STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — An emotionless Bill O’Brien spoke in measured tones, delivering short and sometimes one-word answers.
Penn State’s new head coach clearly wasn’t happy, and meeting the media seemed like the last thing he wanted to do after losing his Happy Valley debut 24-14 to Ohio.
“I’ve just got to coach a lot better. (I’ve) got to get back to practice on Monday and review the film tomorrow,” O’Brien said Saturday. “Have to do better offensively. We have to get our defense off the field and the defense has to make stops.
“We have to coach better and it starts with me.”
How the Nittany Lions finished was the biggest problem.
Penn State was outgained 301-115 in total yards and 15-8 in first downs in the second half. The Bobcats came up clutch by going 11 of 12 on third-down conversions after halftime.
A day that started with an outpouring of emotions from fans eager to watch football again following a scandal-marred offseason ended with a disappointing loss.
“We came out and played pretty well,” said defensive tackle Jordan Hill. “But it felt like we lost fire a little bit. They got the momentum and they kept it.”
Penn State’s running game featuring new top tailback Bill Belton gained just 49 yards following a 43-yard first quarter. Quarterback Matt McGloin finished with 260 yards on career-highs of 27 of 48 passing, but half of that yardage came in the first quarter on 13 of 17 passing.
McGloin’s 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Lehman with 1:29 left in the first half to make it 14-3 capitalized on Nyeem Wartman’s blocked punt deep in Ohio territory to give what the Nittany Lions hoped would be a momentum boost going into halftime.
Instead, it got worse.
A couple players said the Ohio defense may have been preparing for the pass more after halftime.
“We have to execute better. We have to give Matt time in the pocket and let him find those wide receivers. We have to make holes for our running backs,” center Matt Stankiewitch said. “We are going to get better as an offensive line.”
But it’s the Penn State defense that might have been the biggest surprise in the second half.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof tweaked the Linebacker U. schemes to be more aggressive and play more up-tempo. The philosophy played into the strength of the team — a front seven featuring Hill and the veteran linebacker trio of Mike Mauti, Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges.
Not a problem in the second half for Ohio mobile quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who had a hand in all three of the Bobcats’ scores. His 1-yard plunge into the end zone with 3:49 left in the third gave Ohio a 17-14 lead.
Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship did just enough on the ground, while Tettleton threw for 207 of his 324 yards on the day after halftime.
The new-look secondary that held its own overall missed some key opportunities late. A 43-yard touchdown reception by Landon Smith first tipped off the hands of leaping defensive back Stephen Obeng-Agyapong with 10:40 in the third quarter.
A missed tackle by safety Malcolm Willis helped Smith get free for a 31-yard gain to the Penn State 5 on third-and-2 with less than four minutes left.
“We just have to make more plays,” Willis said. “The defense will come out Monday and emphasize making plays on the ball.”
NOTES: O’Brien threw in an early surprise when he sent Hodges — one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten — back to receive the opening kickoff with Adrian Amos. Hodges had a 12-yard return and also returned a pair of punts for negative yardage. Hodges muffed his second punt return, and Ohio recovered at the Penn State 13 to set up a field goal. He wasn’t sent back as a returner after the turnover. Hodges played with his lower right leg wrapped later in the game, but the team said there was no injury to report. … Belton (left ankle) and CB Stephon Morris (right ankle) left with injuries. … Penn State hits the road for the first time this season with a visit Saturday to Virginia.
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