UNIVERSITY PARK — There are no concerns about Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s health and the true freshman quarterback will be ready to start Penn State’s upcoming game against Illinois at Beaver Stadium.
Bill O’Brien said Hackenberg “is fine” and practiced fully on Monday.
“He’s good to go as we sit here today,” O’Brien said.
Hackenberg, who was hurt on a dead play when Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa took him to the ground, left the Ohio State game in the third quarter and did not return. Hackenberg had his throwing shoulder wrapped over his shoulder pads and yielded his spot to backup Tyler Ferguson.
O’Brien said he figured Bosa didn’t hear the whistle and insisted he didn’t think it was a dirty play.
While there are no worries about Hackenberg’s health, O’Brien also expressed confidence in his team’s ability to bounce back from Saturday’s 63-14 loss to the No. 4 Buckeyes. Since taking over as head coach, O’Brien has coached Penn State to back-to-back losses just once. Those losses were the first two games O’Brien coached last season.
O’Brien said he walked into his team meeting on Monday and had no doubt his players were ready to move on from the embarrassing night at Ohio Stadium.
“They’ve experienced the highs of the high with the Michigan four-overtime win, and they’ve experienced the low, the low moment with getting blown out by Ohio State,” O’Brien said. “So that’s kind of what life’s about. If that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life, I think your life will be OK. So I think that’s what it’s about, and these kids know that, and they understand that.”
Offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“It’s true. Obviously we lost. We could’ve done better on both sides of the ball,” Dieffenbach said. “It hurts. You never want to lose a game like that but we’ve got a bright season ahead of us. We can still have a great season.”
The Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) have home games against Illinois, Purdue and Nebraska remaining while road trips to Minneapolis to face Minnesota and Madison to take on Wisconsin also await. Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin have winning records while Illinois and Purdue are still looking for their first wins in the Big Ten.
Penn State will be looking for a turnaround in all phases of its game on Saturday when the Illini visit Beaver Stadium for a game to start at noon. Primarily, O’Brien is looking for defensive improvement.
In three losses to UCF, Indiana and Ohio State, Penn State has given up an average of 560 yards per game. Penn State gave up 686 yards — the most in program history — to the Buckeyes.
“Obviously Saturday night was not the defense’s best night,” O’Brien said. “Let’s call it like it is.”
Shortly thereafter, O’Brien was told defensive coordinator John Butler has been taking heat from fans on message boards online.
It sparked a stern response from the second-year head coach.
O’Brien was adament in his support for Butler, who is in his first year calling the defense for Penn State. O’Brien promoted Butler — previously Penn State’s secondary coach — soon after Ted Roof left to take the defensive coordinator job at Georgia Tech in the offseason.
“As far as John Butler taking heat, I don’t know from who, but John Butler is a hell of a football coach,” O’Brien said. “John Butler is our defensive coordinator, works his tail off, the kids respect him. He’s doing a hell of a job. I don’t care what the scoreboard says or what the yardage says, this guy is our defensive coordinator. He’s my defensive coordinator. I’m proud to coach with him.”
Butler’s fiery demeanor has endeared him to his players, safety Jesse Della Valle said.
“Coach Butler’s a guy who’s always working with us as players to develop us,” Della Valle said. “He’s extremely passionate about what he does in his profession and I think I speak for everybody on our team when I say that everyone has a lot of respect for him and really respects the work he does for our team.”
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.