Patrick O’Brien didn’t really have time to be nervous last week. The redshirt freshman found out three minutes before the Huskers took the field for the second half that he would be the guy instead of season-long starter Tanner Lee. He would be the guy tasked with bringing Nebraska out of a 30-14 halftime hole and keeping it from falling into an even bigger one.
“They’re like ‘get ready to play’ and that was really it,” O’Brien said. “I said, “all right.” I mean, you can’t really say anything else, you know.”
O’Brien entered the second half in a difficult situation – no running game and a defense that knew what was coming. This week is a slightly different story. No. 13 Penn State has one of the best defenses in the country, but O’Brien has a week to prepare. Even though it’s unclear whether Lee – who’s currently in the concussion protocol – will play or not, O’Brien is preparing as if he’s the guy.
“I’m preparing as a starter right now, taking all the ones’ reps during practice,” he said. “Preparation in the film room doesn’t change, really, I just try to prepare every single day, just try to get better.
“I missed a couple of throws. I mean, getting thrown in there it’s kind of tough, but that’s expected of you as a back-up quarterback. And you’re not going to be given the perfect situation at all times, and you’ve just got to make plays and go with it.”
Any time you go from a fifth-year junior quarterback to a redshirt freshman, there will be talks of a condensed playbook. Make it as easy as you can on the new guy and not overload him with a ton of things he has to do either before the snap or during the play. On Monday, head coach Mike Riley said sometimes “less is more,” and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said they’d do what helped O’Brien be most comfortable.
So what exactly is O’Brien comfortable with at this point?
“Everything,” he said. “There’s not a single thing that I’m not.”
O’Brien also adds another element that Lee doesn’t: a legitimate threat to scramble. Six second-half sacks completely wiped his numbers away, but O’Brien did pick up 41 true rushing yards against Minnesota. On Monday, Langsdorf said he liked what he saw, but cautioned to not get too carried away.
“Just the way he scrambled around and got a couple first downs,” Langsdorf said. “You’ve got to be a little careful of thinking that he’s Deshaun Watson but he made some good plays.”
When O’Brien heard the comparison, he laughed.
“I’m definitely not [Watson],” he said. “I mean, maybe like a slow Carson Wentz.”
Wentz is currently leading the Philadelphia Eagles to the best record in the entire NFL and, as of a week ago, is a favorite for the NFL MVP. On Saturday, O’Brien will be lacing them up about four hours west of Wentz’s stomping grounds, hoping for a Wentz-like performance. Against the ninth-ranked Penn State defense, according to S&P+ ratings, O’Brien will need to be perfect.
It’s funny though, the Philadelphia ties don’t stop at comparisons, O’Brien’s father is from there as well.
“My dad’s from Philadelphia, so I have a lot of family members coming to this game,” O’Brien said of playing in Happy Valley. “I currently have 21 coming to the game, so yeah, the whole O’Brien clan in Philadelphia right now is coming to the game, plus my family.”
O’Brien said he’s not worried about the 100,000-plus that will pack into Beaver Stadium on Saturday, he’s seen similar crowds before and knows what to expect. Whether that’s misguided confidence or something else, the Huskers have still been pumping in plenty of crowd noise this week to prepare.
With O’Brien going home (sort of, not really but sort of) to play in front of family against a team that never offered him, you can bet the motivation will be there for a big outing.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.