“We just have to keep pounding fellas. This is a game that’s going to be a four-quarter football game,” Ohio University head coach Frank Solich told his troops before the game, as his Bobcats were about to face the once mighty Penn State Nittany Lions on their emotion laced home turf where a crowd of 100,000 was expected.
“You don’t like to lose. Our team doesn’t like to lose, just like the other team. We didn’t play well enough to win the game. We are going to check out the tape … and move on.” —Michael Mauti
In reality, the attendance didn’t quite reach that mark, but those who showed up were emotional and loud — for the first half. Penn State’s new coach, Bill O’Brien, told them to be that way at Friday night’s pep rally. All teams respond well to an energetic, vocal crowd. But O’Brien damn well didn’t tell them to shut up after the first half!
I haven’t read the morning reviews of the game, but how many times can I stomach seeing the hackneyed “A Tale of Two Halves” or worse yet, by someone out there, no doubt, “A Tale of Two Halfs”? Charles Dickens (who goes by the rap name of C-Dick) is spinning like a lathe in his Westminster Abbey Poet’s Corner grave, but I digress. I’m here to tell you my own tale, which if one must allude to Dickens with a laser focus on the future, would more closely relate to “Great Expectations” followed by “Hard Times.”
Yes, it was the best of times and the worst of times as the Nittany Lions (0-1, 0-0 B1G) went down in defeat to the Ohio Bobcats (1-0, 0-0 MAC), 24-14.
The best of times first half was replete with energy, emotion, and experimentation — plus several unforced errors. The Grand Experiment in this case was trying out Gerald Hodges as a return man for kickoffs and punts. This, of course, was not listed on the depth chart; Hodges was shown there only as a first-string linebacker. However, he had done return duty in his high school senior year, so big surprise, O’Brien thought he should get a shot at it. After a couple of lackluster returns, Hodges promptly lost the job by fumbling on a punt return that set up a three-pointer by the cats, their only score of the first half. Nice try, Gerald. Now get back on Dee Fence!
A variety of returners worked the rest of the game, with Bill Belton showing the most promise for the future. He returned two kicks for 45 yards in the second half. However, given Penn State’s depth issues, using the feature back for returns is problematical enough in itself.
The Lions had things pretty much under control in that first half, which they ended up by a score of 14-3. This Turkey was preparing steaks for the barnyard critters when he heard from zbeard, the old billy goat, “We’re on the verge of a blowout…” I responded with, “I’m not seeing it that way. Why do you think that?” I don’t remember the response but that’s unimportant, as you all know what happened. Ohio U players obviously paid attention to Frank Solich’s admonition to just keep pounding.
But to be fair, the PSU defense was indeed shutting down dual-threat quarterback Tyler Tettleton, and the score would have been more lopsided were it not for two lost fumbles. (The other one was by tailback Bill Belton, as Penn State was driving toward Rufus’ goal line on the first series of the game.) We could have possibly, maybe, perhaps been looking at 21-0 at the half without those errors, peradventure. I suppose that qualifies as the verge of a blowout.
C-Dick couldn’t have written a sharper segue from best to worst and the Nittany Lions came out flat in the second half and remained flat for the rest of the way. I say this with no disparagement meant toward the Bobcats, as they made excellent adjustments and played with fervor and conviction the entire second half. McGloin was missing targets on offense, and the defense was giving up yards. All-in-all the tide turned against Penn State.
The play that broke Penn State’s back early in the third quarter was a third-and-seven situation in which Bobcat Ty Tettleton lofted a deep pass to the middle of the field that surely looked like it would be a Penn State interception, but was tipped by Stephen Obeng-Agyapong — right into the waiting arms of the streaking Landon Smith for a 43-yard touchdown. That narrowed Ohio’s deficit to three with 10:40 left in the quarter. After that, the Nittany Lions seemed to lose touch.
Seven minutes later, Tettleton drove it into the end zone himself, for a 14-10 lead. Penn State’s defense was nowhere to be seen. The big guys were visibly tiring in the withering late summer heat. The lumbering leviathans turned into belching behemoths. Tettleton took full advantage of the time he was given by his offensive line manhandling the vaunted Penn State front seven to pick apart an unseasoned and depleted PSU secondary. He added one more insurance touchdown with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter, a 5-yard pass to Donte Foster culminating a 14-play, 6:42 drive that started at their own seven yard-line. That one put the nail in the Nittany Lion’s coffin.
The Penn State offense couldn’t mount successful drives against the Ohio defense. It was the Ohio front seven that dominated the second half, running roughshod over the Penn State O-line. While the Bobcats were shutting down the Nittany Lions’ offense, the defense was accorded little time to rest.
Penn State’s attempt at a two minute drill lasted fifty-six seconds and was terminated by a Jelani Woseley interception of Matt McGloin at the Ohio 36. Ohio then ran out the clock.
It would have been worse if Ohio had a field goal kicker. Matt Weller was a sickly 1-3, missing from 44 and 39 yards, but making a 22-yard chip shot after Hodges’ fumble.
Injuries could prove costly for Penn State, as Bill Belton and Stephon Morris were both carted away in the second half with injured ankles. Both are questionable for next week’s game against Virginia. We should know Monday. Would-be return man Gerald Hodges (whom I don’t think we’ll see returning any more kicks) left the field with an injured leg, as well.
