Shortly after Penn State lost to Indiana for the first time, one person on Twitter expressed the sentiment of many Nittany Lions fans Saturday.

"Penn State has officially hit rock bottom," that person wrote after the Hoosiers thumped the Lions 44-24.

Are the Lions really in worse position today than they were last year after losing to Virginia 17-16 to drop to 0-2 and facing mammoth scholarship restrictions for the next six years?

They're not.

The Indiana loss, however, exposed several flaws in the 2013 Penn State football team.

Start with the offensive line, which couldn't generate much push against the Hoosiers' run defense, one of the worst in the nation.

Take away a 31-yard team rushing loss on a poor field goal snap and a 12-yard loss when quarterback Christian Hackenberg was flagged for illegal grounding, and the Lions rushed for 113 yards on 36 carries, a little more than 3 yards a pop.

"With the running backs we have, I always feel like we should be productive," tight end Kyle Carter said. "It was really more of the blocking. It wasn't the running backs' fault at all. Blocking on the edge or blocking inside, we just have to do a better job."

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien didn't fully commit to the run, which hurt the production, perhaps because he saw there wasn't much running room. Maybe the offensive line just wasn't good enough.


Last year, when Zach Zwinak rushed for 1,000 yards, the Lions had Blue Mountain product Matt Stankiewitch at center and Mike Farrell at right tackle, both of whom they miss.

The running game also was set up by the passing of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin. So far, Penn State opponents just don't have the same respect for Hackenberg through his first five games.

"I feel like I left a couple plays out on the field that I could have done a little bit better," Hackenberg said. "You have to move on. You have to get better."

He'll get better. He might have thrown two or three balls that could have been intercepted, but he passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns. Few quarterbacks can fire the strike that he did to Bill Belton on a fourth-quarter touchdown.

"He'll learn, but everything is new to him," O'Brien said.

On defense, Penn State improved its pass rushing Saturday, dropping Indiana quarterbacks four times. But end Deion Barnes, the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has not been a playmaker.

The Lions miss the coverage ability of linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti because Mike Hull (knee) isn't 100 percent yet and converted safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is new to the position.

They also need safeties Adrian Amos and Malcolm Willis to make more plays.

"It really just comes down to everybody sticking together," said middle linebacker Glenn Carson, who's played well. "I think we will do that. We have a bunch of guys who really enjoy playing for each other."

Then there's the coaching. O'Brien has been a head coach for just 17 games; he admits he makes mistakes, like passing up a 43-yard field goal try and going for it on Penn State's first possession Saturday.

"I felt like it was going to come down to touchdowns," O'Brien said. "Hindsight being 20-20, we probably should have kicked it."

Or maybe the NCAA sanctions have affected the Lions. O'Brien said they're down to 61 able-bodied players on scholarship, which creates depth issues at several positions.

"It's not an excuse," he said. "We have a lot of resilient kids here. There's still a hard-working attitude here at Penn State."

And there's still a future. The Lions have a very good coach and a young, talented quarterback. And the NCAA has reduced the scholarship restrictions, starting with the current recruiting class.

Even though their projected 2013 record is starting to look more like 6-6 than 8-4, the Lions remained confident Saturday.

"We expect to do great and to be great," guard Miles Dieffenbach said. "Anything short of that is not OK. We think we can do better. We will do better.

"We've been through a lot in the last 20 months. I know the type of character guys we have. They're not going to let something like this ruin our season. We're going to be ready to go Monday."

Contact Rich Scarcella: 610-371-5070 or