But the crowd is still large enough to awe a freshman QB -- at least, for a few series.
"You could take 5,000 recruiting trips here," O'Brien said, "but it ain't like playing here. I thought he was amped up."
Not even the return of the 1973 undefeated team could spark a full house. Penn State honored more than 50 members of the squad that capped a perfect 12-0 season with an Orange Bowl win against LSU but failed to win the national championship.
There was a huge ovation for John Cappelletti, the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner. In a surprise move, Penn State retired his No. 22. He talked to the team in the Penn State locker room after the victory.
Missing, of course, was former coach Joe Paterno. Paterno, who died in 2012, still looms large in Happy Valley. An electronic billboard on the way to town flashed "409 Forever," in honor of his win total.
In his second season, O'Brien seems to have won over the die-hards, even though not all of them showed up Saturday. He was greeted to a rousing ovation from fans who lined the entrance to the stadium. He popped off the team bus thrusting his fists and pointing at the early risers who came out to greet the team.
And the result in his second home opener was much different than a disheartening loss to another MAC team, Ohio, last year on Labor Day weekend.
Ficken went 3 for 3 last week and kicked one more field goal against the Eagles to set the Nittany Lions record.