Something to smile about at long last for Penn State
Penn State linebacker Mike Hull, middle, celebrates after returning a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Nittany Lions' 34-7 win against Navy Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For a moment,, a smile broke out across the face of coach Bill O'Brien.
If it already wasn't clear to him that he wouldn't have to give the same "forget about it, we can recover" locker-room speech to an audience of puzzled heads and wrenched hearts, it was now.
Quarterback Matt McGloin had just completed a third-quarter touchdown pass to Allen Robinson that wasn't a pass to Robinson. He had thrown it to wide receiver Trevor Williams, but the ball deflected off Williams' facemask into the hands of Robinson, who was running a post route into the end zone.
Pretty much, the touchdown was luck. And luck felt awesome. Penn State finally had its day, defeating Navy, 34-7, Saturday in front of 98,792 at Beaver Stadium.
It was O'Brien's first victory as a head coach and Penn State's first win this season.
"In many ways," he said, "it was a long time coming."
Fullback Mike Zordich presented the game ball to O'Brien, who said how happy he was to win for his players. Earlier in the week, McGloin said how badly he wanted to win for O'Brien.
Saturday was like that. Football men were trying to share the love as best as they could.
Experiencing buoyant feelings was a must.
When Zordich walked off the field against Virginia last week, his thoughts immediately turned to the Navy game.
Another defeat, particularly against a Navy team that entered the game ranked 107th in the nation in total defense, could cause the season to spin out of control.
"We were like, 'this is getting stupid,' " Zordich said. " 'We have to win.'"
Nothing changed in practice or other preparation, but Zordich said he wanted the team to tackle every drill remembering the increased importance of Saturday.
And Penn State played Navy as though that thought lingered in the front of their minds.
The offense scored touchdowns on its first three drives. The defense forced four turnovers for the second week in a row. The offense did not turn the ball over for the second week in a row.
McGloin made few mistakes, finishing with 13 completions in 21 passing attempts for 231 yards and four touchdowns. Robinson collected 136 of those yards on five receptions.
The wide receiver has caught 24 of McGloin's 59 completions this season.
O'Brien said the high number of passes thrown to Robinson isn't so much by design as it is a function of Robinson getting open. He said defenses have been playing Robinson in single coverage, and Robinson's crisp route running has taken care of the rest.
McGloin certainly is finding him.
They connected on a 45-yard pass twice. They were so in tune that Williams' drop turned into a McGloin-Robinson completion.
Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong watched that play unravel from the sidelines with familiarity.
Two weeks earlier, he tipped a pass from Ohio. A wide receiver caught it and ran for a touchdown, shifting the game's momentum.
"It's kind of good for us to get a tipped ball," Obeng-Agyapong said.
McGloin called those two seconds the ball hung in the air the longest of the game for him.
As O'Brien said, many aspects of this victory felt as though they were preceded by a long wait.
Technically, because of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State had not won a game since 1997.
After the summer the players experienced, the time between victories might have felt even longer.
So the Nittany Lions celebrated with fervor.
Some players poured a bucket of water on O'Brien, emptying every emotion they could while the coach hoped the same desire for such as ending would return week after week.
"I wish they didn't do that," he said.
"I'm soaking wet right now, and it was one game."
First Published September 16, 2012 12:00 am