Saturday, September 1, 2012
Hope for the future at Penn State despite loss to Ohio
The second-half debacle Saturday at Beaver Stadium was about as depressing as possible for Penn State football fans.
The offense stagnated. The defense caved. The injuries mounted. A 14-3 lead became a 24-14 loss. The New Era is 0-1.
It had the ring of, "welcome to your life for the next 5-10 years."
It had the feel of, "now, reality sets in."
It had the look of ... Mark Emmert smirking.
The hope, however - yes, there is hope, real hope - lies in the fact that so much about Saturday wasn't reality, or at least wasn't PSU's immediate future football reality.
The 24-14 loss to Ohio was as much event spectacle as football game.
It was as much months-long emotional overload as it was football game.
It was as much media overhype as it was football game.
The first game after the death of Joe Paterno, the first game of the Bill O'Brien coaching era, the first game after the Sandusky trial, after the Freeh Report, after the NCAA sanctions - the burden of all that weighed on Penn State like an albatross. Or like Mark Schwartz of ESPN, who was among many from the network smothering campus all week.
By the time the second half rolled around, the tank was empty.
Penn State football soon will return to something much closer to normalcy, or the new post-Sandusky normal. Extraneous distractions and demands will recede. The bizarre, overwhelming focus on this game is behind them.
Now they can just play football and try to win games. Instead of trying to save the program and the world.
Since the players are 18-22 years old, the emotional hangover should be gone by Tuesday.
Then there's this: Ohio is pretty good, the best team in the Mid-American Conference. The Bobcats, aside from a punt block allowed and a dropped pass or two, were virtually perfect Saturday. Penn State is far from the only team in the Big Ten they would have beaten.
Touted QB Tyler Tettleton (31-41, 324 yards, 2 TD, O int) operated at maximum efficiency - some of the Bobcats' key third-down conversions were flawlessly executed - against a depleted team in its first game with new offensive and defensive systems and incurring injuries to key players.
Add it all up, and the result wasn't all that surprising. Even if it was depressing and disappointing and, possibly, foreboding.
What was most disturbing? The second-half defense.
New Penn State DC Ted Roof's defense failed its first test. Simply put, the Bobcats offense out-executed the PSU defense in the second half, again and again. PSU did not make proper adjustments, and did not swipe any turnovers. The Lions blocked a punt, but they were 3-0 losers in turnover margin Saturday.
The game flipped in the third quarter when Tettleton threw a terrible pass, perhaps his worst of the game, a wobbly floater down the middle that two PSU safeties - Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis - each could have intercepted. It would have been a huge play for the Lions.
Instead, Obeng-Agyapong deflected it over Willis directly to an Ohio receiver, who turned and ran into the end zone for a 43-yard score. It cut the PSU lead to 14-10, and with the offense suddenly stymied, it turned the tide for good.
It certainly wasn't all bad. When reviewing the entire PSU-Ohio game, there were plenty of things to feel good about. Such as, anything that didn't happen in the second half. Before intermission, both O'Brien's offense and Roof's defense played well.
Getting away from Happy Valley should help, too. The Lions play at Virginia next week. The focus will be only on the game.
There's a football credo that says a team improves most between Game 1 and 2. Hopefully, it's even more true when it's between Game 1 and Game 2 of an era.
All of which doesn't necessarily mean Penn State is coming back from Charlottesville with a win. But expect to see progress. Expect to see a better second half. Expect better execution for 60 minutes.
At this point, that will suffice.