Saturday afternoon wasn’t quite the start that new coach Bill O’Brien wanted for his new era of Penn State football.
The Nittany Lions squandered an 11-point halftime lead as Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton accounted for three second-half touchdowns to fuel the Bobcats’ upset in Beaver Stadium. The loss was Penn State’s first in a season opener since losing to eventual national champion Miami in 2001.
Despite the harsh sanctions laid on the program by the NCAA just a short month ago, more than 97,000 fans packed Beaver Stadium for the noon kickoff. Commonplace “We Are…Penn State” chants echoed throughout the stadium, but even fans’ enthusiasm turned to silence as the upset-minded Bobcats slowly carved up the Lions’ defense to the tune of 499 total yards.
Penn State controlled the game for the bulk of the first-half, showing off a new-look offense led by O’Brien’s playcalling and executed well by senior quarterback Matt McGloin. McGloin, a former walk-on, put the Lions up 7-0 with a touchdown pass to tailback Bill Belton then hit Matt Lehman with a 14-yard touchdown pass to put the Lions up 14-3 at half. But the Bobcats just wouldn’t go away, taking advantage of a fluky touchdown pass that tipped off a Penn State defensive back and right into the waiting arms of Landon Smith, who outran the Lions defense in route to a 43-yard score early in the third quarter. Tettleton then plunged home on a one-yard run to give the visiting Bobcats a lead at 17-14 that they wouldn’t surrender.
All told, the Bobcats put up 21 unanswered points in a dominating second-half performance to give the Lions their first home opening loss to a non-BCS automatic qualifying team since 1967 against Navy. That was Joe Paterno’s second season as coach. Fourty-five years later, it was coach Bill O’Brien’s turn to take the loss in an opener.
O’Brien took some of the heat off his players in his postgame press conference, saying that he had to get better as a coach. Obviously disappointed, the first-year coach with a towel rapped around his neck ala the great Georgetown coach John Thompson, O’Brien said he did find a mix of good with bad from his team, but noted the defense simply would have to play better. While he didn’t name the offense specifically, putting up just 14 points and none in the second-half, just isn’t good enough.
The Lions defense allowed 11 first downs on 12 third down attempts from the Bobcats in the second-half. Penn State, who struggled with mobile quarterbacks last year, simply had no answer for Tyler Tettleton, who seemed to guide Ohio’s offense to positive yards on nearly ever play from scrimmage. Also impressive on the Bobcats offense was tailback Beau Blankenship, who went over 100 yards on the day on 31 carries wearing down the Nittany Lion defense.
McGloin threw for 260 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the game, but averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt. The senior found No. wideout Allen Robinson nine time for 97 yards on the afternoon. The sophomore wideout is replacing Justin Brown following his transfer to Oklahoma last month. Tailback Bill Belton and the Lions running game wasn’t all to impressive either, failing to go over 100 yards on a defense that surrendered more than 190 yards per game last season. Belton had just 53 yards on 13 carries, backup Derek Day had 36 yards on eight carries.
Despite O’Brien’s potentially exciting NFL-style offense, the Lions never looked aggressive or dangerous on that side of the ball. McGloin missed on a couple deep throws early that might have toned back the play-calling that led to the second-half doughnut on the scoreboard.
But after a listless second-half showing against a team the Lions should have handled at home, the team heads to Virginia next week before getting Navy at the close of the non-conference schedule. Judging from the groans of the fans during the second-half on Saturday, it could be a long season in Happy Valley for O’Brien and Co.