A Tougher Opponent on the Dawn of a New Era
For the first time in nearly half a century, the Penn State Nittany Lions will play the opening game of a football season under a head coach not named Joe Paterno. For the first time in nearly a decade, their opponent on the first Saturday of the college football season will be rather formidable.
The Ohio Bobcats are not your typical cream puff opponent that high profile programs often schedule in the opener. From 2006 on, Penn State has played the likes of Akron (twice), Florida International, Coastal Carolina, Youngstown State, and Indiana State. The average margin of victory for the Nittany Lions in those contests is 36.8 points. Those opening game outcomes were never in doubt It was more of a party at Beaver Stadium than an actual football contest.
Ohio comes to Happy Valley fresh off a 10-4 season and their first ever bowl win. Head coach Frank Solich had a decent run at Nebraska that saw him win double digit games from 1999-2001.
Here’s a few key players on Ohio to know about:
Tyler Tettleton#4 – The junior quarterback tossed twenty eight touchdown passes last season and only ten interceptions. He can play, and when he’s not slinging the ball all over the field, he’s doing damage with his legs, carrying the ball 166 times last season for 658 yards and ten touchdowns. He will test the Nittany Lions’ inexperienced secondary early on.
Beau Blankenship #22 -- When Tettleton is not keeping the ball himself, he’ll be handing off to the redshirt junior. Blankenship averaged five yards a carry last season and scored four touchdowns.
Matt Weller #49 – With Saturday’s game expected to be close, kicking could be the difference, and the Bobcats have a pretty good one in Weller. On the Lou Groza preseason watch list for best placekicker in the nation, Weller was 25-34 on field goal attempts last year and was just about automatic inside forty yards, only missing once.
Xavier Hughes #23 – A ball-hawking safety, the redshirt junior had three interceptions through six games before getting injured last year. It will be fascinating to see how Penn State’s young receivers perform against a relatively experienced Ohio secondary.
A few things to look for from the Penn State side of things:
Offensive Tempo -- This is not your grandfather’s Penn State offense. Lions 247 reported last night that Bill O’Brien hopes to have the offense break the huddle with around seventeen seconds remaining on the play clock. Welcome to a modern offense.
Bill Belton – The converted wide receiver ran the wildcat offense effectively at the end of his freshman season. He will be the feature back on Saturday. Life will be much easier for Matt McGloin if he can find some running room early on.
Defensive Schemes – How much does new defensive coordinator Ted Roof blitz? It will likely be more than Tom Bradley’s conservative approach by default, but just how much remains to be seen. Does he trust an inexperienced secondary to stay with Ohio receivers and make plays?
Special Teams – In the opener last year against Indiana State, Chaz Powell took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. This year, no one is completely sure who will be returning kicks or punts tomorrow. Sam Ficken will also be worth watching. Can he convert a big kick if the game is close in the fourth quarter?
Players on the Mend – Michael Mauti is playing his first football game in almost a year. Pete Massaro and Garry Gilliam are seeing their first game in almost two years. All three players coming off ACL injuries have important roles.
Ohio, predicted to win the Mid-American Conference, is capable of pulling off an upset that some national pundits have predicted. With fifteen starters returning and a good quarterback, fans in Beaver Stadium could be biting their nails on Saturday.
While much of the focus of the day will be on revamped offensive play-calling with O’Brien patrolling the sidelines for the first time, a big key for the Nittany Lions will be their performance on the other side of the ball. Ohio’s offense runs through Tettleton, and the Nittany Lions should be able to notch a win for O’Brien in his debut if Roof’s unit can keep the Bobcat signal caller in check.
By the Numbers – Ohio lost four games last season by a combined total of nineteen points. Three of those losses were within a field goal or less.
Blast from the Past – The last time Frank Solich came to State College, this happened. Fans who were in attendance for the game, which set an attendance record, call Richard Gardner’s interception at the 5:34 mark of the video the loudest they’ve ever heard Beaver Stadium.
Check back here Saturday morning for some game notes, media coverage, and weather updates leading up to kickoff.