Morelli OnLion: New era begins with a thud
UNIVERSITY PARK — When it comes to sportswriting, I try to avoid cliches.
However, when breaking down Penn State’s 24-14 upset loss to Ohio on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, a cliché works extremely well.
It was a tale of two halves.
In the first half, things couldn’t have gone much better for the Nittany Lions. They came out of the tunnel for the first time in 2012 with new head coach Bill O’Brien. Quarterback Matt McGloin did his best Tom Brady imitation, rolling out of the pocket and connecting on short, effective passes. Running back Bill Belton tried his best to make Nittany Nation forget Silas Redd. And he did, until a first-quarter fumble thwarted a nice drive. Belton, along with backfield mate Derek Day, were a nice one-two punch. Those two will only get better.
McGloin connected for a pair of touchdown passes — one to Belton, one to Matt Lehman — as the Lions grabbed a 14-3 halftime lead.
However, in the second half, the wheels came off for O’Brien’s Lions. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton carved up the once-proud Penn State defense to finish the day 31 of 41 for 324 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. Running back Beau Blankenship also had a hand in the upset, rushing 31 times for 109 yards.
Ohio embarked on three long scoring drives in the second half. The drives went for 82, 70 and 93 yards. Those drives also chewed precious time off the clock. The defense looked tired and confused. In the end, it was easy picking for Tettleton, one of the best quarterbacks the Lions will face in 2012.
The defense has to get better. If it doesn’t figure things out — and quickly — the Lions could be staring at a one-win non-conference slate, something unheard of in Happy Valley.
Perhaps the thing that stands out most about the defense is the fact that it simply does not have a stud. Sure, Michael Mauti talks a good game, but his play is not on par of the linebackers who came before him. The Lions sure could use a guy like Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny or Navorro Bowman right now. Mauti led the Lions with 12 tackles, including five solo jobs. Gerald Hodges was next, with 11 tackles.
Those numbers look good, until you realize that most of their tackles were a long way from the line of scrimmage.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof didn’t make any fans in Week One. The good news is that there’s a Week Two — and lots of room for improvement.
On another note, I thought the university handled the extremely delicate Joe Paterno issue very well. There were no tributes, just a “moment of reflection,” which focused more on the victims of the sex abuse scandal. There were no “JVP” patches on the uniform, just a simple blue ribbon on the helmet.
There were some odd scenes at the game, that’s for sure. There was Franco Harris, sitting in a suite with a cutout of Paterno next to him. There were a lot of T-shirts protesting the NCAA sanctions and the response of the Penn State administration.
Saturday proved that it’s time to move forward. You can’t do that by clinging to the past.
This is O’Brien’s show now. Give the new coach the spotlight. He’s worked hard. He deserves it.
Based on what happened at Beaver Stadium last week, I don’t see things getting any better for the Lions this week. Virginia is even better than Ohio. Lions will fall to 0-2.
Gantdaily.com prediction: Virginia 31, Penn State 17.