Saturday's 24-10 loss at Minnesota proved to be the antithesis of that approach. The defense was awful in the first half and the offense was not quite good enough to compensate (the score stood 24-10 at the break). When the defense finally perked up in the second half -- holding the Golden Gopher scoreless -- the offense went into the tank and scored exactly zero points.
Asked how the game at TCF Bank Stadium fit in with his idea of complementary football, O'Brien said, Not very good.
Then he paused, and added, Un-complementary.
It marked Penn State's third-straight double-digit drubbing in Big Ten road games and extended the Lions' league winless streak to four contests (dating back to 2012). They are now 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the conference, having exceeded their Big Ten loss total of 2012 with three games remaining.
The feel-good Golden Gophers have now won four straight Big Ten games in the same season for the first time since 1973, and are 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the conference. Try as they might to allow the Lions back into it in the second half, PSU just would not oblige, squandering any number of great opportunities.
Here is how things broke down Saturday:
MAN OF THE HOUR: RB Zach Zwinak finally returned to form, carrying 26 times for 150 yards and State's only touchdown. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Yes, he was wearing gloves.
CLOSE SECOND: On a windy day when Penn State had 10 pass attempts through three quarters, WR Allen Robinson somehow finished with seven catches for 63 yards. He also drew a key pass interference penalty (never mind that the team failed to do anything after it). Robinson also broke Bobby Engram's single-season receiving record (he now has 1,111 yards).
CLOSE THIRD: DE C.J. Olanyian had six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. He also forced a fumble.
TURNING POINT: Down 24-10 with about seven minutes to go in the game, Penn State drove to the Minnesota 1-yard line. But QB Christian Hackenberg fumbled the snap and Gopher LB James Manuel recovered, effectively ending the game. Did we mention the Lions squandered several opportunities?
SOLID STRATEGY: Minnesota QB Philip Nelson threw down the middle of the field again and again in the first half. The Nittany Lions did not adjust until the break. Nelson was 12 of 18 for 165 yards in the first two quarters, and the Gophers converted 7 of 10 third downs and 2 of 2 fourth downs. Nelson had 21 passing yards in the second half.
NUMBERS GAME: Penn State has been outscored 131-48 in three Big Ten road games this season. The Lions did not score enough in three games to beat Ohio State (which posted 63 on them).
BUSINESS AS USUAL: Minnesota has been dominating time of possession all season and Saturday was no different. The Gophers held a 35:28-24:32 edge in that department vs. PSU.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Alex Butterworth compensated for an ugly 24-yard punt by downing one at the Gopher 4 and another at the 1. He was also on the receiving end of a roughing penalty that kept a drive alive. Which brings us to
WHAT'S UP WITH?
Penn State not taking advantage of any of Minnesota's second-half gifts. In the final two periods, the Gophers lost a fumble, roughed Butterworth and committed the above-mentioned pass interference penalty. All could have been momentum-changers, but turned out not to be.
The Lion defense continuing to having tackling issues in the first half. Again, we get the business about scholarship limits having an impact on this program. But that's no excuse for poor form.
The entire PSU team now dealing with a case of fumblitous. RB Bill Belton lost the ball on the first snap of the game and Hackenberg had the key fumble later. In the last four games, Penn State has fumbled seven times, losing six of them.
The middle of the Lion defense being SOOOOO wide open in the first half. People in the stadium could see completions developing long before passes were even thrown.
The Penn State offense's poor showing on third down (1 of 9) and fourth down (1 of 3).
The Lions giving up on the run in the red zone while trailing 24-10 early in the fourth quarter. They faced a first-and-10 from the 16 and passed on four straight plays. Hackenberg misfired on all four.
WR Brandon Felder struggling to catch the ball. He had at least a couple of drops Saturday and finished with zero grabs. He has one catch (for 19 yards) in the last two games.
The lack of any receiver stepping up to ease the pressure on Robinson. He had as many catches (seven) as the rest of the team combined.
HIT SQUAD: Olanyian and fellow DE Deion Barnes (yes, there was a sighting) combined for a nice drop of Nelson in the third quarter. Alas, it was State's only sack of the day.
HIDDEN HERO: After the early fumble, Belton actually did some damage. He carried seven times for 48 yards (6.7 ypc) and caught two passes for 41 yards.
DID YOU NOTICE?
LB Ben Kline made his second straight start. But his time was limited and he managed only four tackles. We're thinking Gopher offensive linemen may have tackled him more than that.
Donovan Smith was back in the starting lineup at LT after being replaced by Adam Gress at the position to start the Illinois game. Gress got the nod at RT and Garry Gilliam came off the bench.
Backup RB Akeel Lynch was wearing a brace on his right knee. He is dealing with a sprained MCL. He did not play in the game.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Why is this team so much worse on the road than it is at home?