Emotional return to field for Penn State Nittany Lions

TODD SAELHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:15 PM ET

Some day again, it’ll be Happy Valley in more than just name.

The first step on-field took place Saturday for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Rising from the ashes of Jerry Sandusky’s atrocities and school authorities’ destructive inaction will take time, for sure.

But the healing began this weekend with pride and perseverance topping the to-do list at the university.

A loyal crew of 25,000 fans showed up for pep rally Friday night led by new head coach Bill O’Brien.

Then came a big dose of emotion at Beaver Stadium to kick off the Penn State-Ohio tilt, and the student body didn’t ease up in supporting the Nittany Lions throughout the afternoon.

The road to a healthy post-Joe Paterno era begins with small steps and changes.

Slapping name plates on the back of Nittany Lions jerseys is already a shift in tradition, albeit a temporary one at this point.

In football terms, there was offensive creativity and an attacking gameplan — a clear break from JoePa’s 45-year ultra-conservative blueprint.

The entire day was intended to mark something new — something good — at Beaver Stadium, including blue ribbons attached to the back of players’ helmets in a show of support for child-abuse victims.

The only hitch in Happy Valley was a 24-14 loss to Ohio, a team Penn State would usually take care of with ease. While it’s a deflating defeat, the Nittany Lions were out there playing football, pushing past demons and trying to fight for a future.

“This is a very, very special group of players, led by a very special senior class that has made a huge commitment,” O’Brien said during Friday’s pep rally.

“Our guys have worked extremely hard.”

Then, he added post-game, “It was a great atmosphere in the stands. Again, it starts with me coaching better and making sure we play better next time. We have a lot of work to do.”

They certainly do.

Here’s hoping it happens quickly for them.

SHORT YARDAGE

Break out the national champions! The Alabama Crimson Tide rolled hard over Michigan in a dominating 41-14 victory in neutral-site Dallas. The Tide obviously mean business in defending their title … It could mean a collision course with the No. 1-ranked USC Trojans, who came out thumping their chests in taking down Hawaii hard. Heisman front-runner and confident QB Matt Barkley torched the visiting Warriors 49-10 in proving why they’ve been selected as the team to beat this season … The most upsetting loss of the day goes to Pitt, a 31-17 home-turf drop to Youngstown State. Oopsy! … Urban Meyer looks right at home along the Ohio State sidelines, doesn’t he? He just looks like a true football coach, so it’s great to see him back as boss — hopefully he sticks it out with the Buckeyes for a while. But the Urb Era is bad news for us Michigan fans, especially since Meyer’s first Buckeyes ‘W’ was a 56-10 drubbing of Miami-Ohio … After destroying Clemson 70-33 in last January’s Orange Bowl, QB Geno Smith and West Virginia punched up a 69-34 victory on We Are Marshall to start the season. Only a botched convert kept them hanging another 70 spot for the second straight tilt … Taylor ‘T-Magic’ Martinez is on a mission for Nebraska — and looked the part Saturday. The Cornhuskers QB altered his throwing style over the off-season and stepped up to be superb in his 2012 debut, throwing 26-of-34 for 349 yards and five TDs in a 49-20 smackdown of Southern Mississippi … How about that? Underachieving California continues to stumble, dropping a 31-24 home-opener to middling Nevada … Impressive start for Notre Dame — ya, I’ll admit it — as they sunk Navy 50-10. Oh, but it’s only Navy.

FINAL DRIVE

Despite getting drilled by the Tide, Michigan did one-up LSU on at least two fronts where the Tigers couldn’t in last year’s title tilt — QB Denard Robinson & Co. actually got the ball across mid-field not once but three times and scored on Alabama’s vaunted ‘D’ three times. You’ll recall the Bayou Bengals didn’t make it past the 50-yard line and were shutout by the Crimson Tide in the BCS Championship Game … Reason No. 37 to rave about college football is the athleticism. Ohio State’s Devin Smith made an unreal one-handed grab in the back of the endzone for a Buckeyes’ TD. Catch it if you haven’t already. He did. Wow! … For you Syracuse fans, a 42-41 late-game loss to Northwestern really hurts. Your reward is top-rated USC at the Big Apple’s MetLife Stadium next Saturday. I smell an 0-2 start … How about Andre Parker’s one-for-the-ages gaffe on Thursday’s opening night? The Kent State linebacker recovered a fumble off a punt return and ran the wrong way before being pushed out of bounds 58 yards after grabbing the ball. Towson defenders saved what would’ve been a safety for their team if ‘Wrong Way’ Parker had have made the endzone. D’oh!


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