It’s amazing how one play can change things.
The football somehow bounced off the hands of Penn State safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who was the only player around the dying pass, and caromed far enough that it landed in Ohio receiver Landon Smith’s, who was alone behind the defense. Smith corralled the fortunate bounce and raced untouched into the end zone.
Penn State still had the lead at that point – but Ohio had seized the momentum.
That one play wasn’t the difference in the game. That one play didn’t cost Penn State the game. But make no mistake, that one play changed the game – and the day.
Leading 14-3 early in the third quarter, Bill O’Brien’s day was going well.
It began when he got off the bus to a cheering throng. It was a moment I’m sure he’ll look back on and cherish one day.
His Lions moved the ball fairly well in the first half and the defense, as expected, was better than good. The only three points Ohio scored came off a fumble deep in Penn State territory. The defense did its job in forcing the field goal.
Then came that one play. Sure it was kind of a fluke. But it’s the kind of play somebody on this team has to make. Actually, it’s the kind of play that this team can’t afford to miss out on.
Big plays are going to be few and far between and Penn State will need to take advantage of the gifts it gets.
Unfortunately, the Lions missed out on this one.
From that point on, things went down hill. The Bobcats would go on to score two more second-half touchdowns. They outscored Penn State 21-0 in the second half.
The offense couldn’t get untracked. Running back Bill Belton was injured. Quarterback Matt McGloin had a decent statistical day but misfired on long pass plays that could’ve been touchdowns.
Then vaunted but tired defense couldn’t come up with a key stop in the fourth quarter.
The first game in the “Next Chapter” went down as a loss.
It’s not the end of the world. It was a single football game that was lost Saturday. It wasn’t a foreboding of program that will eventually fall apart. It was a loss by a team that still has the same problems on offense it had last year.
Time will show that this Ohio team is pretty good, however. It will hover around the edge of the Top 25 rankings throughout the year. The Bobcats won 10 games last season and are favorites to win the MAC this year. Heck, one Sports Illustrated prognosticator picked them to go undefeated.
The good news is that Ohio is probably better than Virginia, Navy, Temple and Illinois – the next four teams on Penn State’s schedule.
The bad thing is this Penn State team is not going to be a ton better than anybody. It will have to play well to beat anybody on the schedule. Not that it can’t – just that the margin for error is slim.
It was clear that the transfer of Silas Redd was a big loss. There were no big plays from the Lions Saturday and Redd was one player that could provide some. It’s tough to consistently put together 12-play drives against any team. Those big 60-yard plays are a much easier way to score.
That’s what’s missing from this offense. That’s what makes McGloin’s inability to connect deep with open receivers so devastating. That’s what makes missing out on a sure interception so crucial.
While the season is not lost after this one game, it does make this week’s trip to Virginia all that more important.
They say the biggest improvement a team makes is from week one to week two. The Nittany Lions are going to need that improvement.
Maybe it can also get it’s own game changing play – one they missed out on yesterday.
Marty Valania covers football for nittanylionsden.com. Follow him @EastRecruiting on Twitter.