Things did not go as planned for Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions last Saturday against Ohio.
However, I don't think it's time to panic yet in Happy Valley. Although, that's exactly what has seemed to happen already.
Last week's game down to a couple things that when you sit down and think about it could have happened to any inexperienced team. First of all, Ohio is a good football team. They have a great coach in Frank Solich and good experienced quarterback in Tyler Tettleton. They run the "pistol" offense very well and they grinded the Nittany Lion defense down in the second half.
Penn State showed last week that depth could be an issue all season all over the roster. Pre season All-American candidate Gerald Hodges was in and out of the ball game with an injury, Stephon Morris went down in the second half, and the offense all but disappeared when Bill Belton cold no longer go with an ankle injury. These are things when added together can certainly contribute to an opening day loss to a good team on a very emotional day.
Injuries look like they could hamper the Nittany Lions again this week with Belton and Morris being game-time decisions. Last week it was evident that the replacements for Belton and Morris definitely didn't pack the same punch.
"Those guys are day-to-day. They're both ankle issues, and they're not serious, so you know, we'll have to wait and see," said O'Brien. "Usually I'll try to, if they don't practice by Thursday or Friday then probably they'll be out of the game, but right now I would say it's day-to-day. It's probable, but again, won't really know until it gets closer till game day."
If Belton can't the Nittany Lions have a stable of running backs they could use, the only problem is that none of them really possess the speed and agility of Belton except for true freshman Akeel Lynch, who saw no time on Saturday. Stepping into his spot will be Derek Day, who played in Belton's absence against the Bobcats.
"We'd probably go with Derek Day, and then the other guys that will be ready to go are Akeel Lynch, (Zach) Zwinak, Curtis Dukes; those guys will be ready to go, Mike Zordich will be involved there, too," said O'Brien. "We've got good depth at running back. Billy, obviously the ankle injury, you never like to lose a player like Billy. We think he's a really good player, but if he can't go, we've got plenty of guys there that can go."
Morris' injury might be the most crippling to the Nittany Lions if he can't go today. The Penn State secondary depth has been a concern all season long and without Morris, Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco (25-37, 311 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT) will certainly take advantage.
Rocco is another experienced quarterback with the same dual threat ability that Tettleton showed Nittany Lion fans last week. The Penn State defense will have to put together four solid quarters of football in order to have a chance at beating the Cavaliers.
Other offensive players that Penn State need to watch out for are wide receiver Tim Smith (6 for 96 yds) and running back Perry Jones (14 for 54 yds (3.7), 1 TD). Jones is a tough runner with big play ability and Smith showed last week he is Rocco's number one target.
There's no doubt the PSU defense was disappointing in the second half, but not as disappointing as the Nittany Lions' offense. They failed to score in the second half last week and PSU will not win games this season if the offense does not score, especially in back-to-back frames. Matt McGloin seems to struggle in finding receivers down field and likes to throw the intermediate routes a little bit too often. It's hard to win games against good opponents without the possibility of the big play in a team's offensive arsenal.
Penn State's 2012 season is far from over, but a loss at Virginia could spell trouble for a .500 record or better. A win at Virginia would definitely create a spark within Nittany Nation that saw a little bit of their fire get distinguished last week with the loss to Ohio. This season will be nothing like any Penn State fan has ever seen before, but will it be littered with losses and more negativity or can O'Brien and the Nittany Lions get back on track with a win over the Cavaliers? Only time will tell...