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 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 game day 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 obvious differences.
Penn State’s blue jerseys were adorned with players’ names for the first time.
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.
And 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. A cardboard cutout of Paterno was even placed in one of the luxury suites.
There was also a moment of reflection held prior to kickoff to honor all of those affected by child sexual abuse and those who had suffered loss, but there was no mention of Paterno by name.
Even with all that surrounded the game, the overwhelming sense of the day was an enthusiasm to watch football again. In O’Brien’s post-game 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.”
Beginning at 12:06 p.m. and lasting for the next three hours and 23 minutes the news about Penn State’s football team was happening on the field Saturday for the first time in months.
“I mean, it was an emotional day. But as a team, we didn't try to get into any of that,” said Derek Day, a senior running back and one of the Penn State’s game captains against Ohio. “We had one goal and that was to come out and win a football game and we weren't able to get that done today.”
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.
After halftime, Ohio converted on 11 of 12 third downs, possessed the ball for about 18 minutes and did not punt the ball.
Both O’Brien and Penn State players noted Ohio didn’t really do many things differently in the final two quarters. But Tettleton and the Ohio offense controlled the game, and Penn State failed to make a big play on both sides of the ball.
The game’s defining drive started with 9:37 remaining, and the ball at Penn State’s seven-yard line. Ohio already had a 17-14 lead at that point and Tettleton marched the offense down the field for a touchdown to seal the deal.
Tettleton — who accounted for a total of 371 yards and three touchdowns — completed all five of his passes on the possession, the last going to Donte Foster in the corner of the end-zone.
While Ohio’s offense found its stride after halftime, Penn State’s 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 two notable chances to get a long strike down the field in the later stages of the game. One was on a ball to Allen Robinson, the other to Shawney Kersey, but neither wideout could come down with what could have been a game-changing grab.
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 — one each to running back Bill Belton and tight end Matt Lehman.
“There was a lot of good out there today,” McGloin said. “We moved the ball pretty well. Unfortunately, we couldn't put a full drive together at some points, and that happens. But it was a good football game.”