No, they weren’t happy with their performance against Ohio State. Yes, they have the fortitude to rebound.
The aftermath of Penn State’s 35-23 loss to Ohio State has included two practices — and one agitated coach.
“I don’t think anyone played the way they were capable of playing on either side of the ball or special teams,” Bill O’Brien said on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference.
O’Brien’s first public comments since the Nittany Lions’ first conference loss were brief. Penn State postponed his weekly news conference until today, thus limiting O’Brien’s remarks to the 10-minute weekly Big Ten session.
The loss, which dropped his team to 5-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play, still bothers O’Brien. His team entered last weekend with a five-game winning streak.
Penn State rushed for a season-low 36 yards on 28 carries, which translated into 1.3 yards per carry. In the first half, quarterback Matt McGloin and open wide receiver Allen Robinson couldn’t connect for a big gain. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong then dropped an interception.
Later in the half, Penn State had multiple pre-snap gaffes inside Ohio State territory. At times, the season-high crowd of 107,818 hindered the offense.
“I think it was the crowd noise, and I think that starts with me,” O’Brien said. “I have to make sure we do a better job of being in the proper cadence and do a better job of coaching. We are going to try to do a better job of that this week.”
Mistakes were magnified in the third quarter. McGloin’s third interception in 304 attempts resulted in Ryan Shazier’s 17-yard touchdown return. Trailing 14-10 and facing a fourth-and-9 from the Ohio State 43, O’Brien made a gutsy call, ordering punter Alex Butterworth to throw a pass.
Butterworth had two targets — Mike Hull and Derek Day — and Ohio State’s Adam Griffin streaked toward Day, leaving Hull open. Butterworth tossed the ball to Day, and Griffin closed fast enough to prevent a completion.
Penalties, including a holding call on a third-and-goal from the 3 in the third quarter, also hurt. Penn State lost 85 yards on nine penalties.
Special teams again yielded mixed results. After just a 24-yard boot using a rugby style, Butterworth returned to a conventional form and dropped four punts inside Ohio State’s 20. He averaged 41.2 yards on five attempts.
“I thought he did a nice job,” O’Brien said. “He’s worked at that.”
Penn State’s punt return team also had a big game, with Mike Hull’s block leading to Michael Yancich’s first career touchdown in the second quarter.
On the opposite end, Penn State’s kick return team struggled as Bill Belton averaged 13.8 yards on six attempts. Penn State’s average starting field position on six Ohio State kickoffs was the 19-yard line.
“I thought our kickoff return team was terrible,” O’Brien said. “We have to do a better job there. We have to coach it better, get going there and do a better job.”
O’Brien said kick returners for Saturday’s game at Purdue (3-5, 0-4 Big Ten) will be settled in practice this week.
So far, all of Penn State’s preparations for Saturday have occurred indoors. Poor weather moved Monday and Tuesday’s practices to Holuba Hall.
Neither the weather nor a frustrating loss has altered approaches.
“We have a great senior class and they realize they only have four opportunities left and it starts here with Purdue,” O’Brien said. “It all starts with that leadership. I believe these guys have put that game behind them. We all have. It’s time to move on. We started that process (Monday).”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.