New coach Bill O'Brien? Good luck. He resorted to the sort of non-answers often spewed by his former boss, Bill Belichick. Though we did learn, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that O'Brien has to coach better.
Some of his players were also at a loss after a 14-3 lead disappeared during a second half in which the Bobcats outgained the Lions 301-115 (and 499-352 in all).
Quarterback Matt McGloin, who went 14-for-31 for 130 yards after a 13-for-17, 130-yard first quarter, said the Bobcats brought more pressure in the second half. Wide receiver Allen Robinson, whose nine catches were the most on either team, said they played more man-to-man. But neither said that should have been a problem.
Certainly they took some shots. A fourth down went unconverted. A bomb went uncaught. And a winnable game went un-won.
Backtrack a second, to O'Brien's decision to employ one of his best players, linebacker Gerald Hodges, as a kick returner. It was something Hodges had not done since high school, and it bit the Lions in the second quarter, when Hodges fumbled the fair catch of a punt at his own 13, giving Ohio its only points of the first half, on a field goal.
Didn't seem like a big deal at the time, as McGloin countered that with TD passes to running back Bill Belton and tight end Matt Lehman, leaving the Lions with that 14-3 halftime lead.
Still, it seemed like an odd decision to have Hodges back there. There's the possibility of injury, and the possibility of the sort of mistake he made.
“He had a lot of time back there (in practice),” O'Brien said. “He's an excellent player. We gave him a lot of work back there.”
Those points would loom larger as the day wore on, and the Bobcats hit their stride. They began to do so early in the third quarter, when on third-and-seven from the PSU 43 quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw a looping pass down the middle of the field.
It is the kind of pass that is almost always intercepted, and this one should have been. Safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis each had their hands on the ball, but succeeded only in knocking it away from each other.
It caromed instead to wide receiver Landon Smith, who took it all the way to the end zone.
And so: 14-10.
Linebacker Mike Mauti called the play “a big momentum-shifter.”
Added McGloin, “I kind of felt things weren't going our way when that started to happen. What are you going to do? You have to respond, and we didn't.”
The Lions had a chance on their very next possession. Facing fourth-and-five from the Ohio 30, they went for it, only to see McGloin's pitch down the right sideline to Robinson fall incomplete.
“I was getting some pressure, and I had Allen one-on-one, and any time you have that shot, you definitely take it,” McGloin said. “It was a tough throw. I kind of took a pretty good shot on the play, but I need to put that ball on the money, and let him go make a play.”
“It was a little bit out of bounds,” Robinson said. “I could have possibly made a play on that. It was a little far out of bounds. … Looking back, if me and Matt could have connected on that, it could have been a big change in the outcome of the game.”
The Bobcats then went 70 yards in eight plays. The biggest was Tettleton's 33-yard pass to Ryan Clark on third-and-two from the PSU 49, a gorgeous lob over cornerback Stephon Morris. Tettleton took it in from the 1 four plays later, putting the Bobcats ahead to stay at 17-14.
At the end of the period, Penn State's entire team huddled near its sideline. Several seniors spoke, including Mauti.
“My message was to finish what we started,” he said.
It wasn't to be. The Lions' best chance to retake the lead came with a little over 10 minutes left, when wide receiver Shawney Kersey broke open down the middle of the field, having beaten cornerback Larenzo Fisher on a first-down play from the Ohio 46. McGloin's pass, which would have gone for touchdown, was a hair long --not so long that Kersey didn't get a hand on it, but long enough that it would have taken a spectacular catch to bring it in.
“When it left my hand, it felt good,” McGloin said. “Unfortunately I have to put that ball on him more. I take the blame for that one.”
“It was real close,” Kersey said. “I was kind of winded. That's my bad. Matt made a good throw. He put it out there. I've just got to go get it.”
The Bobcats then went 93 yards in 14 plays, with Tettleton's past to Donte Foster covering the final five, to sew it up.
“We lost a game,” McGloin said. “It was the first game of the season. We would have liked to have won, but we got beat. There's a next week. We have to play Virginia next week. We can't be upset for too long. We have to learn from it. We have to keep improving. It's a long season.”
One that seems destined to grow longer.