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Pedal to the metal

While his players rest on Sundays, taking naps or playing video games, Bill O'Brien finds himself inside the football building drawing up the game plan to his trademark no-huddle offense.

The coaching staff waffles and debates, argues and discusses, what packages and plays to include for this week's up-tempo NASCAR scheme. And they have to agree by Sunday night -- they expect to share the plans the very next day.

"We definitely try to give them the base game plan, including all the no-huddle and everything, on Monday night," O'Brien said. "We'll tweak things through the week. It's not all on me; it's definitely a collaborative effort."

As the weeks have progressed and the cries for the New Englander as coach of the year have increased, so has the effectiveness of his NASCAR, no-huddle scheme. The dimple-chinned coach started out slow, his team faltering in those first two losses, but they've bounced back -- at least in part -- because of that speedy scheme that catches unprepared defenses off-guard like a mousetrap.

The first-year coach, who always seems to be glaring at something, has boiled down this offense into "easy-to-learn" lessons. The players will learn verbal cues or hand gestures from the staff, and they'll swing into the no-huddle whenever O'Brien feels ready.

The first, sometimes second, time Matt McGloin skips the huddle and jogs to the line, that's planned, O'Brien said. After that, the NASCAR offense is based on rhythm and feel, much like a musician knows he's found the right chord.

"As the game rolls on, we're looking at a few things," O'Brien said. "How's the defense being played? Are they a three-down? What's the best personnel group to attack it, three tight ends or four receivers? Things like that all play a part in what type of tempo we go for on offense."

McGloin, the fifth-year senior quarterback, wondered at first how long it might take to learn this scheme. He didn't know when he would feel comfortable, didn't fully understand what the payoff might be.

But, when his classmates traded their winter coats for spring jackets, something clicked for McGloin and this team. Every week, since the spring, Penn State added a bit more to the NASCAR scheme. With so many personnel packages and substitutions, the no-huddle didn't become a staple of this offense until reaching the conference season.

But, since pumpkins have become a common State College sight, O'Brien and Penn State have ridden the NASCAR to success. They've run about 90 plays in each of the last three games, and they've scored at least 35 points in three consecutive Big Ten games. The last time that happened was 1994, when PSU boasted a slew of first-round talent and McGloin ran around his Scranton, Pa., backyard pretending to be Troy Aikman.

"When the offense starts getting fun is when you start playing well and putting up points," McGloin said. "That's the best part about it."

This Penn State team is having a lot of fun now, thanks to an O'Brien offense that couldn't be more different from the plodding, slower-than-a-snail offense of past years. The coach, who often pulls his ball cap close to his eyes, tries to deflect all that praise.

"It's really not that big of a deal is what I'm trying to say," he said. "It's been going on for a long time."

True, O'Brien didn't invent the no-huddle or the NASCAR. The well-traveled head coach unpacked his suitcase of plays and NASCAR-type schemes from his previous coaching stops -- Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Duke and New England. But, it sure seems new to fans who felt they could predict PSU's old offense as well as its opponents.

O'Brien wouldn't divulge whether this week called for more of his unpredictable NASCAR. But he already held a good idea by Sunday night -- and, no matter what happens Saturday, he'll again return to his office one day later to draw up those NASCAR game plans.

"In the beginning of the week," O'Brien said in his usual deadpan, "you're not going home early."