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Concern, not panic, as PSU hopes to bounce back

Associated Press Modified: September 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm •  Published: September 4, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — After everything the Penn State Nittany Lions have already been through this year, one loss isn't going to cause panic.

Concern? Well, maybe.

Coach Bill O'Brien's crew took a day or so to sulk about the season-opening, 24-14 loss last week to Ohio before it shifted focus over to Virginia and the season's first road trip this weekend.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but with us, the whole adversity thing brings us together," fullback Michael Zordich said Tuesday.

The Nittany Lions were hurting Saturday night. The loss still stung during the off day Sunday.

By Monday, it was time to shake it off.

"Yesterday came along and Coach O'Brien said 'It was one game,'" safety Malcolm Willis said. "We've got to watch film and learn from our mistakes."

Putting together two consistent halves of football would be a start.

Penn State was outgained 301-115 in total yards and 15-8 in first downs in the second half. The Bobcats came up clutch by going 11 of 12 on third-down conversions in the third and fourth quarters.

Three-step drops by Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton neutralized Penn State's strength — its front seven — down the stretch. The Bobcats' 88 offensive plays were 18 more than Penn State's.

Willis and defensive tackle Jordan Hill said the Nittany Lions weren't able to build on the day's emotional lift after halftime, when they were outscored 21-0. With so much working in the first half, Hill said the defense didn't make many halftime adjustments.

O'Brien credited Ohio before boiling Penn State's issues down to simpler factors.

"Obviously I have a lot of respect for our players and their opinions," he said. "At the end of the day, we've got to go out there and execute better, coach better. ... Again, I think it's football, it was an emotional day, but it came down to turnovers, third-down conversions, and that's what it usually comes down to in close games.

"Hopefully we'll improve on that this week."

O'Brien saw bright spots in the loss. A Nittany Lions offensive line seen as a concern headed into the season didn't allow a sack. An offense with new or inexperienced players at most of the skill positions moved the ball well especially in the first half.

Sustaining longer drives to keep the defense off the field might be emphasized this week. Penn State had more than twice as many pass attempts than running plays last week (48-22), and O'Brien would like a little more balance next week.

Defensively, O'Brien liked the effort put forth by his defense, and his front seven contained the run up the middle.

But getting more third-down stops down the stretch will be essential. That means better awareness of the first-down marker, O'Brien said.

He alluded that the issue in part may be the Nittany Lions getting acclimated to defensive coordinator Ted Roof's more up-tempo scheme.

"They've got to understand when we call a pressure, where they're supposed to rush and what that might trigger in the passing game when we do pressure," he said. "It's just overall awareness, and our guys are going to get better at that, and it's a new system, it's a new year.

"Everything is new."

In Charlottesville, third-year Virginia coach Mike London sympathized with the obstacles that can arise in season openers. The Cavaliers beat FCS Richmond, 43-19, last week.

"There are always some of those moments that guys are not in the right gap, or (don't) hit the right call, or you're trying to figure out how much a player or your personnel groups can address whatever the situation that you're facing," London said. "Those first few games and execution, you always worry about that as a coach and getting the calls, like we were ourselves."

O'Brien focuses on the offense, with Roof overseeing the defense — though O'Brien, of course, also monitors defensive calls and intercedes as needed. One big difference so far with Penn State's defense this season is that Linebacker U. hasn't played or practiced much nickel coverage.

O'Brien said he likes how his outside linebackers — two of the Big Ten's best in Gerald Hodges and Mike Mauti — play the pass in the athletic 4-3 defense.

And that's a good thing. Because Virginia threw for 361 yards last week.

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NOTES: O'Brien's experiment with using Hodges as a return man may be on hold, at least for this week. The senior had a short return and muffed another return deep in Ohio territory last week that led to a Bobcats' field goal. "But it's a lot on his plate, and his main role is obviously as our outside linebacker. He might or might not be back there this week, but there was a lot on his plate, and I'll tell you, I accept responsibility for that," O'Brien said. After opening last week as the kickoff returner with DB Adrian Amos, Hodges is third on the returner depth chart behind RB Bill Belton and Amos. ... Belton (left ankle) and CB Stephon Morris (right ankle) are day-to-day but their injuries aren't considered serious. O'Brien said he should know by Thursday whether the starters will be ready for Virginia.

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AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Charlottesville, Va., contributed to this report.

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP


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