George O’Leary called it the biggest win in his 10 years coaching at Central Florida. Bill O’Brien couldn’t afford to put too much emphasis on the game.
Twelve hours. That’s how long the Penn State coach allowed for dwellling on Saturday’s disheartening loss to UCF.
“Losing,” O’Brien said Tuesday at his weekly press conference, “is brutal. You do not want to lose. It’s just not a good feeling.
“But what you have to do as a coach and as a player in this sport is you have to immediately pick yourself right back up. I allow them maybe 12 hours of mourning period, then they have to pick themselves back up because you have an opponent on the horizon that is a good opponent.”
The Nittany Lions host Kent State on Saturday before getting a week off prior to the start of Big Ten play. One of the top priorities is fixing some problems on defense.
Penn State allowed 34 points and 507 yards of total offense to UCF. The Lions defense hadn’t allowed more than 500 yards in a regular season game in more than a decade — a 2001 win at Michigan State. The unit had given up 600 in the TicketCity Bowl loss to Houston at the end of the 2011 season.
But what won’t happen is any sort of radical change to the defense, whether it be scheme, personnel or philosophy. That much, O’Brien made clear.
“We don’t overreact,” O’Brien said. “We have a lot of confidence in our players, in our coaching ability. We know that there’s improvement to make every single day. That’s why we love coaching. That’s why we can’t wait to get back to practice on Mondays.
“We’re not changing. All we’re going to do is try to improve the things that we do and figure it out from there. That’s just the way it goes. That’s coaching and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Defense with a thud
That includes keeping the low-contact “thud” practices — where defenders don’t tackle players to the ground — intact. Penn State has gone the thud route since the spring to try to minimize injuries with the program’s dwindling scholarship numbers.
O’Brien, who said he reads “five or six” articles about the team as preparation for a press conference, knew that thud practices would come into question Tuesday after the Lions struggled badly with missed tackles on Saturday.
As such, he addressed the issue right away on Tuesday.
“Defensively it comes down to tackling. We’ve got to tackle better,” O’Brien said. “It has nothing to do with thud. About 120 teams in the country all basically practice with thud. Very rare that teams go live anymore, especially if you look at pro football. That’s trickled down to college.
“It has to be about being in better football position, being aligned correctly. I thought we were aligned improperly sometimes. So those are things we can correct. We have to do better and will do better.”
O’Brien wanted to get across that the Lions are far from unique with the way they practice. And that “low-contact” during drills is not the same as “no-contact.”
“We hit. We hit in practice,” O’Brien said. “We’ll have nine‑on‑seven today. We probably hit at Penn State more than a lot of teams that are out there. It has nothing whatsoever to do with that.”
Penn State is getting healthier, but the main concern this week remains the status of linebacker Mike Hull.
The junior has been battling a sprained knee suffered early in the season-opener against Syracuse, and it is still hampering him.
Hull sat out against Eastern Michigan and suited up against UCF. But the speedy linebacker still didn’t look to be near 100 percent and spent much of the first half on the sideline.
“I would say the one guy that is day‑to‑day would be Michael Hull,” O’Brien said. “He’s sore. (Sunday), Monday, he was sore. We’re going to have to watch him in practice and see how he does.
“Everybody else is just basically normal for the fourth week of the season. There’s no major injuries. We’ll have to keep an eye on that.”