In the months leading up to the season, Bill O'Brien pleaded with reporters and fans to keep expectations for Penn State's young group of tight ends in check. Yes, the Nittany Lions' new offense would feature the big guys plenty, but it would be unfair, O'Brien said, to compare the half-dozen Penn State tight ends to his former charges, New England Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Kyle Carter was targeted 10 times and had six receptions against the Bobcats.
In their first game, O'Brien's new tight ends didn't do much to temper those expectations.
Four different tight ends saw action in Penn State's 24-14 loss to Ohio, and though only two of them caught passes, it was nonetheless a big day for the big men.
How big? In 2011, Penn State tight ends caught 15 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. By halftime Saturday, O'Brien's tight ends had five catches, 65 yards and one touchdown, and by game's end the numbers were seven catches for 88 yards and that score.
One of those catches was the 14-yard touchdown reception by junior walk-on Matt Lehman that gave Penn State a 14-3 lead with 1:29 left in the second quarter. The rest of the catches went to redshirt freshman Kyle Carter who, like Lehman, was seeing his first career game action.
Junior Garry Gilliam got the start at the "Y" spot, but the Nittany Lions, who also put true freshman Jesse James into the mix, often used two- and sometimes three-tight end sets through the course of the game in what is likely a preview of the rest of the season.
"You're going to see a lot more," Lehman said. "We kind of kept (the offense) to a minimum; we have a lot more in our playbook. There's going to be a lot of spreading the ball around, and I would look to see the tight ends being a little more involved."
Carter was already heavily involved. The 6-foot-3, 247-pounder was targeted 10 times Saturday, more often than any Penn State receiver except for Allen Robinson (12 targets). The Nittany Lions lined him up outside the tackle, in the slot, as a wideout and even in the backfield.
"I was running wide receiver routes out of our no-huddle," he said. "That's something that I can do -- the versatility of the F, we've got to be a wide receiver and a tight end. And I just was running those type of routes."
The versatility of the tight ends and O'Brien's offense was on display during a 3rd-and-6 from the Ohio 14-yard line with 1:41 left in the first half. Both Carter and Lehman lined up as wideouts alongside Shawney Kersey on the right side. Lehman waited for the other two to clear, angled toward the sideline, caught the pass from McGloin and scored.
"Anytime we're in a bunch, McGloin has a lot of opportunities to pass it to either one of us," the 6-foot-6, 258-pound Lehman said. "On that play, I just did a delayed diagonal route, broke a tackle and got into the end zone."
It was a good start for the tight ends but not for the Penn State offense, which mustered no points and just 115 yards in the second half. The Nittany Lion tight ends will focus on getting back to the kind of production they had early Saturday, then sustaining it.
"We've got to keep putting big plays together," Carter said. "We can't just have one big play and two bad plays. We've got to keep a sustained drive, and that was the problem."