Last updated: February 16. 2013 9:39PM - 284 Views

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They came trudging into Beaver Stadium like they were heading to weekly mass, a lot of unsmiling people giving the impression they showed up mainly because it was an obligation to them, not because they felt a sense of fulfillment.

Heaven help the 97,000 Penn State fans if they were expecting any kind of redemption out of Saturday's season opener.

Because all it brought to Penn State was a greater sense of gloom.

The Nittany Lions lost a season opener for the first time in 11 years, back when a Miami team ranked No. 2 in the nation came in to start the 2001 season and thumped Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions, 33-7.

Whether or not you are still a Paterno worshiper like former Penn State great Franco Harris - who brought a lifesize cardboard replica of Paterno to Saturday's game and propped it up in his luxury box - what happened on this opening day felt a lot worse.

This wasn't a team commanding national attention, coming to town and taking it to Penn State.

This was Ohio.

Not Ohio State.

Little-known Ohio.

"We lost to the better team today," new Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien said.

Sadly for Penn State, he's right.

The Bobcats outhit, outhustled and outplayed Penn State, especially in the second half when they rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to a convincing 24-14 victory.

"This one game doesn't make or break our season," Nittany Lions guard John Urschel said. "It's a long season."

It's going to be a long road back if this is what the Nittany Lions are looking at.

The offense managed just two touchdowns, and wouldn't have made it to the end zone a second time against Ohio if Nyeem Wartman, a special freshman out of Valley View High School, didn't block a punt to give Penn State the ball 18 yards from the end zone.

The end result from the Penn State defense was embarrassing.

The Lions watched Ohio quarterback Kyle Tettleton - whose father Mickey was known for eating Fruit Loops when he was a catcher for the Baltimore Orioles - make Penn State's defense look loopy while passing for 324 yards, leading four scoring drives and two others that resulted in blown field goals.

But it was the Lions who really blew it.

They had a 14-3 lead at halftime and had a chance to really give themselves and their fans some hope this season, after the Jerry Sandusky scandal spurred severe NCAA sanctions and a coaching change since November.

How hopeless does this season seem now if Penn State couldn't even beat Ohio?

"We all have that sting," said Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, who led the Lions with nine catches for 97 yards.

It'd be easy to believe the Lions had too much to overcome.

Paterno was fired near the end of last season, died of lung cancer during the winter and was then accused of helping the university cover up the horrible crimes the team's former defensive coordinator Sandusky was convicted of committing against children for more than a decade.

It led to an NCAA ban on bowl games for Penn State, along with the reduction of scholarships, the loss of a few key players who were allowed to transfer without penalty and the Big Ten made the Lions ineligible to compete for a conference championship over the next four years. But that shouldn't stop the Lions from trying to play like champions.

And while Tettleton was making the second half seem like pregame warm-ups to him, Lions fifth-year linebacker Michael Mauti noticed the dropoff in Penn State's play.

He gathered his teammates, according to defensive end Deion Barnes, and implored, "This is not us!"

Maybe this really is the Lions team we're going to have to live with for the foreseeable future.

"Things really weren't going our way," said Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, from West Scranton High School. "What are you going to do? You have to respond.

"We didn't get the job done."

The job seemed simple enough against an Ohio team that won the MAC and then something called the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last season, but would likely get bowled over playing in the Big Ten.

The matchup was supposed to play right into the hands of the Nittany Lions, who were looking to turn the page on the Paterno saga and past scandals. Instead, they turned their season opener into more consternation.

This was no way to keep the team's fan base religiously coming back. They fulfilled what they believed was their duty to show up, but like a typical Sunday service, a lot of them didn't bother to stick around to the end.

Paul Sokoloski is a columnist for The Times Leader. Reach him at psokoloski@timesleader.com.

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