UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State football players operated like nothing changed every time a teammate left this summer because of the NCAA sanctions levied against the program.
Their next task involves handling the loss of an actual football game.
The Nittany Lions begin their on-field preparations for Saturdays game at Virginia with todays practice, their first workout since falling to Ohio University 24-14 this past weekend.
The teams boisterous leaders insist they are primed for the looming test.
My message is that we are going to learn what we need to learn and were going to put this behind us, senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. We are not going to let this carry over into next week and carry it over into the week after that. Its a 12-game season. That was one game. We have 11 left and were going to make the most of it.
Mautis words, though not as strong as his blistering reaction to the NCAA sanctions, offered insight into the Nittany Lions psyche. A team that has kept many pieces together through 10 months of turmoil might be equipped to overcome a loss to a Mid-American Conference opponent.
Were resilient, sophomore linebacker Mike Hull said. The last 10 months have been crazy, but I think we have handled ourselves well. I think we will be all right.
For Coach Bill OBrien, the next five days present the biggest tactical challenge of his young head coaching career.
The Nittany Lions wilted in the second half against the Bobcats, scoring no points after an efficient offensive start. Substantial problems existed on defense as Ohio gained 301 of its 499 yards in the second half.
Penn States defense allowed less than 300 yards for an entire game seven times last season.
Savvy Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton resorted to a short passing game, completing 16 of 19 pases in the second half. His play confounded a defense adjusting to new coordinator Ted Roofs aggressive schemes.
Virginia might present similar problems. Quarterback Michael Rocco, the son of former Penn State quarterback Frank Rocco Jr. and grandson of former Nittany Lion assistant Frank Rocco Sr., started his 14th straight game this past Saturday against Richmond. Rocco, who led the Cavaliers to a 43-19 victory, is known for game management, throwing crisp underneath routes and limiting turnovers.
Penn States defense didnt force a turnover against Ohio. The Nittany Lions lone sack (a one-yarder) belonged to redshirt freshman defensive end Deion Barnes. Scant pressure and few big plays represented a surprise considering defensive end Sean Stanley, defensive tackle Jordan Hill and linebackers Mauti, Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges returned as starters.
The unit also struggled on the games most important plays. Ohio went 11-for-12 on third down in the second half.
Guys were angry at themselves, Barnes said. We know we are better than that.
OBrien said the offenses inability to sustain drives put the defense in undesirable positions. The Nittany Lions didnt move inside Ohios 30-yard line in the second half. Penn State held the ball for just 11:36 in the final three quarters.
The Nittany Lions longest pass plays, Kyle Carters 22-yard grab and Allen Robinsons 21-yard reception, came in the first 21 minutes. No running play went for more than 14 yards.
We have to string plays together, said OBrien, who doubles as the offensive coordinator. We have to do a better job of coaching on offense and that starts with me. We have to get the defense off the field, and when the defense is on the field, they have to get stops. That starts with me doing a better job of coaching this football team.
The self-assessment is rough, but OBrien and his team have learned it will take bold personalities to endure this season.
Its on us, senior quarterback Matt McGloin said. We just didnt make the plays when we needed to. We just couldnt get put it all together. What fans can expect is that we are going to prepare harder, play harder and practice harder. Were going to do whatever we can to try to improve every week.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy