The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 9, 2013

College football: O'Brien, Penn State look toward Michigan


Daily Item

---- — By Tim Owen

For The Daily Item

Immediately after Penn State's 20-point defeat on Saturday -- the program's first loss to Indiana in 17 games -- a frustrated Bill O'Brien briefly let his guard down. First he credited a talented Hoosiers squad, he placed blame upon himself and his play-calling, but then he made a rare statement.

"I don't think in any stretch of anybody's imagination that this is a normal Penn State team: 61 kids on scholarship and 40 walk-ons," he said. "(We) can't go to a bowl, we can't play for championships. It's not an excuse, but we have a lot of resilient kids here"

With a roster punished with NCAA scholarship restrictions, it is clear that Penn State is at a disadvantage to its fellow Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. But O'Brien's acknowledgement of the fact created a stir among media and fans throughout the weekend.

That might have been a one-time comment. During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, O'Brien was asked if he thinks the lack of scholarship players "is starting to catch up." The second-year head coach had no interest in revisiting the conversation.

"I'm not talking about scholarships, sanctions -- anything," he punctuated. "I'm talking about Michigan. Our team is focused on Michigan. We feel like we got off to a good start (at practice) on Monday. I'm not here to talk about scholarships, sanctions or last week's game. I'm here to talk about Michigan, and Michigan only."

The NCAA announced on Sept. 24 that it will restore Penn State's scholarship allotment to 75 for the 2014 season and to a full 85 by the 2016 season.

n Keiser questionable

When Penn State takes the Beaver Stadium field against Michigan on Saturday, it could be without Selinsgrove High graduate Ryan Keiser for the second consecutive game.

Keiser suffered a broken hand during Penn State's win over Kent State on Sept. 21, and has been out of game action ever since.

A vital piece to the Nittany Lions' special teams and a contributing safety, Keiser is officially listed as "possible" on Penn State's injury report. He will be further evaluated this week.

"Ryan Keiser is still questionable for the game," O'Brien announced. "We're hoping to have him, but we'll know more probably by the end of (today). We feel good about it, but I would say he's still questionable."

n Turnover differential

With a minus-three turnover differential, Penn State ranks among the bottom three teams in the Big Ten in that category. While they have surrendered five fumbles and four interceptions, the Nittany Lions have only created six turnovers (one fumble, five interceptions) through their first five games. O'Brien is looking for serious improvement.

"We definitely work on that; we really do," he said. "We do a lot of drills on that and coach it up. Whether it's ball drills, interception drills, strip drills, fumble recovery drills, blocked punt drills, we drill it. We need to do a better job in that area, no doubt about it. We' ve just got to keep working on it and emphasize it on film. When we see a good play -- somebody that caught an interception or recovered a fumble in practice -- say, 'Hey, great job,' and emphasize it. Hopefully we'll start getting that turned around a little bit."