Penn State started the Bill O'Brien era with a loss to the Ohio Bobcats 24-14 in the season opener on Saturday. While the game started with dominating performances in the first half, the entire team could not keep up the intensity in the second half as Ohio roared back from a 14-3 halftime deficit to win.
If the Nittany Lions were graded on only the first half, this would have looked significantly different. However, football is a 60-minute game and PSU lost some serious marks in the second half.
Before Penn State heads off to Virginia for the road opener, let's take a look at some final post-game grades and evaluations for each of the major position units in this loss to the Bobcats.
Penn State fans, you might want to cover your eyes when we get to the defense...
With no quarterback carousel in effect this season, we finally saw Matt McGloin deal with the ups and downs of an entire game. The results were a mixed bag, but promising for a player who has been so inconsistent in past seasons.
McGloin completed 27-of-48 passes, although those numbers could have been much better had it not been for some drops by receivers. He threw for 260 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Most of those yards came in the first half though, when Penn State was much more effective throwing the ball.
The one weakness McGloin showed was inaccuracy while under pressure. Still, he stood in and made some good throws in the second half despite taking some vicious hits after releasing the ball.
With O'Brien making the reads simple for McGloin, the Penn State passing offense is actually a threat in 2012. That all falls on McGloin, who proved he has the skills to be a good starter in the Big Ten this year.
That said, he needed to lead the team and inspire them to a comeback in the second half, and he did not. McGloin will learn that he cannot carry the team by himself, and I look for more visible leadership in the coming weeks. A good start for McGloin.
While McGloin was throwing the ball with some success, the running game that Penn State relied on so much the past two decades disappeared in this game. Even worse, the team failed to break 100 yards against a MAC defense, which is simply unacceptable.
Bill Belton started the game and had a couple of nice workmanlike runs, but he killed a drive in the first quarter with a lost fumble and then was injured and out for most of the second half.
Derek Day did not see much action in the second half and the running game completely stalled out. This allowed Ohio to sit back in coverage and lock down the Nittany Lions.
In the end, Belton ended up with 53 yards rushing and Day ended up with 36. Averaging over four yards per carry can get it done when there are more than 21 rushing attempts (the number in this game). There were no signs that these two players are going to contribute a lot in the passing game either, with only 19 yards combined.
As a result, whether Belton is healthy next week or not, this is a huge liability for the Nittany Lions. Improving this part of the offense has to be a focus going forward.
With the resurgence of Matt McGloin and the passing game, the receivers benefited with a ton of great opportunities. Sophomore Allen Robinson nabbed nine receptions for 97 yards and junior Shawney Kersey added five more receptions for 35 yards.
Both of these players made some good plays with their feet after catching the ball, which will be important in the simplified passing schemes of Bill O'Brien this year.
Many others contributed to help the receivers, including TE Kyle Carter with six catches, RB Bill Belton with a touchdown and TE Matt Lehman with a touchdown. However, the wide receivers stepped up despite not pulling down any of the touchdown passes.
Of course, with the good comes the bad, and in this game that was dropped passes. In a key stretch during the last important Nittany Lions drive, the receivers dropped three passes in a row to force a fourth-and-ten. Although McGloin converted that particular fourth down, time was running down and the dropped passes killed the possibilities for the drive.
The receivers will need to play much better in crunch time of future games, or else Penn State will have a lot of difficulty finishing drives and scoring points.
Getting it done...
As mentioned on the last slide, Kyle Carter and Matt Lehman both contributed in significant ways to the passing game against Ohio. Carter caught six passes for 74 yards and was one of McGloin's go-to targets. Carter also drew some mismatches and a pass interference penalty at a critical juncture of the second quarter.
Matt Lehman only picked up one reception, but it was memorable as it went for a touchdown. The play was a stacked play with multiple receivers overloading one side of the defense, and Lehman cut right through two defenders to make it to the end zone. The play looked like it came straight out of O'Brien's Patriots playbook, and it was executed perfectly.
Both of these players could do quite a bit better in run blocking when called upon, but that may not be as important as giving McGloin more targets to throw to this year. Still, this was a good start for a cornerstone portion of the O'Brien offensive scheme.
Look for Carter to continue putting up big numbers, as linebackers will have serious trouble covering him as today proved.
Similar to the rest of the offense, the line played pretty well in the first half and then did not quite do the job as well in the second half. McGloin was rushed a few times and that caused some incomplete passes, but he normally had enough time for making the necessary reads.
However, it became apparent that this line is not going to be terribly successful at run blocking this season. The inexperienced running backs require big holes so they can run downhill before hitting that first defender. But the offensive line did not open those holes as well as possible.
A couple unnecessary penalties also held the offense back, although it could have been worse for a first game. Still, the false start penalties cannot be had when the offense is struggling like the Nittany Lions are.
