UNIVERSITY PARK - The Jerry Sandusky scandal and subsequent NCAA sanctions have created a long recovery road for the Penn State football team.
That road added a few more miles - uphill - Saturday.
With hopes of turning the page toward a brighter future, before a spirited if not sold-out backdrop of 97,186 fans, the Nittany Lions began the 2012 season by collapsing in the second half of what turned into a 24-14 loss to Ohio University.
Since his hiring in January, Bill O'Brien has shouldered the unenviable burden of being the face of Penn State, and he was only looking in the mirror for a place to lay the blame for his career record falling to 0-1.
"We have to coach a lot better," he said. "It starts with me: I've got to coach better."
In a short postgame press conference that would have pleased his tight-lipped former boss, Bill Belichick, O'Brien made reference no fewer than 15 times to having to coach better.
He was being too tough on himself, but, to his credit, O'Brien was keeping the glare off his players - players who certainly have endured too much over the past year.
O'Brien did allow that "there were a lot of good things on both sides of the ball," that Penn State can build on. But he was most disappointed that the team lacked a knockout punch after putting a very impressive Ohio team - which may well go unbeaten - on the ropes.
"They beat us," O'Brien said. "We lost to a better team today."
While Penn State came out with a refreshing spread-the-field offense and converted an early fourth-and-1 from midfield - with a pass out of the shotgun, no less - and racked up 237 of their 352 yards in the first half, the Lions hurt themselves with two brutal early fumbles.
In questioning himself, O'Brien didn't get specific, but the decision to have linebacker Gerald Hodges as a featured returner for kickoffs and punts would top the list. This team lacks depth as it is. Putting one of its most important players in that role exposes him. After an early fumble, Hodges was replaced.
O'Brien deflected a question on whether the Lions wore down and whether the emotional offseason caught up in the second half. The game was played in 86-degree heat .
Players also dismissed that notion, saying they were fresh, but no coaching staff can witness being outscored 21-0 after building a halftime 14-3 lead and feel like it didn't leave part of its game on the practice field.
"Nobody was breathing heavy," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "Guys had relaxed faces in the huddle. We're in great shape. We were in better shape than they were."
That's debatable since Ohio got stronger as the game went on and converted a staggering 11-of-12 third-down opportunities in the second half.
McGloin thought O'Brien had the Lions well prepared, and that the Lions themselves "couldn't make the plays when we needed to."
He added, "Coach O'Brien is doing a tremendous, tremendous job. We were prepared. We did everything we wanted to do. He was his normal self - calm, relaxed, calling great plays. It's on us. We feel badly we couldn't get him his first win."
Linebacker Michael Mauti felt the same way, saying, "We didn't get any turnovers, and that usually decides the game."
Beyond losing and squandering a chance to excite a home crowd looking for a boost, injuries to this depleted squad began piling up with at least five starters (see related story) nursing various injuries during the game.
That underscores the challenge of next week's game at Virginia.
"You saw flashes of how good we can be," McGloin said.
"This is one game," O'Brien said. "It's a long season. We can still be a good football team."
Plus it's not like his successor's coaching debut was more impressive, although it was a win. Joe Paterno liked to tell the story of his career opener in 1966 against Maryland. Penn State won, 15-7, thanks to three safeties by Altoona's Mike Reid.
Afterward, Paterno went to midfield looking for Maryland coach Lou Saban, who was no where to be found.
Saban called Paterno a day or so later, saying, "We were both so lousy I didn't have the heart to congratulate anybody."
On Saturday, 46 years later, O'Brien and Frank Solich met at midfield after the game and shook hands. Solich's team was a worthy victor.
And O'Brien's first-game performance will get better.