If there was any question about what effect the attrition of several players would have on Penn State's season, there should be no doubt after Saturday's game.
After Ohio physically imposed its will on Penn State in the second half, it didn't look like the two teams came from different conferences—or that Ohio was the team who was supposed to be the "MAC-rifice."
Bill Belton looked like a backup running back, which is what he should have been this season had Silas Redd stuck around instead of heading to USC. Belton ran rather well but rarely broke tackles. He averaged four yards per carry, then went out with a left ankle injury that we'll know more about in the coming days.
Derek Day—the actual backup running back for Penn State—looked marginally better and certainly more physical in his limited action (eight rushes, 36 yards), but he's not a difference-maker. He's certainly not the "20-to-25 carries" type of guy that Bill O'Brien said Belton could be before the season.
And frankly, Belton might not be either.
Also lost for the game in the second half was cornerback Stephon Morris, who was carted off after injuring his left ankle. Without him, Penn State resorted to true freshman Da'Quan Davis, and Davis—who's 5'10" and 161 pounds—just isn't ready to be a Big Ten player.
On Penn State's lone successful 3rd-down defense, Davis was there to make the play. It's just that in this instance, "make the play" really meant "get away with pass interference."
Ohio's offensive line gave RB Beau Blankenship all sorts of running lanes during the second half as the Bobcats wore down the Penn State defense. The Nittany Lion secondary was constantly out-muscled by Ohio's receivers, and the sheer lack of experienced depth across the entire defensive unit meant Bill O'Brien was forced to choose between sending out tired veterans or unsteady, unready newcomers down the stretch.
Ironically, the one area that seemed like it should have been the biggest problem coming into the year—an offensive line replacing four of five starters—held up as well as anybody. Matt McGloin was never sacked, and he was rarely hurried. In the second half in particular, McGloin had all the time he needed to make throws.
But since this is McGloin throwing to those receivers, you know this story doesn't have a happy ending.
Worse, it's going to keep being a sorry story for Penn State as the season marches on. Next week is a trip to Virginia for what is easily the toughest game on the Nittany Lions' non-conference slate. And then starting in Week 5, it's week after week of tough, physical play from the Big Ten.
As it looks right now, this team isn't ready for that. And it's hard to figure a road map that gets them there in four weeks, which is all the time PSU has before the pain begins.
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