Today’s football game at Beaver Stadium between the Penn State Nittany Lions (1-2) and the Navy Midshipmen (0-2) can be classified as many things.
It was a career day for Allen Robinson. It was also one of Matt McGloin’s best games as he matched a career high four touchdown passes. Garry Gilliam made his first reception since September 25, 2010. It was the day where Paul Jones received his first collegiate snap and made his first ever catch. True freshman tight end Jesse James made his first catch too, and it went for a touchdown. Trevor Williams also made his first catch. It did not go for a touchdown, but a dropped pass off his hands fell into the arms of Robinson for one of his three touchdowns. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill lined up as a fullback at one point, and regular fullback Michael Zordich played a makeshift running back role with a career high eleven carries.
All things considered, it was a really weird game, but more than any other statistics or career accomplishments, today’s contest will be remembered as the day Bill O’Brien recorded his first win as Penn State’s head coach. After the last two weeks on top of an unimaginable offseason, the Nittany Lions needed a breakthrough. The work ethic was there, but the wins were not– until today.
The Nittany Lions put everything together in a dominant 34-7 victory over the Navy Midshipmen. They scored early. They scored often. They scored in unconventional ways including tipped passes and a seventy four yard fumble recovery by reserve linebacker Mike Hull. Following the victory and singing of the alma mater along with fans and the Blue Band, O’Brien and his players passed offf credit and the importance of the win to each other.
McGloin and Michael Mauti talked about how important it was to get a win for their coach– to “get the monkey off his back” as Mauti described it. Many would consider it O’Brien’s day, but the coach did not see it that way. “I feel very good for this football team. All their hard work paid off, but we have to get back to work on Monday,” said O’Brien.
The victorious coach would have preferred to go without the Gatorade shower that he received after the game– an idea that was proposed by McGloin. He wanted the focus and recognition to be on the players. “These guys have really stuck together. It’s one win, and hopefully we can build on it,” added O’Brien.
He is correct. It was one game, but it was sure an important one for the team and State College community. Dating back to last season, the Nittany Lions exited the field on a positive note for the first time in five tries. They arrived at the desired result by playing solid defense and efficient and explosive offense throughout the afternoon. Going back to their days in the Atlantic Coast Conference, O’Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof have seen the triple-option attack before. Their preparations helped to stifle Navy signal caller Trey Miller. “Ted called a heck of a game, and the kids played great,” said O’Brien. The defense played better when it counted as Navy was four of fifteen on third down conversions.
Like last week, the defense forced four turnovers, but this time, the Nittany Lions turned two of them into touchdowns rather than missed field goals and stalled drives. McGloin did not throw an incomplete pass until 12:38 of the second quarter. Robinson had less catches than he did in the first two games, but he also had less drops and more yards, hauling in 5 receptions for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns. Some are surprised with how productive the sophomore wideout has been but not his position coach. “I’m not surprised. He’s having a good start. He still has some things to work on, but he has the chance to be a really great player,” said Stan Hixon.
Robinson does not necessarily expect to see more double coverage, but if opponents do play him differently, he trusts his fellow receivers to contribute. One of those players includes Williams, whose dropped pass led to a lucky touchdown for Robinson. “The ball hung in the air for a long time. I just tried to concentrate on catching the ball,” said Robinson. Williams should have and needs to make the catch, but the two took a second to joke about it afterwards on the sidelines.
Football was fun today. That does not mean it wasn’t enjoyable against Ohio and Virginia, but winning, and winning in dominating fashion makes things more fun. In an almost symbolic picture-perfect fall Saturday with very few clouds in the sky, the Nittany Lions played sixty minutes of solid football.
They have one more win than they did at this time last week. Fans and players know what it is like to win a football game at Penn State. Now the coach does too.
- Today’s attendance was 98,792. While it did not reach 100,000, it was higher than the 97, 186 that saw the Ohio game.
- Navy had four different players attempt passes and still only attempted twenty three total.
- Allen Robinson is the first Penn State receiver to score three touchdowns in a game since Graham Zug accomplished the feat in 2009 against Michigan.
- Remember that time last year when Penn State did not have a passing touchdown in its first three games of the season? This year, Matt McGloin has eight of them, but the Nittany Lions are still searching for their first rushing touchdown.
- Kicker Sam Ficken received loud cheers of support from the student section before and during the game, but one has to wonder a bit about O’Brien’s confidence in him. Ficken made four extra points today, but he missed one, and O’Brien passed up a twenty five yard field goal to go for a touchdown on 4th and goal from the 8 already leading 20-0.
- Navy has now been outscored 84-17 in its first two games. Ouch.