Even when they did move the ball, as they did on their opening drive, when Evan Lewis kicked a 43-yard field goal to take an early lead, they experienced repeated failures to communicate, needing to take all three of their first-half timeouts, the final one with 9 minutes, 23 seconds to play in the first quarter.
"We've got to have a big play to win a game like this," Bolden said. "A drop here, a missed block there, those little things - just like last year - were big in this game. Obviously, we'll just go back and look at the tapes and move on from here."
Rob Bolden held a decided advantage in snaps taken - 51 compared with 18 for Matt McGloin. Bolden, the sophomore making his second straight start against Alabama (2-0), completed 11 of 29 passes for 144 yards and an interception while engineering the drive to the Lions' only touchdown, a 1-yard run by Silas Redd with 1:53 remaining.
McGloin threw 10 passes and completed one - to Redd for no gain. The two first downs recorded while he was in the game came on Crimson Tide penalties.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who watched the game from the coaches' booth in the press box for the second week in a row, found more fault in the other offensive players than in his quarterbacks.
"I thought the two quarterbacks played a pretty good football game," he said. "There are a few throws they'd like to get back. We've got to catch the ball for them. Let's be realistic, there were a couple of big-time throws out there that we didn't come up with the ball."
Derek Moye didn't seem to agree with the sentiment about the Lions' pass-catching.
"We didn't catch the ball terribly," Moye said. "I think if you look at it, some of the dropped passes were really tough catches. We want to make those plays, but at the same time, those are plays you're not going to make every single time. And unfortunately for us, we just didn't make many today."
Alabama coach Nick Saban stuck with sophomore A.J. McCarron the entire way at quarterback rather than yo-yo him with redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. McCarron was an efficient 19 of 31 for 163 yards and one touchdown - a 5-yarder to tight end Michael Williams that helped the Crimson Tide overcome the early Penn State lead.
Trent Richardson, the powerful 224-pound junior, resumed his habit of bowling over Nittany Lion tacklers, gaining 111 yards on 26 carries and scoring twice.
The Lions defense started out strong. However, just when it looked as if it had held Alabama to a three-and-out for the second straight possession of the opening quarter, the Crimson Tide's Brad Smelley gained a yard on a fake punt to give the visitors a first down that was open to debate.
"We stopped them," linebacker Michael Mauti said. "I think they were about a foot-and-a-half short. I think that was obvious."
However, the defense did not force a single turnover, a drought that left the Lions at a disadvantage the entire day.
"I think that was big," Mauti said. "They had three turnovers, and we had none. That's what we have to do each week. That's what we've been emphasizing on defense, and that's what we wanted to do today."
Overall, it was a performance that proved to be more demoralizing than last year's in Tuscaloosa, when the Lions lost, 24-3, with a more inexperienced team. They'll have to find out what went wrong before coming to Philadelphia next week to play Temple.
The guess is that the quarterback situation won't be resolved in the next seven days, and the bull's-eye will still be on the backs of Bolden and McGloin.
"That comes with the territory," McGloin said. "It comes from playing quarterback. You have to be able to rebound from it, not pay too much attention to it, and just focus on practicing and trying to get better."
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org.