STATE COLLEGE — For many years, Penn State fans had Joe Paterno on the radio for the Blue-White Game. On Saturday, they got Bill O’Brien on the P.A. system.
Paterno used to delegate the annual spring game to his top assistants while he spent some time in the broadcast booth with Fran Fisher (and later Steve Jones) giving some critiques and one-liners. O’Brien was right on the field for his second Blue-White Game but still found a way to channel that feeling.
So when things got a little sleepy as the Nittany Lions took the field after a short halftime break, O’Brien had his microphone turned on.
“Thank you so much for your support,” O’Brien said over the Beaver Stadium speakers to an estimated 28,000 in attendance. “We’re going to need you in the fall.”
Time to have some fun.
With the microphone still on to start the second half of the scrimmage, O’Brien began calling plays for the offense as he normally would. Of course, the defense could hear it along with everyone else in stadium.
“You didn’t hear that, Bars,” O’Brien deadpanned, motioning to defensive end Brad Bars. “Play the run, Bars.”
The next time, he started a “We Are” chant to get the crowd going before stopping to bark, “Louder! You’re not loud enough!”
That did the trick. His attempts to start the wave a few plays later, thankfully, did not.
Later, O’Brien lauded tailback Akeel Lynch for keeping his pad level low at the end of the run. When 6-foot-7 tight end Jesse James dragged a swarm of defenders for a few extra yards after a catch, O’Brien instinctively shouted “Whistle! Whistle! Whistle!” to get the play blown dead and protect his weapon from injury.
When his offense hesitated on a particular formation the response was, “I’m on the loudspeaker now. Don’t make me yell at you.”
He signed off at the end of the drive after his offense found the end zone. All in all, it was a more successful outing than the last time O’Brien had a microphone in font of him on the field at Beaver Stadium.
After closing out his first season with an emotional overtime win against Wisconsin, a choked-up O’Brien swore he called his players a “bunch of fighters” on national TV. Those watching at home swore he, uh, swore — that he used a different F-word instead.
“They miked me up a little bit today. And that was interesting,” O’Brien said Saturday. “And I think it was pretty clean. Which is good.”
A time for reflection
On a somber note, O’Brien spent the week watching his home state of Massachusetts plunged into chaos following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the ensuing manhunt for the suspects.
O’Brien grew up in Andover, Mass., — some 25 miles from Boston — and still has family, friends and colleagues from the New England Patriots in the area.
“I just feel terrible for those people,” O’Brien said. “I certainly don’t know anyone personally that was affected, but it’s kind of friends-of-friends. In fact, I have a great friend who I went to Brown with, who’s a head high school coach up north of Boston. And his daughter was across the street — his 9-year-old daughter with her third grade class watching the finish across the street from the bomb.
“I just feel terrible. I love that city. I love that city. I grew up 20 minutes north of that city. My brother Tommy is heavily involved in that city and has been for a long time, (as well as) my oldest brother John and my dad and my mom. … It’s like President Obama said — Boston is a very resilient city.”
Starting tailback Zach Zwinak got just two touches in Saturday’s game before heading to the sideline to get ice on his hand. He did not return to the field and O’Brien said he had no update after the game.
RB Bill Belton (toe), TE Adam Breneman (knee), TE Kyle Carter (wrist), OT Garry Gilliam (calf), DT DaQuan Jones (back), LB Ben Kline (shoulder) TE Matt Lehman, WR Brandon Moseby-Felder and SS Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder) all sat out the scrimmage.
Five players were honored at halftime for their work during the spring.
Center Ty Howle won the Red Worrell Award as the most improved offensive player while defensive end C.J. Olaniyan and cornerback Jordan Lucas shared the Jim O’Hora Award for the same distinction on defense.
Linebacker Mike Hull and guard Miles Dieffenbach were named co-winners of the Frank Patrick Award for “total commitment.”