Second half of the season, same Bill O'Brien.
Bill O'Brien saw "some improvement" from his special teams specialists during practices last week.
"He was pretty fired up yesterday," Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson said, "like he always is."
The Nittany Lions and their first-year head coach went back to work Monday after the bye week, and O'Brien's "one-game season" approach most certainly applied to Saturday night's game at Iowa.
"We just try to focus on the task at hand. Like the old saying goes, you are what your record is and says you are," O'Brien said during his weekly news conference in Beaver Stadium. "And we're both 4 and 2. So to me it's two evenly matched teams that are going to really fight it out physically to see who can win the game."
Penn State has turned some heads nationally during its four-game winning streak, and although O'Brien felt some of his players were recently snubbed on individual award watch lists, there is as much positive buzz surrounding the program as a whole as there has been this season. All the more reason, said the coach, for the Nittany Lions to hone in on the next opponent.
"We think we've improved as a football team, but like I said last week, this is the meat of the schedule," O'Brien said, "and this is a very, very tough schedule starting with an excellent Iowa football team that plays a physical brand of football that our players need to be ready for, no question about it."
The Nittany Lions physically handled Illinois and Northwestern in their first two Big Ten games but expect a tussle from an Iowa team that is traditionally one of the league's most physical squads.
"It's a test to our strength and physicality," safety Jake Fagnano said Tuesday. "Coach Fitz (Craig Fitzgerald) has done a great job this offseason and he's just as excited as us. He's already talked to us about this week."
Penn State hosts Ohio State, the Big Ten's lone undefeated team, on Oct. 27 and will take on Nebraska and Wisconsin in the final four weeks of the season. First, it will meet an Iowa team that is coming off a gritty win over Michigan State and has turned back the Nittany Lions in both of the last two games in Kinnick Stadium.
"It's one thing to have a bye week, but it's a whole 'nother thing to be playing a team like Iowa, and we've got to try to go out here and practice and be precise and practice hard with great effort every day and try to equal out that momentum," O'Brien said. "I thought yesterday was a decent start."
Notes: O'Brien said freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman, who hasn't played since injuring his knee in the Virginia game, did some individual drills during Monday's practice. He is still eligible for a redshirt this season. "It is getting later in the season, so something is going to have to be made probably pretty soon, but right now we haven't made that decision," O'Brien said. … O'Brien said he saw some improvement in Penn State's special teams play, including that from kicker Sam Ficken and punter Alex Butterworth, during practices last week, but "now we've got to go do it in a game." … O'Brien sent well-wishes to the family of Penn State cheerleader Paige Raque, who fell 39 feet from a downtown apartment building during the weekend and is in critical condition at an Altoona hospital. "I apologize for that; I just heard about it this morning," O'Brien said. "My heart goes out to Paige and her family, and I feel terrible about that. When I get back over (to the Lasch Building) I'll make some calls and make sure that their family understands. I know her brother (Parker Raque) is a great gymnast here, and it's a terrible thing. Like I said, my heart goes out to that family."