STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien, the offensive guru who's had to insist on more than one occasion that he's no rock star, took to the dais Saturday evening and cut himself short as he waxed poetic on the Lions' improved rushing attack.
"You guys need to ask me some defensive questions. They're all offensive questions right now," Penn State's head coach said following a 34-0 victory over Kent State. "The defense just pitched a shutout, and you guys were all over them last week and they just pitched a shutout. So, can we get some defensive questions or what? No?"
O'Brien, with a blue cap pulled close to his eyes, waited a moment and then continued on between scattered laughter.
"I thought the defense played a helluva football game. They pitched a shutout, and I think John Butler and that crowd of coaches over there and that crowd of football players over there did a f- …” said O’Brien, pausing to change words in midstream. “… hell of a job."
For a minute there, one reporter told him, it sure sounded like O'Brien was going to say he had a bunch of "fighters."
"You know what?" O'Brien said with a smile. "I do. We have a bunch of fighters and fantastic kids. Anyone that debates me on that -- it's like my mom, she still doesn't believe I said 'fighters.' Do I look like a guy who swears? You're kidding me."
O'Brien's mood told the tale of the day. Last week, after his defense surrendered 34 points and 507 yards, he crossed his arms and countered most questions by saying he'd have to watch the film. He glared, and his anger was evident. This time, he laughed and smiled -- and his players shared that sentiment.
Cornerback Jordan Lucas pumped his fist as he jogged underneath the tunnel. Linebacker Nyeem Wartman embraced DT Tyrone Smith, and the dimple-chinned coach didn't have to stop any players from prematurely jogging into the locker room. They stayed and swayed to the alma mater.
O'Brien even lingered a bit and high-fived students who leaned over the rail. Last week, the players stared at their feet and looked as if they had heard a eulogy just minutes before. This week? It seemed as if the Lions were in the midst of a celebration -- probably because they were.
This marked the first Penn State shutout since Sept. 18, 2010, which also just so happened to come against the Golden Flashes. It was also a statement game, one that said the defense wasn't a pushover liked it seemed last week.
PSU surrendered 15 plays of 10 yards or more last week. It gave up just 190 total yards this week.
"It feels good for our defense. But we can't stop there, man," linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. "We got to keep striving because we definitely made mistakes today, and we just have to keep improving."
Of course, comparing UCF's offense to Kent State might just be like comparing Ohio State to Ohio. Some players believed last week didn't seem as bad as the media made it out to be. But, by the same token, this week's shutout likely isn't the watershed moment for the defense either.
It's more of a confidence boost for the defense than an indicator -- even if some defensive players seemed to take offense at that notion.
"I don't think it was the opponent," Wartman said. "I think it was more us."
Defensive players didn't believe there were big changes between last Saturday and this Saturday. Obeng-Agyapong just chalked the loss to UCF up to one of those days when nothing goes right.
This shutout doesn't mean the Nittany Lions will enter the conference season and limit Indiana's high-powered offense to 200 yards. But it does give Penn State something to build on, something for the defensive players to smile about and something for the fans to look forward to.
The shutout was undoubtedly important to this Penn State team, Kent State or not. And, heading into the bye week, it sure makes a 3-1 record easier to swallow.
"When you can shut any team out, it feels good," Obeng-Agyapong said, "because you stop them from scoring the whole game. That's pretty difficult at times, you know?
"You always feel good when you win. When you lose, you feel crappy. It's as simple as that."