O'Brien takes blame for Penn State loss

Penn State's Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (7) and Malcolm Willis (10) tip a ball that was pulled in by Ohio receiver Landon Smith for a third-quarter touchdown. NABIL K. MARK / Centre Daily Times
Penn State's Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (7) and Malcolm Willis (10) tip a ball that was pulled in by Ohio receiver Landon Smith for a third-quarter touchdown. NABIL K. MARK / Centre Daily Times
Posted: September 04, 2012

Certainly the first game coached by Bill O'Brien at Penn State would have a few surprises given the fact that the players had spent the offseason and preseason learning new systems on offense and defense.

But in the end, it wasn't the lack of a running game or a failure to finish drives or a defensive collapse in the second half or a special-teams turnover that were the most surprising aspects of Saturday's 24-14 loss to Ohio at Beaver Stadium.

No, perhaps the biggest surprise was the inability of O'Brien and his coaching staff to come up with answers after the Bobcats made their halftime adjustments and proceeded to control the second half.

O'Brien, in true NFL coach mode, blamed himself for the loss and talked about doing a better job.

"It comes down to me being the head football coach," he said. "I have to get this team ready to play. I told them in the locker room, it's a long season. This is one game. We have to learn from our mistakes. We can still be a good football team.

"I told them the number one priority is, I'm going to come to work tomorrow and do a better job for them."

The Nittany Lions were in control at halftime, feeling pretty good with a 14-3 lead. But Ohio changed its coverages around in the second half and didn't allow Matt McGloin to complete passes as easily as he did in the first half.

After going 16 of 26 for 178 yards (6.8 yards per attempt) in the first half, McGloin went just 11 of 22 for 82 yards (3.7 yards per attempt) in the second, when the Lions went scoreless. McGloin's longest completion went for 22 yards, and he missed three deep shots during the game, including a ball that went off Shawney Kersey's fingertips at the 5 in the fourth quarter.

"That happens," McGloin said of the second-half swoon. "We couldn't capitalize on all the good drives that we had. We got ourselves into some third and longs, and as an offense that's never a good thing. But that didn't make or break the game. We had a lot of opportunities that we missed."

McGloin said a positive came from the way he and his teammates handled the new offense.

"We were all on the same page offensively in terms of pass protection, routes, formations," he said. "We did a good job, and it was a positive day."

The same, however, cannot be said for the defense, which was shredded in the second half for 301 yards. The Bobcats had drives of 82, 70, 50, and 93 yards, with three touchdowns and a missed field-goal attempt, and converted a seemingly impossible 11 of 12 third-down plays.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof was absent from the postgame interview room. O'Brien had no specifics to explain how the strength of the team - the Lions' front seven - could get outplayed so decisively.

"We have to get our defense off the field, and the defense has to make stops," he said early in his postgame news conference. Asked later if the defense wore out in the muggy heat, he replied: "I think offensively we need to do a better job of sustaining drives so that the defense can [stay] off the field."

The Nittany Lions now face a week in which improvement must be made before they head into Virginia for Saturday's game against the Cavaliers, who beat Richmond, 43-19, in their season opener.

The Lions ran the football just 22 times, with new tailback Bill Belton contributing 13 carries for 53 yards. However, after his fumble at the Ohio 21 killed the first drive of the game, Belton did not see the football for the next 10 plays. He later caught a 6-yard TD pass from McGloin but had to leave with an ankle injury in the third quarter.

Special teams contributed a turnover on a muffed fair catch by Gerald Hodges, a linebacker and surprise return man. O'Brien defended his selection of Hodges, a Paulsboro product, for return duty, and though he didn't utilize Hodges in that role in the second half, the move may have been attributable to the bumps and bruises Hodges suffered during the game.

Humbled After Halftime

Some first half-second half comparisons from Saturday's Penn State loss to Ohio:

   Penn State   Ohio   

   1st Half   2d Half   1st Half   2d Half   

First downs    13   8   10   15   

Rushing yards    59   33   81   94   

Passing yards    178   82   117   207   

Total yards    237   115   198    301   

Plays    39   31    39   49   

Third down conv.   4-8   4-8   2-9    11-12   

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

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