Penn State suffers second-half meltdown vs. Ohio University
After an emotional start to the day at Beaver Stadium, Gerald Hodges and his Penn State teammates were left to deal with a surprising 24-14 loss to Ohio in University Park, Pa.
Bill O'Brien's every move was watched Saturday as he became the first coach other than Joe Paterno to coach a Penn State season opener since 1965.
Ohio University players celebrate after linebacker Jelani Woseley intercepted a Penn State pass late in the fourth quarter to seal the win against the hosting Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium in State College this afternoon.
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- They always talked about running out of the tunnel. It was going to be an escape, a calculated tumble through a rabbit hole.
For over a month publicly and likely in team meetings and personal conversations long before then, the Penn State football team discussed Sept. 1. The players dreamed of how good it would it feel, more importantly how normal it would feel. They didn't talk about what might happen afterwards, what emotions would afflict them walking through the tunnel on the other side when the game was over.
Ohio University beat Penn State, 24-14, Saturday at Beaver Stadium, seizing the occasion with a dominating second half.
If the packed, ready and whistling stadium crowd that greeted Penn State at noon was the dream, then the end was the reality. The players walked back through the tunnel with the stadium already partially emptied. Scattered applause from the lower levels didn't mask the pervasive quiet.
"You want to win," linebacker Mike Hull said. "Our fans have been through a lot. We've been through a lot. In an ideal situation, we'd get the win, but it didn't happen."
Ohio scored 21 unanswered points in a second half that saw defensive back Stephon Morris and running back Bill Belton leave early with ankle sprains. This is not something that happens to Penn State. The Nittany Lions generally hold leads, but Ohio's offense improved as the game progressed.
The Bobcats' final scoring drive was the most painful. Ohio faced four third downs, but converted each one with passes thrown into tight defensive coverage.
"It was hard to watch," Penn State tight end Kyle Carter said.
The consensus from players was that the Nittany Lions might have gotten tired, but mainly that the team just broke down a little. It didn't fill the gaps on defense as it should have or apply enough pressure on the quarterback. On offense, the Nittany Lions looked like they missed the depth and talents of transfers Silas Redd and Justin Brown.
Carter, though, thought Penn State became complacent. Their 14 points gave them too much of a sense of security.
"We just felt like we had the game won at halftime," Carter said.
At halftime, Beaver Stadium buzzed. The good vibes had begun early in the morning. The smells of savory grills and hoppy beer wafted from University Drive down Park Avenue. Music blared from the student tailgates on the intramural fields. Fans held signs that said, "You stayed with us" on the front and, "We stand with you" on the back. When the four buses carrying the players and coaching staff arrived, the spectators didn't cheer. They roared.
Coach Bill O' Brien proceeded to lead the team onto the field, sprinting out onto the grass. The players finally got their opportunity to escape through that tunnel.
"It felt better than we thought," quarterback Matt McGloin said.
In the first half of his first game as a head coach, the offense did everything O'Brien had promised. It scored. Penn State had 14 points at half. It transformed McGloin. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. It utilized a variety of receiving options. Carter had four receptions. Wide receiver Allen Robinson had six, double his total from all last year.
The crowd began chanting O'Brien's name in the first quarter. A few minutes later, the crowd did it again. It already felt like this was his team.
O'Brien acted the part later, shouldering the blame. He told a quiet locker room that 11 games remained, enough time for them to be good team if he could help them do it.
"The No. 1 priority is I'm going to come to work tomorrow and do a better job for them," O'Brien said.
He expressed some version of that thought several times in his news conference. He was succinct and quiet, but forceful with his responses.
Players such as John Urschel, McGloin and Carter were quick to say that the loss was not O'Brien's fault, that it was more of theirs.
"We're all accountable," Urschel said.
"I'll take the blame for that," McGloin said.
"We let down a lot of people," Carter said.
Everyone wanted to share the consequences of defeat. That was the reality when the afternoon ended.
First Published September 2, 2012 12:00 am