PSU successful on fourth-down tries

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.

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.