UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The drives were long in distance and time. Ohio moved the ball and ran out the clock against a Penn State defense that was supposed to be the team's biggest strength.
With nine games against teams that played in bowls a year ago looming, the defense will face plenty more tests. It will have to turn into the reliable force it usually is.
The second half is when it all came apart Saturday for the Penn State defense. Going into halftime, Penn State had stopped Ohio from getting into a rhythm on offense. The Bobcats had 198 total yards and, though quarterback Tyler Tettleton had completed 15 of 22 passes, the team had only scored three points.
Early in the third quarter, Tettleton threw a pass that was nearly intercepted by defensive back Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. It tipped off his hands, and Ohio's Landon Smith caught it and scored a 43-yard touchdown.
"That was a big momentum shifter," linebacker Michael Mauti said.
Though no player would say the tipped pass deflated the team, that play began the defensive decline. Ohio would finish with 499 total yards. It had scoring drives of 82, 70 and 93 yards. It converted 11 of 12 third downs.
Last year, Penn State gave up more than 400 yards just three times, and only once in the first nine games. In second halves last year, Penn State's opponents completed less than 40 percent of their third downs.
Linebacker Mike Hull said the defense was tired, but not anymore than could be expected for a hot first game of the season. Coach Bill O'Brien commented little about the defense, mainly saying he needed to see the tape before making any judgments.
"I think we need to do a better job of sustaining drives so that the defense can get off the field," he said.
Without a stout defense, Penn State would have lost many of the games it won last year. Not only did it allow the fewest points per game of anyone in the Big Ten Conference at 16.8, it made its opponents make mistakes. The Nittany Lions forced 26 turnovers last year, third in the Big Ten. They did not force one turnover Saturday.
Tight end Kyle Carter said Ohio's final drive, which went for 93 yards and almost seven minutes, was particularly jarring, but he has not lost faith.
"I still trust the defense," he said.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @mdent05. First Published September 3, 2012 4:00 AM