The jury is still out on whether this group will become one of the better lines in the Big Ten, but there has to be better effort for all 60 minutes starting next weekend. If that happens, the offense may find more balance and more points at the end of the game.
Similar to the offensive line, the defensive front turned out to be a disappointment in the opener of the 2012 season. The leading tackler on the line was DE Sean Stanley, but he only had five tackles, none of which were in the backfield. Deion Barnes only had one tackle on the other side of the line, but it was a short sack.
Although Tyler Tettleson has some mobility in the pistol offense, he was given way too much time to make decisions and carved up the Nittany Lions' defensive backfield.
The line also faltered in the second half when stops needed to be made on running plays. Beau Blankenship ran for 109 yards, which is more than Penn State's entire team could rack up.
One big thing missing from this game was deflected passes at the line of scrimmage. It seemed as though the defensive linemen were not getting their hands up in time to make passes tougher for Tettleson. That makes it too easy for a veteran quarterback.
The defensive line will need to step up big next week, especially if injuries linger at the other levels of the defense.
Before going down to an injury in the third quarter, Gerald Hodges already had 11 tackles and was on his way to being the defensive leader once again. However, Michael Mauti surpassed him with 12 tackles thanks to Hodges' extended absence in the second half.
Still, the signs were good for this linebacker corps as the defensive line and the defensive backfield did not get the job done, especially in the second half. As long as Hodges comes back healthy next week, this will be the strength of the defense.
One area for possible improvement would be getting some plays in the backfield, which did not happen against Ohio's pistol attack. Without generating negative yardage plays, it can be difficult to get off the field as proven in this game. In addition, the linebackers need to cover tight ends a bit better the next time a wide open attack faces the defense.
On the whole, this effort would have been fine with some help from the other parts of the defense. But when that does not happen, the linebackers have to elevate their play to a much higher level.
Way too much of this...Way Too Much
With the defensive line not making much for inroads into the Ohio backfield, the DBs were left hanging out to dry against a lot of receivers and tight ends. Rather than stepping up to the challenge of shutting down passes themselves, this unit faltered and fell apart when their leader CB Stephon Morris was injured and lost for the game.
Tyler Tettleton completed 31-of-41 passes and gave up no interceptions, largely because the pass coverage was just too soft down field. In addition, the Nittany Lions only broke up four passes in the entire game. These numbers will have to improve or else more teams will rack up 500 yard days against this defense.
The defensive backfield also did not contain some big plays, as missed tackles led to a 43-yard reception by Landon Smith and a 33-yard reception by Ryan Clark.
Adrian Amos had 10 tackles and Jacob Fagnano added nine more, but merely making tackles is not enough. If Penn State is to win a few games this year, the lack of depth at this position will need to be shored up, and in a hurry.
On the whole, a bad effort by this unit, and probably the worst on the whole team. 324 yards for a MAC school in the air is just too much.
The special teams looked good compared to Ohio, thanks to two missed field goals and a blocked punt. That punt block came on a strange choice from the Ohio blockers, but you still have to execute the block and Penn State did so.
That punt block led to the second touchdown in the second quarter and made it look like Penn State was going to run away with the game.
However, that was about the end of the big plays for special teams. Penn State desperately needed Alex Butterworth to average more than 35 yards per punt, and also needed better punt and kick returns. The first field goal of the game and the only points in the first half for Ohio stemmed from a mistake and fumble by Gerald Hodges on a punt return.
The kick return game was suspect as well, with a 16.3 average on four returns. A lot of times, it seemed like taking the 25-yard-line on a touchback would have been an obvious choice. But then Penn State ran it out and ended up with less. Bill Belton has some explosiveness, but better decision-making will be required in the future.
Sam Ficken did not attempt any field goals, but that could be a suspect part of this unit as well. Generating points and losing points in the same game renders the verdict mediocre. Much improvement can be had here.
The first half made Bill O'Brien look like the offensive genius he is. The second half proved he has a long way to go in keeping his players motivated for 60 minutes of play.
The offensive game plan put into place was nothing short of brilliant, given the talent that O'Brien has to work with. McGloin is capable of leading this team to better passing numbers, and the schemes allow him to succeed. Plus, the threat of the tight ends will keep a lot of defenses, particularly linebackers, off guard.
However, his adjustments as the game went along just did not match those of Frank Solich. While Ohio got better and better, Penn State could not overcome injuries at all. The defense needs to be shaken up, and O'Brien was not able to do it in this game.
This was a tough circumstance though, and O'Brien handled it with class. He still should have a good future at Penn State, although the road to get there will be tough and long. His schemes give him a good grade, but he needs to manage and adjust better in future games.