Tuesdays with O'Brien: Fourth downs

September, 11, 2012
9/11/12
4:00
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien laughed Tuesday afternoon when asked about his unorthodox fourth-down strategy, one that's seen him go for it seven times already.

"Once we get to the 50, I'm pretty much not going to punt it," he said during his weekly press conference. "I'm just going to tell you that. We're going to go for it -- unless it's 4th-and-forever."

O'Brien is 5-for-7 on fourth-down conversions so far this season. With an inexperienced offense and an inconsistent punter, Penn State's been forced to gamble more this season.

Those fourth-down attempts are carefully scripted, too, O'Brien said.

"You can't just all of a sudden go for it," he said. "So, your third-down call is more of a second-down call because you're trying to get half the distance to the first down -- so it's a manageable fourth down.

"I don't think many coaches have said that in a long time."

Penn State went 3-for-4 on fourth-down conversions against Virginia, including two on the opening drive and one on a 19-yard run during a fake punt.

Bruised tailbacks: O'Brien remained mum on the severity of injuries, but a sprained ankle continues to bother Bill Belton and Derek Day suffered a shoulder injury Saturday.

If neither Belton nor Day can go, O'Brien said Curtis Dukes, Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich will split time. He would prefer to redshirt true freshman Akeel Lynch at this point.

Other injuries: Still recovering from last season's torn ACL, defensive end Pete Massaro said he recently suffered a shoulder injury and could miss Saturday's game against Navy.

If he's unable to go, Deion Barnes will take over at his spot. Massaro said he wasn't sure when he would be at 100 percent this season.

Linebacker Nyeem Wartman was also listed as "possible" on a vague injury report. Matt McGloin, who told ESPN on Sunday he was fine, will throw today and is not listed on the injury report.

Kicking problem: For Sam Ficken to improve, O'Brien said the coaching staff will pay special attention to his plant foot this week. Where that foot aims, O'Brien said, is where the ball goes.

"What I said to him yesterday and what I'll say to you: He just needs to be more consistent," O'Brien said.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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