Ohio a tough opener for Penn State’s new era

Posted: August 31, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State's nonconference football schedule mostly has consisted of winnable games over the years, usually including a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) opponent and a sacrificial lamb from the Mid-American Conference.

But when you look down the pre-Big Ten schedule this season, there aren't any games that one would consider a victory for the Nittany Lions merely if they show up.

The Lions have a scary game right off the bat Saturday, taking on MAC favorite Ohio in the emotional cauldron that will be Beaver Stadium, the site of a new era with a different Penn State head coach for the first time since 1966.

Bill O'Brien, who will stand on the sideline as a head coach for the very first time, probably would have wanted an easier game given all his team had been through in the offseason - the death of legendary coach Joe Paterno, the Freeh report blasting Penn State's handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the removal of the Paterno statue, the harsh NCAA sanctions, the transfer of nine players.

The Nittany Lions are excited about playing football again. Emotions will reach the boiling point on the field and in the stands when players and coaches emerge from the tunnel.

However, playing against a veteran Bobcat team that lost in the 2011 MAC championship game but won its first-ever bowl game, the players must avoid getting too wound up and be able to concentrate on a difficult opponent.

"It's going to be our job to handle that and to control that," senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. "After all the things that have gone on, to finally get back to doing what we love to do . . . it's going to be really exciting. The one thing that we can control is just to get back to basics.

"Every football game is going to be emotional, going to be exciting. But you've got to get on the field, you've got to read your keys, you've got to get off blocks, you've got to make tackles, you've got to play football. So it's our job to control that and I think our guys are going to be ready to do that."

The next three weeks find the Nittany Lions traveling to Virginia to take on the improved Cavaliers, followed by home games against Navy and Temple, both of which are idle the week before traveling to Happy Valley. The Midshipmen's triple option is a handful for any defense, and the Owls have come close to defeating Penn State in each of the last two seasons and aren't scared.

But first things first. The Bobcats possess a fast-paced offense controlled by redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who set 12 single-season Ohio records last season, including the first 3,000-yard season posted by a Bobcat QB, and accounted for 38 touchdowns (28 pass, 10 run).

Tettleton, the son of former major league catcher Mickey Tettleton, also rushed for 658 yards last season. However, the Bobcats lost their top running back and their two leading receivers from an offense that averaged almost 446 total yards.

O'Brien said Ohio's defense shows a lot of different looks and that the Lions have to "expect the unexpected." But you could say the same about the Bobcats trying to figure out Penn State's formations and plays in O'Brien's new offense.

"We're guessing a little bit obviously," said Ohio coach Frank Solich, who received a five-year contract extension on Thursday. "We've studied a lot of film on them. We've done all the homework we can do but you're piecing it together because their new staff is from different colleges, their head coach is out of the pros. So you're looking at a lot of different film."

It's certain to be a different afternoon, including Penn State uniforms with names on the backs. O'Brien will feel the goose bumps, too, but he knows once the football is kicked off, he'll be fine and he hopes his players will be as well.

"It's an emotional time when you run out there for the first time for your first game," he said. "So I think if our guys can control their emotions and play within themselves and not try to be heroes and just play the way they've been playing in practice, then we'll have a shot to control those emotions early on."

Moment of silence. Penn State will observe a moment of silence prior to the game but apparently has no plans to mention Paterno. In a brief statement, the university's athletic department said, "We plan to allow for a moment of silent reflection for our fans to consider all victims of child sexual abuse and those who have endured suffering and loss."

Saturday will mark the first football game at Beaver Stadium since Paterno's death on Jan. 22.

According to the Associated Press, members of the Paterno family are expected to be in attendance at Saturday's game watching from a suite.

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq. Read his blog, Lion Eyes, at www.philly.com/sports/lioneyes

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