Penn State’s offensive core jawed at one another while trying to figure out what went wrong in its first of two turnovers-on-downs in Gophers’ territory late in Saturday’s 24-10 loss.
Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg heard from two of his receivers, a running back, and coach after throwing wide to Matt Zanellato. The confusion and frustration portrayed the instability of a team playing great one week and very bad the next.
Second-year coach Bill O’Brien’s displeasure with Saturday’s result was apparent from his decision to make no players available to the media after the game. He said he was happy with his team’s effort, yet had plenty to critique. O’Brien broke it down in three steps.
“No. 1, we’re going to try and coach them better. I said [after the game], ‘We’re going to make sure we put you guys in better position to make plays,’ ” he said.
Better play-calling might not have been enough Saturday. The Gophers scored 24 points in the first half and their defense gave up only one touchdown, in the first quarter.
Also, the Nittany Lions’ young quarterback struggled to find receivers in the red zone and fumbled on the 1-yard line.
“No. 2, we’re going to make sure we do everything we can as a coaching staff to help these seniors go out as winners,” O’Brien said.
Penn State’s record is 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten with three games remaining, one of which is on the road. The Nittany Lions have won two overtime thrillers in their past five games, but been beaten badly in the three road games during this stretch.
As for step No. 3, O’Brien wasn’t sharing, but said there were three direct messages delivered to the team. It likely touched on poor execution on third and fourth down (2-for-12) or how bad it felt to see the Gophers sprint across the field and grab the Governor’s Bell trophy. Penn State had been in possession of it since 2005.
Whatever the message was, it couldn’t have been positive, considering the Nittany Lions’ offense started and ended the game with fumbles.
“It’s never good when you fumble on the first play of the game,” O’Brien said.