A new era of Penn State football began today, and the result was a letdown for fans of the Nittany Lions.
Penn State Football debuted under new coach (and former Patriots OC) Bill O'Brien, who replaces the late Joe Paterno, once the winningest coach in FBS football history, who was stripped of 111 victories for his involvement in the child abuse scandal.
The Nittany Lions roared out to a 14-3 lead in the first half over Ohio, but couldn't hold on as the Bobcats scored 21 unanswered points to win the game, 24-14.
Let's take a look at a few things we've learned about Penn State following the debut of the post-Paterno era.
1. They're Going to Air It Out
If the first game is any indication, QB Matt McGloin is going to have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball this season.
O'Brien was the mastermind behind a high-flying Patriots attack in the past few seasons, and his philosophy appears not to have changed. McGloin threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns on 27-for-48 passing.
The offense used plenty of no-huddle—one of O'Brien's staples as Patriot OC—and managed fine in the first half without experienced wideout Justin Brown (who transferred to Oklahoma following the NCAA penalties). They struggled in the second half; which O'Brien summed up succinctly:
We didn't do anything on offense and left our defense on the field too long.
Still, if O'Brien can master the new-look offense and they can tighten up on the turnovers, including a Bill Belton fumble that ended an impressive 11-play drive to begin the game, this could be a potent attack.
2. The Defense Needs Work
The defense was supposed to be Penn State's strongest asset. That wasn't the case today.
Penn State's D surrendered nearly 500 yards to the underdog Bobcats in this game, and it's clear that in-season improvements will be necessary for Penn State to play up to expectations.
The Nittany Lions defense showed a New England Patriot-like inability to get off the field on third down, as the Bobcats converted on 13-of-21 third downs.
The strongest indication of the need for improvement came in the fourth quarter, when the Nittany Lions were down 17-14 with ten minutes remaining. They were in dire need of a stop, but instead allowed Ohio to march down the field, converting several third downs in the process. The Bobcats' 14-play, 93-yard drive sucked almost seven minutes off the clock and resulted in a game-breaking touchdown.
Their front seven, including All-Big Ten candidate DT Jordan Hill, failed to stop the run and only managed one sack on the day. They'll need to start making plays soon if they hope to get off the field consistently.
3. Penn State Fans are Glad to Have Football Back
This was a tough offseason for Penn State fans, to say the least. They watched as crippling NCAA sanctions compelled some of their players to transfer, and damaged the strength of their incoming class.
Still, they remained loyal to their team, chanting "We Are, Penn State" during the tense fourth quarter. Fans lined the road to the tunnel for hours before the game, and showed support for their defamed coach by chanting "Joe Paterno!" before kickoff.
Fans of the Nittany Lions have been challenged by recent events, but they showed their loyalty for the hometown team throughout the loss to the Bobcats.