PSU birthday boy O'Brien has eye on Buckeyes


PSU birthday boy O'Brien has eye on Buckeyes

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Didn't get Bill O'Brien a birthday gift? Don't worry, he won't mind one bit.

Penn State's first-year coach is so focused getting his team ready for Saturday's Big Ten tilt against No. 9 Ohio State that he forgot he was turning 43 on Tuesday.

That is, until his brother sent him a text Tuesday morning. A few of his players followed suit on Twitter.

``I don't know, I'm not a big birthday guy,'' O'Brien said. ``My wife will list all the things that I really don't enjoy- birthdays, weddings, theme parks, the beach.''

There's no danger of football falling on that list any time soon, not with Penn State (5-2, 3-0) on a five-game winning streak and surging as the unbeaten Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) visit Happy Valley this weekend.

Harsh NCAA offseason sanctions on Penn State for the school's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal included significant scholarship cuts and a four-year postseason ban. O'Brien and his staff, though, have channeled the players' emotions over the predicament into an every-second-counts mentality on the field. Now, every game is like a bowl.

And after a 38-14 drubbing last week of Iowa on the road, the news dominating the headlines has to do with what's happening on the field, not in the courts.

It's been a while.

``I would definitely say that these guys have earned the right to play in this type of game. They've put a lot of time in. They've been through a lot,'' O'Brien said. ``Everything that we've asked them to do, they've done.''

Especially on offense.

Quarterback Matt McGloin and the uptempo ``NASCAR'' scheme trampled over the Hawkeyes defense. The no-huddle attack is getting better every week, and now the running game is getting on track, too behind the formidable trio of speedy tailback Bill Belton and fullback-like bruisers Zack Zwinak and Michael Zordich.

Under the late Joe Paterno's leadership, Penn State relied on the safe-and-steady formula of running the ball and playing for field position. Now, O'Brien is more apt to go for it on fourth down, especially if he's anywhere near midfield.

It might be time to rewrite the scouting report on the Nittany Lions.

``Penn State is a team that always scraps,'' Ohio State safety Christian Bryant said, ``always fights to the last whistle.''

The Penn State defense gets better every week, too, behind standout linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and disruptive defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Linebacker U. will have its hands full getting ready for Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller, who is listed as the starter this week after getting knocked out of last week's 29-22 victory over Purdue when a defender slammed him to the turf.

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday he would have both Miller and backup Kenny Guiton, who led Ohio State to victory in relief of Miller, ready for Penn State. Miller has a sore neck, Meyer said.

``He's good to go for practice. There'll be no contact,'' Meyer said. ``Our biggest concern is just how sore he is.''

The most pressing concern for Penn State is special teams after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown last week and a punt return for a score two weeks ago. The punting game has been so-so at best, while kicker Sam Ficken continues to struggle after making one kick but getting another field-goal attempt blocked against the Hawkeyes.

But special teams woes have been overshadowed in the five-game winning streak. A big-game atmosphere has permeated campus for this ``White House'' Saturday - when the team asks all fans to wear white for the game. The ``Nittanyville'' tent city outside Beaver Stadium is already filled with 144 tents and 1,200 student campers, according to student organizers.

They sense extra motivation to this year's Ohio State-Penn State game, too.

``You know (Patriots coach Bill Belichick) told us in New England, `You only play once a week,''' O'Brien said about his former NFL boss. ``This year, we only get a chance to lay it on the line 12 times, 12 Saturdays.

``Every game is a big game.''


AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.


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How to execute the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

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How to execute the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

Summertime; the time of year when you only look at your calendar to make sure you haven’t double-booked yourself for your ritual weekend brunches, or the time of year you exhaust every vacation day you’ve stored up over the course of the year to get the kids somewhere near their grandparents so you can continue to work on that ever-elusive summer dad-bod. Either one is a win in my book.

Summer also gives birth to one of the rare occasions when there can be three to four different DC-sports related activities all occurring within the same 24-hour timeframe. Thursday, June 20, is THAT day!

Who’s playing? Is there a chance I can attend the game? If not, how do you watch them all? These burning questions are about to be answered faster than you can ride down the escalator at the Pentagon City Metro Station…I think. So, let’s hurry and get started.

We’ll run through these one at a time, in chronological order!

Event 1: Soccer: 3 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       The US Women’s National Team takes the pitch against Sweden as they look to continue their international dominance in the Women’s World Cup. And yes, it’s DC team because we’re the nation’s Capital.

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

a.       These women are the best Soccer players on the planet; having showcased their proficiency for many years on the world stage. Remember they put up 13 against Thailand in their first match! Don’t miss an opportunity to witness history in the making.  

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       You can either pull up to Dulles and jump on the next flight to France, or you can be like the rest of us Super-geniuses and tune in at 3pm to watch it from the comfort of your favorite Soccer bar. Make sure to buy a round for anyone rocking a USWNT jersey; #OneNationOneTeam. USA, USA, USA!!!

