STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The new era at Penn State is off to a disappointing start.
The Nittany Lions let an 11-point halftime lead slip away and Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton accounted for three second-half touchdowns to hand Bill O’Brien a 24-14 loss Saturday in his debut as Penn State head coach.
For many fans, just having football again at Beaver Stadium was enough of a victory following an offseason that included the death of former coach Joe Paterno, and crippling NCAA sanctions placed on the football program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
‘‘We are . . . Penn State,’’ the anxious crowd roared in the fourth quarter, their team trailing by 3.
Matt McGloin threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns guiding Penn State’s new-look offense.
‘‘I thought it was a great atmosphere in the stands at Beaver Stadium,’’ O’Brien said before stoically taking responsibility for the loss. ‘‘Again, it starts with me and coaching better and making sure we play better next time.’’
There were some other changes, too: players’ names on the backs of the uniforms, and blue ribbons on the back of the helmets to show support for victims of child sexual abuse.
Long a model for stability, the scandal lurched the program into a rebuilding project no one expected.
Now Penn State is playing without someone named Paterno on the sideline for the first time since 1949. He arrived in Happy Valley as an assistant in 1950 and took over as head coach in 1966.
The man known in these parts as ‘‘JoePa’’ stayed on the job for 46 seasons before his firing last November days after Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, was arrested.
Paterno’s widow, Sue Paterno, watched the game from a stadium suite. Paterno died in January, and as part of his employment agreement the family got use of the suite for 25 years.
O’Brien took over in January after serving as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. From his first day on the job he promised to stay focused on moving the program forward.
Even in defeat, Saturday was a huge first step.
The Nittany Lions were playing football again.
McGloin was 27 for 48 with one interception, while sophomore Allen Robinson had a nice debut as the No. 1 wideout with nine catches on 97 yards.
But the pesky Bobcats weren’t the typical season-opening pushover for Penn State.
‘‘I thought there was some definite good out there,’’ O’Brien said. ‘‘But we’ve got to be able to string plays together, and coaching on offense, it starts with me . . . When the defense is on the field, we’ve got to get stops.’’
Trailing, 14-3, at halftime, Tettleton hit Landon Smith on a 43-yard touchdown pass that had first tipped off the hands of Penn State defensive back Stephen Obeng-Agyapong with 10:40 in the third quarter.
Tettleton scampered in from a yard out to take a 17-14 lead almost seven minutes later.
Tettleton finished 31 of 41 for 324 yards and two scores, and added 47 yards and a score on nine rushes. Beau Blankenship had 109 yards on 31 carries.