The O’Brien Era Starts with a Loss
The first game of the Bill O’Brien era, a 24-14 loss to Ohio, was, in many ways, an odd game.
Players’ names were on the jerseys for the first time ever. The plain white helmets had a small blue ribbon to honor victims of child sexual abuse. Lots of fans wore T-shirts proclaiming “We are STILL Penn State,” and I saw at least one man wearing a shirt that proclaimed, simply, 409. It was the first home opener without Joe Paterno as a coach since 1949, and he wasn’t specifically mentioned or honored during the game. (Unofficially, one of the suites had a cardboard Stand-Up Joe in the window; it appeared to be Franco Harris’ box.)
There was a moment of silence before the game, with special mention of victims of child sexual abuse and “those who have endured suffering and loss.” Students also formed a ring around the stadium before the game to bring awareness to child sexual abuse, and athletes from Penn State’s other sports teams joined the Blue Band, cheerleaders, and national champion Lionettes on the field as the team ran out.
The Nittany Lions played a solid first half, taking a 14-3 lead, but then failed to score in the second half. And the defense gave up 21 second-half points. That’s not the kind of season opener Penn State is used to, of course. Big Ten teams don’t usually lose—at home—to teams from the Mid-American Conference, although by all accounts, the Bobcats are a strong team this season.
So the post-game mood was terse. O’Brien answered several questions with one word—no—and actually, dare I say it, sounded much like Paterno at times, insisting that he needed to watch film before he could answer questions about specific plays or what went wrong, and being unable to provide any updates on injuries. Even quarterback Matt McGloin, normally talkative win or lose, lapsed into clichés.
Not tight end Kyle Carter, who had a solid first game, catching five passes for 74 yards as the “F” tight end in O’Brien’s pro-style, two-tight end offense. (That’s the position that’s more of a wide receiver; the “Y” tight end is more of a blocker.) He wasn’t happy, but he was chatty.
The mood in the locker room was angry, he said. “We felt bad,” he said. “We should have won the game. We were playing for a whole lot of people, and it felt like we let a lot of people down.”
Someone in the scrum of reporters asked whether that wasn’t an awful lot of pressure. Carter dismissed that.
“We want to play for something,” he said. “Since we can’t play for bowl games, we’re playing for a whole university—and even more than that. We welcome that, and I just wish we would have won the game.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor