Game One of the Bill O'Brien era at Penn State is officially in the books, as the Ohio Bobcats came into Happy Valley and bested the Nittany Lions 24-14. Turnovers, mistakes, injuries, and some questionable playcalling and schemes doomed the Lions, especially in the second half.
With the obvious turmoil and issues surrounding the program heading into the game, actual college football was a welcomed change of pace for many, none moreso than Bill O'Brien who was anxious to get on the field in his first game as a head coach. After 30 minutes, he was calm, cool, and collected. Unfortunately, the game lasts 60 minutes.
The Lions showed flashes of solid play in the first half, with Matt McGloin connecting on 16 of 26 (!) attempts for 178 yards. Two first half turnovers kept the Lions to just two scores, but the team looked good in most aspects. McGloin found some good rhythm with his receivers, especially Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter. Bill Belton was hitting the holes hard, and getting an extra yard or two at the end of every rush. And the play of the offensive line was very solid.
On defense, the front seven was steady if unspectacular, while the secondary was tested early and often, but came through for the most part. Special teams was questionable all day, however, and the first half saw Gerald Hodges returning kicks, including one fumble that set up Ohio's first half field goal. Sam Ficken's leg on kickoffs was pretty weak, though he did connect on both extra points.
There were some other issues in the first half (timeouts, penalties, etc.), but with a 14-3 lead going into the locker room, the coaches and players had to feel confident.
Then the second half happened.
The Lions came out flat, and the defense was downright bad. The first Ohio touchdown was mostly luck, as the ball deflected off of Stephen Obeng-Agyapong's hands right into the waiting arms of an Ohio receiver. From there, Ohio's luck was replaced by solid play from the Bobcats coupled with poor play from the Penn State defense.
The secondary was getting burned all day, including Stephon Morris getting abused on a big pass play for the Bobcats. Morris would eventually be carted off the field with an ankle injury, only adding to the secondary's issues. His replacement, true freshman DaQuan Davis (one of five freshman to play, thus burning their redshirts) didn't fare much better.
The front seven, expected to be the strength of the defense, allowed QB Tyler Tettleton and company to dominate the game. If there was any rush defense in the second half, it was not easily seen. Watching Tettleton hit slant pass after slant pass against the aggressive Ted Roof defensive scheme was difficult. Roof's multiple scheme look worked semi-well in the first half; in the second half, Tettleton had no trouble picking up the quick blitzes and hitting the open guy in space. Tettleton would finish with 324 yards, while the Bobcats would add 175 more on the ground.
The game truly was a tale of two halves, and if the Lions are going to have a chance at a respectable record in 2012, they need to focus on what was working in the first half and study what went wrong in the second. Next week's opponent, Navy, lost to Notre Dame 50-10, but the Midshipmen will be coming to play. And today's game gave them some good looks at what to bring against Penn State.
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