Penn State has played two games in the 2012 calender year and lost both of them mostly at the hands of star quarterbacks with fast releases.
At January's TicketCity Bowl, it was Houston's Case Keenum who diced up the Nittany Lions' defense for 532 yards and three touchdowns through the air using quick passes. On Saturday, Ohio's Tyler Tettleton used similar pitch-and-catch methods to amass 324 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game while adding 47 yards on the ground as well.
His dual-threat style kept Penn State guessing for most of the second half as he led the Bobcats to 21 unanswered points after the break.
"There's always that threat of him pulling it down, running around the edge, breaking contain and making plays with his feet so you've got to be cautious about that," linebacker Mike Hull said.
When Tettleton did throw, he took Penn State's vaunted defensive line out of the game by getting his passes off quickly and preventing the pass rush from generating much pressure. The Lions registered just one sack and left Tettleton the time he needed to find his receivers on short and intermediate routes.
"That quarterback, he's good," defensive end Pete Massaro said. "They tried to up the tempo a little bit. From what I can see, that's what they were able to do. It seemed like they really attacked us at the perimeter with their passing game and just a lot of three-step quick stuff."
The Bobcats' junior signal-caller used the whole field in tormenting the Lions, too, completing at least three passes to six different receivers. Running back Beau Blankenship accounted for seven catches and 72 yards, mostly on quick swing passes and screens out of the backfield.
In many ways, Ohio's attack was similar to the one Houston used at the bowl game in Dallas. The Cougars threw deeper and more often, reasons Keenum's yardage totals were much bigger than Tettleton's, but both game plans utilized quick throws to several different targets, keeping the Lions on their heels. Five Houston players finished the team's 30-14 dismantling of Penn State with at least five catches.
"We knew they had a great front seven and we figured that we would be challenged running the ball," Tettleton said. "Instead we faced a lot of man coverage with the opportunity to make some big plays."
The Bobcats took advantage of those opportunities, too. On a third down play late in the third quarter, Tettleton unloaded one of his deeper balls of the day and completed a 33-yard strike to Ryan Clark down to Penn State's 18. The big play, followed by another quick throw to Blankenship out of the backfield for 12 yards, helped set up Ohio's go-ahead touchdown. A quarterback sneak by Tettleton that gave the Bobcats a 17-14 lead with 3:49 to play in the third quarter. The Lions never recovered.
Worst of all for Penn State's defensive front? It was essentially along for the ride when Tettleton used his short drop backs, something it hopes to correct this week.
"After your first two steps the ball is out so it becomes a tough game for d-linemen in particular because all you can really do is take a few hard steps and try to get your hands up," Massaro said. "I'm sure there's plenty we can do. We'll know after watching the tape. We'll go back and really try to iron out what we're going to do when a game becomes that type of a three-step pass game."