STATE?COLLEGE?- Whatever Saturday's season opener means historically for Penn State University, its football program, the community and any others ready to move on from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, for Bill O'Brien, it means only one thing.
"Saturday is about a football game," said the coach, who is keenly focused on getting his team prepared to play.
O'Brien admitted he will have some butterflies before his first game as a head coach at any level, and he's fully aware of the added significance many other people are placing on the game. He knows, however, he and his players should only be thinking about what it will take to beat Ohio.
"As soon as you kick it off - and for me as soon as we start calling plays on offense and get the thing going - then obviously you're focused on the game and the butterflies go away," O'Brien said.
That's when instinct kicks in and football coaches and players do what they're trained to do best.
"Football is about repetition," O'Brien said.
There were many repetitive questions during O'Brien's first game-week news conference Tuesday about how the coach and his players will respond given everything they've been through during the scandal. O'Brien did his best with each of the questions to try and stay focused on football and point out the task at hand, rather than looking at everything from some big-picture point of view.
O'Brien has watched a lot of game film on Ohio, so he understands that if his team isn't prepared to compartmentalize and focus on the opponent, then Saturday could be a rough day.
"This is an excellent football team," O'Brien said. "This is Coach [Frank] Solich's eighth year in the program, and this is probably his best football team."
Penn State fans got used to Joe Paterno always talking up vastly inferior opponents with statements such as, "that's a good, tough football team," even when it was the likes of Indiana State or Youngstown State. When O'Brien talks about how good Ohio is, it's not just to build up the opponent.
"This is a team that was in the MAC championship game last year and has huge aspirations for this year," O'Brien said.
That has to be part of the reason the coach doesn't want to get too philosophical about big-picture issues, nor does he want his players to do that either. He knows their emotions will be running high to play this historic game, but he also realizes the players have to keep their emotions in check.
"If our guys can control their emotions and play within themselves and not try to be heroes and just play the way they've been playing in practice, then we'll have a shot to control those emotions early on," O'Brien said. "But it's something that we have talked about and we'll continue to talk about."
No more vanilla 'D'
Linebacker Michael Mauti addressed an issue that was obvious in recent years when talking about Penn State's new defense.
"With Coach [Tom] Bradley we kept things more vanilla," Mauti said.
That won't be the case under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
"We're going to be multiple in what we do," Mauti said. "Guys will be flying around."
The secondary also will get to play more man-to-man coverage, instead of the softer zones Penn State utilized for years.
"It's definitely more exciting," safety Malcolm Willis said.
The Nittany Lions also will be using a no-huddle scheme on defense, with multiple players giving signals rather than just one. Linebacker Gerald Hodges said some of the signals will be real and some will be dummy signals so the opposition can't pick them up.
The no-huddle setup will help the defense keep up with fast-paced offenses, but the challenge will be to have everyone on the same page with communication and execution.
Jones No. 2 QB
O'Brien clarified the backup quarterback position, saying sophomore Paul Jones still has a hold on the spot. The depth chart, released Monday, listed Jones and true freshman Steven Bench battling for the backup job.
"Paul Jones is still the No. 2 quarterback, but I will say that Steven Bench has come in and definitely closed the gap," O'Brien said. "He's a leader, he's a guy that is the son of a football coach from Georgia, where high school football is a really big deal. So he's been brought up around football his whole life, and he's done a lot of good things in training camp."
O'Brien reiterated that Jones will play this season, but he noted it will be more situational and depending on "the flow of the game."
One Sports Illustrated writer picked Ohio to go 12-0 this season, and whether that will happen or not, Penn State's players realize this is a much tougher opener than the program has had in recent years.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill called it "definitely the toughest opponent for a first game" of his career, which has included openers against Indiana State, Youngstown State and Akron.
News and notes
Senior Mike Farrell appeared to have the edge on junior Adam Gress for the starting right tackle spot, according to practice observers Tuesday. ... O'Brien gave no indication of who his kickoff and punt returners would be. He said sophomore Alex Kenney is in the mix but added everyone will have to wait until Saturday to find out. ... Sophomore receiver Allen Robinson has impressed everyone throughout the summer and training camp and said Tuesday, "I'm ready to be the No. 1 wideout." ... Willis said he's "feeling great" after missing several practices with an ankle injury. ... Senior defensive end Pete Massaro is expected to play Saturday after battling a sore knee in camp. Massaro missed last season with a torn ACL.