Gambling paying off for Penn State's O'Brien

In the week leading up to the season opener, a reporter asked Bill O'Brien if he considered himself a gambler.

O'Brien, a first-time head coach, had hinted that he would be an aggressive play caller. Does that mean going for it on fourth down quite a bit?

O'Brien was coy.

"I would never put a label on myself," he said. "But I have a pretty good idea what type of coach I am."

Three weeks later, it's clear: It would be safe to label O'Brien as a risk taker. He always seems to like his chances.

Through two games, Penn State has converted 5 of 7 fourth-down opportunities. In Saturday's 17-16 loss to Virginia, the Nittany Lions went for it on fourth-and-one twice in one drive. It was the opening drive of the game.

Penn State converted both opportunities, and it led to a 75-yard, 17-play scoring drive culminating in a touchdown. 

When asked on Tuesday to assess his fourth-down play calling this year, O'Brien laughed.

"I think we're five for seven on fourth down this year and we could probably be seven for seven," he said. "So the plays have been okay."

The play calling is drastically different than last year, when the Nittany Lions only attempted 18 fourth downs the entire season. They converted 10. 

But this is O'Brien's team. And on the field, he has a completely new philosophy. 

"You can't just all of a sudden go for it," he said. "So, your third-down call is more of a second-down call because you're trying to get half the distance to the first down -- so it's a manageable fourth down. I don't think many coaches have said that in a long time."

O'Brien divulged even more into his thought process on the sideline. And it's one of the least conservative philosophies in college football.

"Once we get really close to the 50, I'm pretty much not going to punt it," O'Brien said. "I'm just going to tell you that, like, we're going to go for it. Unless it's fourth and forever."

-Emily Kaplan