of the things in football are just about emphasis,” O’Brien said. “It's hard to actually play it out, until you actually get into a game and things happen. But you can talk to them about it all the time, and so we talk about the next play, play the next play, and don't worry about the last play.”