Not only did it seem that physical abilities were wearing down in the second half for the Penn State defense, but also so were emotional intensities. The stadium crowd didn’t help. Late coming back from the concessions (which now take credit cards, which probably delayed quite a few), Beaver Stadium was putting out noticeably fewer decibels as the third quarter began. The freak play with the tipped ball resulting in a Rufus touchdown put a further cramp in their style, and by the end of the quarter, you could hear a pin drop in that place.
The sideline blonde interviewed Bill O’Brien at the end of the first half. “Are you as calm as you look?” she said. He responded that he was. Perhaps he was settling into too relaxed a groove, too early, too. I don’t think he could have anticipated the letdown in the second half, but it was his job to prevent it.
The stats tell a sad tale. Tettleton was 31-41 for 324 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions; on the ground he had nine carries for 47 yards with one touchdown. He spread the ball around to ten different targets. Lead rusher Beau Blankenship ran the ball 31 times for 109 yards against the PSU front seven. In all, the Bobcats gained 175 yards on the ground to rack up 499 total. They were error free and converted 13 of 21 third downs. Blechh!
Penn State stats are a bit misleading because of the relatively good first half, but by the same token if OU had played a good first half, they would have killed the Nittany Lions. Matt McGloin threw 27 completions of 48 attempts for 260 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The Lions could manage only 92 yards rushing, with Belton handling most of the chores. He carried 13 times for 53 yards before he had to leave the field with an injury in the third quarter. Total yards for the Nittany Lions were a stinking 352.
ESPN announcers Dave Pasch and Brian Griese were fair in their handling of the Penn State scandal situation, exhibiting restraint and sensitivity toward the Paterno family, even showing a mini-shrine at the site of the former Paterno statue. The only negativity was a completely honest assessment by Griese when he said that with this loss he felt that Penn State could win only three or four games this year. Many of you will bitch about that but how far off can he be?
BigAl came close with his projection of a 20-17 Ohio win, with three Penn State turnovers. Meanwhile, this Turkey went down in flames, having predicted a 17-16 win by the good guys. The only thing I got right was that the humongous hulks of the defensive front seven would wilt in the heat. As the season wears on, heat will be less of a factor, but lack of depth will definitely rear its ugly head.
There was a certain ambivalence of sentiment about this game. Lots of people paid lip service to the notion that “this team had nothing to play for but pride, and thus nothing to lose.” That’s an old cliche that doesn’t quite wash — ever. But in view of all the unknowns, having not seen this team or this coach in actual NCAA FBS Division competition before, your Turkey has no doubt that there were many who were at least secretly cautiously optimistic. That pre-season positivity will abate quickly without wins, eventually to be replaced by stupefied silence, followed by dispassionate denial, and later sadly, apathetic acceptance of Penn State’s place in the NCAA FBS Division pecking order for the next several years.
Team pride should have been good enough to beat this opponent in the opinion of many of us. However, the reality is that they were not in a position of having “nothing to play for”. Instead, they were carrying on their backs the responsibility of redeeming themselves in front of Penn State fans, who have enough success in the past to demand it from any team wearing the blue-and-white. That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of those who have never carried it before.
We’re going to have to learn how to enjoy games a little differently now, as the villain Mark Emmert vindictively asserted. We’re going to have to set our sights lower. (I bet some people were thinking that this team could compete for the SSMNC this year (if only they were allowed to play in the game) — there are always a few who are blind enough to the limiting factors to harbor unrealistic expectations at season’s outset. In this Turkey’s opinion, all of this number one crap is an NCAA plot to generate more money while hypocritically decrying Penn State’s desire to compete at the highest level. We’ll have to be thankful for smaller miracles: a brilliant completion from McGloin to Allen Robinson, the defense holding Navy’s ground game to 80 yards, a great interception by Adrian Amos, or an amazing run by Bill Belton. Those of us who are hard core Nittany Lions fans will not go away. I watched every game in 2003, all games during “The Dark Years” and took away something good from each one, even the losses, even the 6-4 loss to Iowa.
Sure, we like to see wins, all of us! However, it is the “swing voters” about whom I am concerned. Will they start dropping like flies after one or two losses? I sure as hell won’t miss those who want “all or nothing”. Let them swing over to cheer for Alabama or USC so their swinging monkey asses won’t be disappointed as much. Hell, let them root for Ohio U, which could well go undefeated this year! I just don’t want them around here hanging crepe, spreading their lugubriously whining negativity for all those mediocre years that lie ahead of us, fer cryin’ out loud! I’m too damn old for that. I would prefer to spend my remaining years in peace, seasoned with an occasional soupçon of joy. Hence, those “swing voters” who can lower their expectations a bit and enjoy a still good game against quality opposition even if it turns out to be a loss are welcome company. The best part is that I don’t foresee any blowout losses among Penn State’s remaining opponents; the worst is that I’ve been known to be wrong occasionally.
So, please shed no tears at this juncture, Nittany Lions fans, and wish our erstwhile opponents from Ohio a successful season. They’re looking pretty good, given that it was an early season tune-up for them in front of a crowd at least double the size they’re used to. Let’s put that game behind us, giving credit where due.
It is time to start thinking about the Cavaliers, who beat the Richmond Spiders 43-19 this week. I’ll be back later in the week with a look at that match-up.