STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Whatever you do, don't talk to Bill O'Brien about good fortune.
After Penn State's 24-17 come-from-behind, overtime win over Illinois on Saturday, a reporter asked the second-year Nittany Lion coach if he felt fortunate to win the game.
O'Brien bristled at the assertion that fortune played any part.
"I never feel fortunate to win. I think our kids battled," he said. "I think we were a resilient team. We won a football game."
For the better part of two years, O'Brien has repeated that he has a roster full of tough, smart, resilient players. It's almost become a cliché.
With the Nittany Lions' list of scholarship players dwindling into the 60s because of NCAA sanctions, compared to the 85 maximum for other teams, Penn State has still been competitive.
Penn State is 5-3 and 2-2 in the Big Ten, with an embarrassing 44-24 loss Oct. 5 at Indiana, the first in program history to the Hoosiers.
Many thought that would signal a slide, especially with Michigan and Ohio State looming next on the schedule.
But the Nittany Lions came away with a 43-40 four-overtime win over Michigan.
Then, when Penn State was shellacked 63-14 by Ohio State on Oct. 26 in Columbus, alarm bells sounded again. The defense had allowed at least 40 points in three consecutive games.
The Nittany Lions sprinted out to a 14-0 lead on Saturday against an Illinois squad that was 0-17 in the Big Ten under Tim Beckman. The Illini battled back to take a late 17-14 lead. Suddenly, a loss to Illinois seemed probable.
But that much-maligned defense, despite yielding more than 400 yards of total offense, made some key plays down the stretch.
"That's so important, when you just keep coming back and fighting no matter what," safety Ryan Keiser said. "Even if you feel a little down, or the other team makes a play, you've got to keep playing and playing through it and that shows our toughness."
With time running out, the defense held Illinois to a three-and-out and gave the ball back to the offense.