New England West? Pats offense a blueprint for PSU
Big Ten coaches might want to make sure they watch the AFC Championship game on Sunday.
The man who oversees the high-powered New England offense is headed to Happy Valley.
New Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien's staff is starting to think up schemes for a team that has struggled at times with the ball the last two seasons.
''We're studying a playbook and we will run the New England offense,'' offensive line coach Mac McWhorter pronounced this week in a phone interview, echoing O'Brien's intentions.
Of course, the results may not be comparable. After all, Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady isn't eligible to suit up in blue and white - he's a Michigan man, anyway. There's no tight end like Rob Gronkowski to rumble down the seam and bowl over a safety for a first down.
Two weeks into O'Brien's tenure, the new regime at Penn State has barely gotten to know their players. It's January, two months out from spring practice and more than eight months from the season opener.
O'Brien hasn't been around except for an eight-hour spurt last Sunday. He's spending the bulk of his time in Foxborough, Mass., fulfilling his role as the Patriots offensive coordinator and preparing for the AFC title game against Baltimore. He speaks nightly with his Penn State staff, too.
The primary topic of conversation is recruiting - it's crunch time in terms of solidifying the verbal commitments of high school seniors who initially decided on Penn State under former coach Joe Paterno. He also has to draw new interest from other prospects. Recruits can start sealing their commitments in writing on Feb. 1.
In that respect, Penn State assistants hope the O'Brien-led Patriots offense impresses recruits through the playoffs.
''The offense is flexible enough to do whatever we need to do based on the talent we have here,'' McWhorter said. ''The base of what we'll do is what you saw (in the 45-10 win over the Broncos) last week and what you'll see on Sunday.''
Penn State has reportedly lost four verbal commitments and gained two since the program was thrown into turmoil two months ago. State authorities filed child sex abuse charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who has maintained his innocence. Paterno was ousted in the scandal's aftermath.
''I think Coach Paterno did an unbelievable job here over a half-century,'' McWhorter said about the Division I's winningest coach (409 victories).
At the same time, the players are anxious to focus on football again. ''They're real excited to get all the negativity out of the way,'' McWhorter said.
O'Brien was hired Jan. 6 and brought in veteran assistants like McWhorter and Stan Hixon to help him in his first head-coaching job. The three had previously worked together at Georgia Tech under head coach George O'Leary.
Hixon, a 32-year coaching veteran, arrived in Happy Valley after spending the last two season coaching receivers for the Buffalo Bills. Hixon will also coach wideouts at Penn State, while O'Brien is expected to call his own plays.
The offense will need a ''smart quarterback who can read defenses and make decisions at the line of scrimmage,'' Hixon said.
Penn State starter Matt McGloin, who missed the 30-14 loss Jan. 2 in the TicketCity Bowl to Houston because of a concussion, was ''fine and ready to go,'' Hixon added, though he declined to speak about the status of the other quarterbacks on the roster, including backup Rob Bolden.
But there's still plenty of time to sort that out, especially since the new staff is still settling into their new offices at the spacious Lasch Football Building. They've had just one staff meeting in person with O'Brien given his split duties.
A handful of critics have been wary of O'Brien because of his lack of head-coaching experience. Hixon asked the anxious fan base to ''give O'Brien a chance to show the product, get the program in the right direction again.''
''When everything is settled, I know Penn State alumni and fans ... can be proud of the program again,'' Hixon said.