Penn State’s 24-14 loss to Ohio on Saturday, which followed a 30-14 loss to Houston last season in the TicketCity Bowl, marks only the second time Penn State has lost consecutive games to non-major conference schools since 1949.
Granted, Villanova and Army were powerhouses when the Nittany Lions fell to both teams, and conference alignment did not resemble the college football landscape of today. However, the history still underscores how infrequently Penn State drops games to programs outside of power conferences.
After more than six decades of controlling its non-major conference schedule, history has caught up with the Lions.
Last season, Penn State was an underdog against Conference-USA affiliate Houston, and the Cougars proved their 12-1 season leading up to the TicketCity Bowl was legitimate.
Penn State knew Ohio — a member of the Mid-American Conference — was a good football team with a standout quarterback in Tyler Tettleton. It never felt like the Lions were on their heels, even though Tettleton exploited their defense with his versatile, fast-paced ability.
On the other side of the ball, Matt McGloin consistently marched the offense down the field as he looked poised for most of the contest. The problem was finishing those drives for points.
“I don’t think it was pressure,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “It was a little lack of focus at the end of drives. We were right there. We have just got to fine-tune some things.”
Ohio coach Frank Solich was bringing one of his best teams into Beaver Stadium in his eighth season leading the Bobcats. Since 2007, Penn State had averaged a 40-point margin of victory over its opening opponents.
But that didn’t faze him.
“We knew the atmosphere would be a difficult one to play in and so we told [the players], ‘We just have to keep pounding, fellas,’ ” Solich said. “ ‘Try to turn it into just a football game, and we’re pretty good at playing football.’ ”
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said that Penn State lost to the better team. Neither O’Brien nor the Penn State players could come together on a central reason for the defeat. O’Brien blamed it on himself, the players blamed it on themselves, but the specifics weren’t the problem.
It wasn’t McGloin’s passing, Robinson said. It wasn’t the receivers’ hands, McGloin said. It wasn’t fatigue, linebacker Michael Mauti said.
They were just outplayed.
“We never go into a game thinking, ‘Oh, if we win it will be an upset,’ ” said Ohio redshirt junior tailback Beau Blankenship. “So we always go into the game with a chip on our shoulder and think we are going to win.”
The fans displaying their support in the form of “We Are” chants as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter proved that this loss wasn’t necessarily an embarrassment for the Lions.
They did, after all, lose several key players to transfer. They’ve transitioned to a new coach and a new offensive style. Ohio has been building up its program for eight years, while Penn State just had its dismantled.
At this point, the Lions’ mindset is the Ohio game is over and done with. All they can do now is look ahead to next week.
“We’ll watch the tape, and we’ll learn from it,” Mauti said.