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Penn State defensive coordinator Butler has O'Brien's support

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 10:12 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler (right) and head coach Bill O'Brien coach from the sideline during the Nittany Lions 63-14 loss to Ohio State in their Leaders Division game at Ohio Stadium on Oct. 26, 2013, in Columbus Ohio.

Asked about the “heat” his defensive coordinator was taking, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien got hot.

Fire-and-brimstone hot.

“John Butler is a hell of a football coach,” O'Brien said Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

“If anybody should take heat, it's Bill O'Brien, not John Butler. I don't know where that's coming from, but hopefully that will get squelched. That's a bunch of crap that he's taking heat.”

The temperature has been turned up — from the outside, at least — on the Nittany Lions' first-year coordinator as the autumn air has chilled. Since the calendar flipped to October, Penn State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) has allowed an average of 49.0 points and 520.3 yards per game.

That coincides with the beginning of conference play, and the Lions have allowed at least 40 points to each of their three Big Ten opponents this season. To put that number into perspective, Penn State had allowed 40 or more points three times over its previous 120 Big Ten contests.

Through their first 20 Big Ten seasons, the Lions allowed 40-plus points against conference rivals just four times. That total can be matched over a four-game span if Illinois (3-4, 0-3) happens to score 40 at Beaver Stadium at noon Saturday.

“Obviously, Saturday night was not the defense's best night,” O'Brien said of a 63-14 loss at Ohio State. “Let's call it like it is. But I do think that there has been some improvement. Some individual players that are playing better, and at the end of the day it comes down to a combination of coaching and playing. So I think that if we can put them in better positions to make plays, that will help, and I think guys have got to go out there and make plays.”

Too many plays have been made against Penn State this season by elite offenses. The best four teams the Lions' have played — No. 23 Central Florida, No. 21 Michigan, No. 4 Ohio State and Indiana, which has the nation's eighth-best scoring offense — have combined to average 527 yards and 45.3 points against them.

Those four opponents combined for 29 plays of 20 or more yards against Penn State's defense — at least seven each during the Lions' three losses.

Butler is in his first season as a defensive coordinator at the Division I level. He was hired as the Lions' secondary coach when O'Brien took over as Penn State's coach in early 2012. Butler was promoted when former coordinator Ted Roof left in January to take the same position at Georgia Tech.

Although it's not uncommon to see the fiery Butler yelling or being animated on the sidelines, his players repeatedly have supported him.

“Coach Butler is a guy that is always working with us as players to develop us every single week, every single day,” safety Jesse Della Valle said. “He's extremely passionate about what he does in his profession. I think I speak for every player on our team when I say that everyone has a lot of respect for him and really respects the work that he does for our team.”

O'Brien, who doubles as offensive coordinator, said he meets with Butler “seven days a week, two or three times a day,” and that they are in constant communication throughout games.

“He works his tail off, the kids respect him, he's doing a hell of a job,” O'Brien said. “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.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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