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Sunday, October 7, 2012
PSU successful on fourth-down tries

By Josh Moyer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien has become so accustomed to going for it on fourth down that even he appeared to lose count of his Saturday conversions.

Bill O'Brien
Bill O'Brien has proven to be successful on fourth downs this season.
The first-year coach pulled a ballcap down close to his eyes, but he stole a noticeable glance at the stat sheet when asked about them. "Uh, we went for it," he said with a slight pause, "six times today? Yeah."

Laughter scattered around the post-game press conference after O'Brien's flippant response. He continued, deadpan, as if he was asked about his decision to run on first down. He didn't behave as if a half-dozen fourth-down attempts were odd; it seemed like the most natural thing in college football.

For Penn State, at least, it's certainly seemed that way this season. O'Brien has given his offense the go-ahead on fourth downs 20 times so far -- more than the 119 other teams vying for titles or bowl berths. Army is second in the nation with 18 fourth-down attempts, but what makes O'Brien's decision to go for it so unique is because of the timing.

The dimple-chinned coach opts to keep his long-snapper on the sideline in first and fourth quarters, with leads and deficits, with momentum or without.

"We look at the fourth down as a 'redeem' play," wideout Allen Robinson said. "If we do not get a lot on the first down or the second down, then we can make it up on the fourth."

Without a reliable kicker, O'Brien has been forced to gamble more -- but the coach has been pleased with the payoff. Penn State is 13-of-20 on fourth downs this season and converted 5-of-6 chances Saturday.

O'Brien's key play-call against Northwestern came when his team trailed 28-17 early in the final quarter. On fourth-and-4 from the 6-yard line, O'Brien opted to go for the touchdown.

"I didn't think twice about it," he said.

A field goal would have made that a one-score game. A missed opportunity would have strangled any hopes of a comeback. What would have happened if PSU missed?

"Then, well, what are you going to do?" O'Brien said. "You got to make the touchdown; you got to execute the play. I mean, what do you want me to say?"

O'Brien adopted a light-hearted tone Saturday, punctuating his sentences with grins or drawing laughter from the media. Every one of his fourth-down conversions led to a score, and -- whether he was aware of that or not -- he was pleased with the result.