Event 2: Baseball: 7 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       The Washington Nationals are wrapping up a 4-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

a.       This is the last day of Bryce Harper in THIS city for the remainder of the season. HALLELUJAH! 

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       First pitch is at 7:05p so you can either slide by the park and enjoy the smorgasbord of delicacies offered at Nats park, or you can tune in on the tube. I suggest hitting the park and booing Harper until you lose your voice! Tell your boss it’s my fault you’re hoarse. It won’t be the first time someone did that.

Event 3: Basketball(NBA): 8 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       NOBODY, derp! But, it’s the NBA draft and frankly put, I couldn’t be more excited it’s finally here.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

a.       This is the first official activation in the post-Grunfeld era for the Wizards. More importantly, this will be the first chance for Wiz fans to wrap their minds around the new direction the team will be taking. Optimism starts here!

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       Unless you feel like hopping a flight to Chicago to see the Draft in person, I highly suggest you tune in to NBC Sports Washington for full draft coverage on ‘Wizards on the Clock’ at 8p. In my humble opinion, you won’t find better comprehensive coverage. You can watch on TV or via the MyTeams App while you’re at the Nats game booing Bryce if you’re slick with multi-tasking.

Event 4: Basketball(WNBA): 10 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       Your Washington Mystics are out in Sin City to take on the Las Vegas Aces. Note: Bill Laimbeer sighting!

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

a.       The Aces sit atop the Western Conference with Australian native Liz Cambage (she can BALL) holding down the paint. It’s going to be a good test for the Mystics and you’ll get a chance to see how unrelentingly talented Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and crew really are. Buckets, the Mystics get buckets!

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       I know the temptation to hit Vegas is rising by the moment but fret not. You can save a ton of money and possibly help your best bud save his fragile relationship by staying in DC and catching the game at 10 p.m. on Monumental Sports Network/NBC Sports Washington.

Now you know how to do it while maintaining some semblance of sanity, and you can even keep a running tab on who’s been the most DC among your friends. I’m certain we’ll have another opportunity for this phenomenon when Fall comes back around, but for now, let’s all enjoy the summer and all the games therein!

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Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

After a third surgery on his leg in April, Colt McCoy did not practice with the team during OTAs or mandatory minicamp. He was in Ashburn for many of the workouts, but did not take any team snaps.

In a normal quarterback battle, that would put McCoy at a distinct disadvantage, but the Redskins quarterback battle is not exactly normal. 

Veteran Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins got nearly all of the work at signal caller during the spring practice sessions, and both showed signs of being able to take over head coach Jay Gruden's offense. Keenum proved he can handle the huddle and has quickness when plays broke down behind the line of scrimmage. Haskins showed a rocket arm and a ton of potential, but he's also a rookie trying to learn a boatload about life in the NFL in a hurry, like calling plays, and that showed too. 

All of that is a long way to say neither Keenum nor Haskins locked up the top QB job. And that means the door is still open for McCoy.

"We would love for him to take some reps, but obviously his health is more important right now than anything, and that is the most important thing for him," Gruden said about McCoy on the first day of minicamp. "When his time comes it will come quickly. He will be ready."

Gruden's quote speaks to the biggest advantage McCoy will have once he hits the field. He's been with the Redskins since 2014, and knows Gruden's version of the West Coast offense backwards and forwards. 

Throughout the spring sessions, Haskins made clear that his number one goal for the offseason was to learn the playbook and gain mastery of calling plays in the huddle. McCoy already has that.

Speaking with reporters on the last day of minicamp, Keenum explained that Gruden's offense is the seventh or eighth new system he's learned in the NFL. Keenum said each system is like learning a new language, and that "there is no Rosetta Stone for the West Coast Offense."

If there was a translator, its name would be Colt McCoy. 

Once doctors clear the former University of Texas star, he will immediately be the Redskins quarterback with the best understanding of the offense. That will show up on the field right away.

Remember too that Gruden has tried to turn to McCoy as his quarterback at a few different turns, but injuries have always derailed those plans. If McCoy gets fully healthy in time for Richmond, which team sources believe will happen, he has a chance to finally take over this job.

Make no mistake, Haskins is the Redskins long-term future at the quarterback position. He has the talent but needs to learn the speed of the NFL, from playcalling to pass rush. Eventually though, he will be on the field for the Redskins. 

If he wins the job, it's his.

Same for Keenum, who is probably better than he showed last year in Denver but not as good as his career season with Minnesota in 2017. Keenum could certainly start Week 1 in Philadelphia and is probably ahead of Haskins right now. 

But fans would be wise not to count McCoy out of the quarterback competition. The Redskins coaching staff definitely hasn't.