For a brief moment early in the third quarter, it looked like Penn State was going to have the ball with an 11-point lead. Seconds later, Ohio was celebrating a touchdown.
A floating pass from Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton bounced off the hands of safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and into those of Ohio wide receiver Landon Smith, who ran into the endzone for a 43-yard score.
Penn State never regained momentum after the play, and the Bobcats spoiled Bill O'Brien's head coaching debut Saturday as they left Beaver Stadium with a 24-14 win. Ohio owned the second half, outscoring Penn State 21-0 over the final 30 minutes.
"We just got to make plays when we have opportunities to make plays," sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos said. "I think we had two interceptions that we dropped today. It just wasn't our day. If we play our game, it's a whole different story."
With 97,186 fans in the seats, it wasn't a full house for the season opener, but there was undoubtedly an interesting atmosphere in State College. The game was not only O'Brien's initial contest as the Nittany Lions’ head coach, but also Penn State's first time on the gridiron since the NCAA hit the program with harsh sanctions in July, which caused nine players to transfer from the team.
In some aspects, it was a normal gameday in State College. Dressed in blue and white garb, fans started tailgating at an early hour and many came to watch O'Brien and his team arrive at the stadium in Penn State's traditional blue buses.
But there were also obvious differences. Penn State’s blue jerseys were adorned with players’ names for the first time. Instead of taking pictures with the bronze likeness of Joe Paterno, fans instead placed mementos on a patch of grass that is now where the statue of the late coach once stood. There was some displeasure expressed toward Penn State administration as a banner plane with a message that read "Oust Erickson/Trustees" which flew around the stadium before kickoff.
Though there was some anger, the overwhelming sense of the day was an enthusiasm to watch football again. In O'Brien's postgame press conference, in which he put blame on himself for the loss a number of times, the coach said he thought it was a great atmosphere.
"I was excited to be with these kids, I really have a special bond with these players," O'Brien said. "I was excited to lead them out on the field. I just wish I did a better job during the game."
The Lions initially gave their fan base something to cheer about as they took a 14-3 lead into halftime. The second half, however, was a different story.
In the second half, Ohio converted on 11 of 12 third downs, possessed the ball for about 18 minutes and did not punt the ball.
With 9:37 remaining and a three-point lead already in hand, Tettleton marched the Ohio offense down field on the game's defining drive. The Bobcats faced four third downs on the possession — which chewed up 6:50 of the clock and started from the Bobcats’ own seven — but converted all of them via short passes. On the final one of the four, the redshirt junior found Donte Foster in the corner of the endzone.
Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes said the three-step drop which Tettleton utilized is one of the most annoying things to go against as a defensive lineman.
Tettleton ended with 324 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and another 47 yards and one score on the ground. Running back Beau Blankenship tacked on 109 rushing yards and 72 receiving yards for the Bobcats.
While Ohio's offense found its stride after halftime, Penn State's offense scuffled.
The Lions had the ball for barely 10 minutes and mustered just 115 yards of offense in the second half. Quarterback Matt McGloin threw for 260 total yards, but was 11-of-22 for 82 yards with an interception after halftime.
Penn State did have a few chances to score in the second half, most notably a deep ball in the fourth quarter that fell just out of the reach of wide receiver Shawney Kersey.
"Matt, I mean he threw me a great ball, we practice that," Kersey said. "I should have got more vertical. As a quarterback, Matt has a lot going on in front of him, as a wide receiver, the only thing I have to worry about is a defender on my hip. And as receiver and as an older guy, I need to know like 'Hey, he threw the ball, when I see it coming that way, I need to go that way.' "
Despite the lousy second half, McGloin and the offense looked relatively sharp early in the game, and the team pieced together a few productive drives. McGloin threw both of his touchdowns before the break.
The first score came when the fifth-year senior dumped a short pass to running back Bill Belton, who maneuvered his way into the endzone on a six-yard play. The second touchdown was a 14-yard strike to tight end Matt Lehman.
The Lions had an opportunity for more early points, but on their opening possession Belton fumbled at the Ohio 21-yardline, stopping an 11-play, 67-yard drive in its tracks.
Belton totaled 53 yards on 13 carries in the contest, but suffered an ankle injury in the second half. Senior cornerback Stephon Morris also left with an ankle injury. O’Brien had no updates on either player’s status afterward.
Gerald Hodges had another fumble which cost Penn State in the opening half. Hodges, a linebacker, was fielding a punt in the second quarter, but had it fall through his hands. Alphonso Lewis jumped on the ball at Penn State's 13-yardline, which the Bobcats converted into a field goal, their only points of the half.
While Ohio had a big play on a punt in the first half, so did Penn State. True freshman Nyeem Wartman blocked a punt, which Jesse Delle Valle recovered inside Ohio's 20-yardline and set the stage for Lehman's touchdown. Wartman, a linebacker, was one of four true freshmen to see the field in the opener.
With the first game now under their belts, Penn State players have a week to regroup before they travel to Virginia next Saturday.
"This weekend was supposed to be one game, and that's what it was," senior tackle Mike Farrell said. “The type of mentality that this team has is that we were going to go back to work on Monday whether it was a win or a loss. Unfortunately, it's a loss, you can't sugarcoat that. But I'm just glad that I'm in a senior class, with this team around me, that will go back to work on Monday."