From the beginning, this is what they had hoped for. The start of the season was supposed to be an escape after a tortuous summer, but the first two games led to even more heartache for Penn State.
Finally, the Nittany Lions can relax or rejoice or enjoy whatever kind of good feeling comes after a 34-7 pasting of Navy on Saturday in front of 98,792. Even Bill O'Brien was smiling.
You could see him enjoying himself on TV in the third quarter, after Allen Robinson caught a pass for a 25-yard touchdown that bounced off the hands of wide receiver Trevor Williams, giving the Nittany Lions a 27-0 lead. To think, two weeks ago, bounces like that turned into problems for Penn State.
That wasn't the case at all Saturday. Though Navy still ran the ball relatively well, Penn State countered the offense by forcing three turnovers, including a fourth quarter fumble recovery that linebacker Mike Hull turned into a touchdown and a 34-0 lead.
Robinson finished the game with more than 100 yards receiving (a career best) and three touchdowns. He has been a consistent force for Penn State all season and arguably the best wide receiver in the Big Ten. Others stood out as well, some for the first time.
Newly-converted tight end Paul Jones played in his first ever game and caught his first pass. Wide receiver Trevor Williams caught his first, too. Jordan Hill switched over to offense for a play.
That happened on tight end Jesse James' first career touchdown pass. Penn State finished its opening drive with a two yard pass from Matt McGloin to James. It came after a 45-yard strike from McGloin to Robinson.
They connected again on the next drive for another 45-yard pass, this one going for a touchdown. Robinson added another touchdown early in the second quarter to make it 20-0.
Not everything is perfect. Embattled kicker Sam Ficken missed an extra point, and instead of letting him kick what would have been about a 25-yard field goal, O'Brien opted to go for it on fourth and goal from the eight. McGloin threw an interception.
Just the same, this is the kind of game Penn State needed. Facing a team that came into the game with the 107th ranked total defense in the country, the Nittany Lions rolled.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter@mdent05 First Published September 15, 2012 9:00 PM