After opening the season with a tough loss at home to Ohio, a result once thought impossible for a program like Penn State, the question this week is: Where do the Nittany Lions go from here? Well, the answer is simple.
Penn State makes their first road trip of the 2012 season when they take on the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday afternoon (12pm / ABC). The blue and white will look to regroup on offense and defense, and find a way to put together a more complete effort than they presented last week in Bill O’Brien’s head coaching debut. Against a balanced team like Virginia, avoiding the program’s first 0-2 start since 2001 will be no small task.
For Penn State to pick up its first win, it needs to focus on some of the positives from last week, and ensure that they continue after halftime. Right out of the gate, Penn State put on display the type of pass-first offense fans can expect to see under O’Brien in the years to come. Matt McGloin was effective in spreading the ball around to his receivers and was accurate going left, right and over the middle in the first half. It was a far cry from the type of McGloin fans have witnessed the past two years, as he was confident, calm and not in a need to force much.
But the youth of some of the skill positions was also on display, with Bill Belton fumbling to kill a promising drive and unable to hold on to a short pass for a first down. Receivers also started dropping some passes or were unable to stretch just enough to bring in some big gains, a recurring theme from the 2011 offense.
That developing offense will go up against a Virginia defense that held a decent Richmond team to just 28 rushing yards. With Derek Day looking to take the lead in the running game ahead of a banged up Belton, who knows what Penn State would be able to do with the ground game anyway. The depth at tailback is shallow with Belton and Day both taking some licks last week against Ohio.
Most upsetting for Penn State last week was the way the defense allowed Ohio to find some cracks they eventually broke wide open. The wind was seemingly knocked out of Penn State’s defense when a tipped pass was caught by an Ohio receiver and taken the rest of the way for a stunning touchdown. That one lucky bounce for Ohio turned the game around, but poor tackling and a breakdown in coverage by the Penn State defense did little to stop it. The linebackers were what you would expect, but the defensive line filed to record a sack on Tyler Tettleton as the Bobcats took control.
Against Virginia Penn State will hope to be able to bring more pressure on Cavaliers quarterback Michael Rocco, son of former Nittany Lion quarterback Frank Rocco. Rocco is not a top notch quarterback, but, if given protection, he has more than enough ability to have the same kind of quietly steady performance Tettleton had last week.
This game may be a grind for both teams, but if Penn State’s defense can lock down on their tackling then they should be able to at least give Penn State’s offense a chance to do something this week.
Keep up with Kevin’s college football coverage on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.