The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 11, 2013

College football: O'Brien faces old mentor on Saturday


Daily Item

---- — By Tim Owen

For The Daily Item

STATE COLLEGE -- For Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, his weekly news conference Tuesday almost seemed like a trip down memory lane. That's because the opposing head coach this week -- UCF's George O'Leary -- is one of O'Brien's most trusted mentors and the guy who gave him his first true coaching gig. And reporters were intrigued by the unique career connection.

O'Leary first hired O'Brien at Georgia Tech in 1995 as a graduate assistant, and the relationship was not short lived. To this day, O'Brien has served under O'Leary longer than any other head football coach, including New England Patriots' Bill Belichick. Throughout '95-'01, under O'Leary, O'Brien served as the Yellow Jackets' G.A., running backs coach and offensive coordinator.

Now in his second year as head coach, what has O'Brien learned most from his time spent with O'Leary?

"I took two big lessons from him," O'Brien said. "One was organization. He was a very organized guy. There wasn't a wasted moment during the day. That had a lot to do with work ethic. We worked extremely hard, all of us did. He demanded that of us. So I learned a lot about that.

"Then I just learned about how important the physical toughness and resiliency of your football team is. That's a very important characteristic of a good football team. ... When you have a physical resilient, tough football team, then you've got a chance to win games."

O'Leary and O'Brien have since parted ways on the coaching trail, but their paths will cross for 60 minutes Saturday when O'Leary's Knights travel into Beaver Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff. The coaches might be looking forward to a short reunion, but obviously other tasks will have them occupied.

"This is UCF vs. Penn State," said O'Leary. "This has nothing to do with us. (O'Brien) knows that. I'll say hello to him before the game and say, 'Stay healthy,' after the game. Otherwise, it's all business."

O'Leary and O'Brien, both of whom are of Irish heritage, will cross paths again in Dublin, Ireland, next year when UCF and Penn State take part in the Croke Park Classic for the season-opener.

n Bortles alert

UCF's current squad is led by junior quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles was listed on almost every preseason award watch list for QBs, and on Tuesday O'Brien referred to him as a "pro prospect." Not a bad shout-out, considering O'Brien's NFL resume.

So far, Bortles has lived up to his reputation. In UCF's first two games, both of which were wins, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback averaged 264 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps what's more remarkable, however, is the fact that Bortles hasn't thrown in an interception since Oct. 27, 2012.

That's 217 pass attempts without a pick, which is a program record.

Penn State's secondary is expecting it's most difficult endeavor of this young season when Bortles and his arsenal of offensive weapons visit University Park.

"It'll just test our coaching and the film study that we put in throughout the week, studying different tendencies and things like that," said senior safety Malcolm Willis. "You have to approach this game just like any other game. You don't want to get too high, you don't want to get too low. You want to make sure you're nice and calm."