Penn State Football Left in Limbo After Loss to Ohio
It could go down in Ohio Bobcat history as the drive that set in motion BCS dreams, and it would not be a stretch to start thinking it could also go down as the drive that started a long, sobering rehabilitation for the Penn State football program.
When it was over, Ohio had a 24-14 lead (which would hold as the final) in Beaver Stadium, Bill O’Brien’s coaching debut was soiled, and it exposed this harsh reality: Are we in store for a disappointing season in Happy Valley the likes of the early 2000s? Because if that’s the case, then the big picture is clear. Can the Penn State program stay relevant amid NCAA sanctions that are not going away until the 2016 season?
But it is too soon to go there. So let us not even proceed. O’Brien and this Penn State team should not be judged on four quarters of football, but plenty of warning signs surfaced to watch moving forward.
Namely, Saturday’s loss was about third down defense, particularly in the second half, when Ohio converted on 11-of-12 third downs. The game-clinching 14-play, 93-yard drive that chewed up almost seven minutes of game time featured four third-down conversions, including a perfect fade to the back left pylon on third-and-goal from the three. Another key play came on the opening drive of the second half, when a Tyler Tettleton touchdown pass grazed the fingertips of safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and landed in the arms of Landon Smith for a 43-yard catch and run.
“We make that stop, we make that pick, we’re probably in here with different looks on our faces,” defensive back Adrian Amos said.
“Every third-and-short we thought we were going to be able to stop them and somehow, miraculously they came out with a short catch,” defensive end Deion Barnes said.
“It gasses a defense,” said defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who played parts of the second half with his left knee wrapped after bruising it. He said he felt the knee buckle and had it wrapped for precautionary reasons. He said after the game he does not need an MRI.
Depth is a luxury Penn State does not possess, particularly in the secondary. Senior cornerback Stephon Morris was carted off the sideline with ice strapped to his ankle. A team spokesman said he and running back Bill Belton suffered sprained ankles and had no update on whether either will undergo an MRI. Gerald Hodges, the former All-Big Ten linebacker, also had his right leg wrapped. A team spokesman had no official update after the game.
Penn State was limited defensively at times, but it never got any pressure on Tettleton, Ohio’s dual-threat quarterback who countered a strong front seven with short, three-step drops.
“Two seconds the ball is out,” Barnes said. “It was the most frustrating game I ever played.”
O’Brien did not shy away from criticism in his first game as a head coach. He spent almost all of his postgame news conference blaming himself but also said the offense needed to do a better job of sustaining drives. Matt McGloin, a 54 percent passer last year, was himself, hitting on 56 percent of his 48 pass attempts.
He missed on a few deep balls to Allen Robinson, Shawney Kersey and Kyle Carter that would’ve gone for touchdowns or set up scoring chances deep in Ohio territory. Penn State was held scoreless and mustered only 115 of its 352 yards in the second half, which it started leading 14-3.
“You’re gonna have days like that,” McGloin said. “It’s one or two passes that are gonna win or lose the game.
“You saw flashes of how good we can be.”
“It’s just complacency,” Carter said. “We just felt like we had the game won at halftime.”
Where does Penn State football go from here?
That was the question many asked at the end of last season, when Penn State was coach-less. It was the question asked on July 23, when the NCAA sacked the program with a four-year postseason ban and mass scholarship reduction. Here we are looking out over an empty Beaver Stadium, the sprinklers satisfying a thirsty field following a humid day on the first Saturday in September, and we do not have an answer.