He took exception to any suggestion that the victory was unsightly.
“We cherish every single win,” O'Brien said. “There is no 'ugly' win.”
Likewise, he had no time for anyone who implied the victory was somehow lucky.
“You guys keep saying I'm fortunate to win, (but) I think it's a hell of a win,” he said.
In the grand scheme of things, he is right. For a Penn State outfit down to about 60 scholarships due to NCAA sanctions, any Big Ten win is a good Big Ten win.
So while there were some ugly aspects to Saturday's action -- from both teams and even the officials -- at the end of the day Penn State improved to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the conference. Illinois lost its 18th straight conference game and is now 3-5 and 0-4.
Here is how things broke down.
MAN OF THE HOUR: RB Bill Belton posted career highs in carries (36) and yards (201) to go along with a touchdown. He also had a key fumble late in regulation, but the Lions rallied in spite of it.
CLOSE SECOND: WR Allen Robinson is so good the officials can't even keep track of him. He had another clutch catch in this game that the refs (again) ruled as out of bounds. The bad call was (again) overturned on replay. Robinson finished with 11 grabs for 165 yards and passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season and 2,000-yard mark for his career.
CLOSE THIRD: LB Mike Hull logged 13 tackles and broke up a pass.
TURNING POINT (REGULATION): Trailing 17-14 in the final minutes of regulation, Penn State appeared to be going in for a score before Belton lost a fumble at the Illini 2. But the defense forced its only three-and-out of the second half, and after a punt the Lions were back in business at midfield with 1:44 left. They ended up getting a 35-yard field goal from Sam Ficken that sent the game to OT.
TURNING POINT (OT): Facing third-and-11 from the 15 on the opening series of OT, PSU QB Christian Hackenberg found Kyle Carter for a score that turned out to be the game winner. It was Carter's only catch of the day.
SOLID STRATEGY: O'Brien kept feeding Belton and it paid off. The junior has emerged as a tough go-to back.
NUMBERS GAME: Penn State had 490 yards of total offense -- 250 on the ground and 240 through the air. Great balance. … Belton, Robinson and Hackenberg (20 of 32 for 240 yards and a score) teamed up to produce 398 of the Lions' yards.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: LB Glenn Carson had 11 more tackles.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Eugene Lewis popped a nice 27-yard kickoff return to give PSU decent field position in the fourth quarter.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• Penn State killing itself with penalties. The Lions were flagged 11 times for 95 yards.
• Illinois killing itself with penalties. The Illini were flagged nine times for 71 yards.
• The refs calling an awful game. Not only were they blowing their whistles like Benny Goodman, but they also lost track of down and distance at least once.
• Penn State's awful timeout management. It left the Lions with no timeouts late in the game.
• The Lions scoring TDs on their first two possessions and then not getting another one until Hackenberg found Carter in OT. Penalties and mistakes stymied State's offensive rhythm.
• Penn state failing to generate any sort of pass rush against Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase for most of the game. He's elusive. But not that elusive. However…
HIT SQUAD: Credit PSU for getting a sack at a key time. DE Anthony Zettel got to Scheelhaase on Illinois' first snap after Ficken's late field goal, at which point the Illini decided to run out the clock and head to OT.
HIDDEN HERO: CB Jordan Lucas snuffed out Illinois' opening drive with an interception. He also had seven solo tackles.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: The Penn State offensive line only allowed one sack.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• Ben Kline made his first start of the season at OLB. He finished with eight tackles.
• WR Richy Anderson was back in action after not traveling to the OSU game so he could focus on academics. He caught two passes for 18 yards.
• Fumble-prone RB Zach Zwinak wore gloves for the first time as a Lion. He carried six times for 25 yards.
• There was no pregame handshake between O'Brien and Illinois coach Tim Beckman, no doubt stemming from the latter's attempt to poach PSU players last year. The two coaches shook hands after the game, though.
• O'Brien is now 3-0 in overtime.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Will Penn State shake out of its Big Ten road funk at Minnesota next week? The Lions have lost three straight on the road in conference (dating back to last season), the last two by a combined 69 points.