By: C.J. Doon
After the final whistle blew, signaling Penn State’s first victory of the season, players and coaches flocked to the south end zone, the student section, to sing the Alma Mater. Students and players stood arm-in-arm, chanting the verses of “Dear Old State”, a sign of the unity and strength that bonds the Penn State community. Head coach Bill O’Brien, the man playfully named “Bob the Re-Builder”, finally earned his first win at Penn State, and the first in his career as a head coach.
The Nittany Lions trounced the Midshipmen, winning 34-7 in front of 98,792 fans at Beaver Stadium. Penn State’s offense clicked on all cylinders, as Matt McGloin delivered yet another impressive performance at quarterback. McGloin threw for 231 yards and four touchdown passes, three of them to sophomore receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson, the Southfield, Michigan native, had a career day for the Nittany Lions, totaling 136 yards on five catches. It was also a record-setting day for the young wide receiver. According to ESPN Stats and Research, Robinson is only the fourth Penn State wide receiver in the last ten years to catch three touchdown passes in a single game. Robinson credited his success to the coaching staff, saying, “Coach O’Brien does a great job of game planning. We saw a few things they did defensively and we were able to capitalize. I think it was all about game planning.”
The Lions again played stifling defense, forcing four turnovers and holding Navy to a single touchdown, a 12-yard run by Gee Gee Greene with ten minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof was able to keep Navy’s triple option in check all afternoon, using a mix of different blitzes and coverage to fool the Midshipmen’s offense. Penn State’s linebackers had a stellar day as well, as Michael Mauti recorded 12 tackles to lead all players. Linebacker Gerald Hodges had a key interception, picking off an underthrown pass by quarterback Trey Miller at Penn State’s 10-yard line.
Freshman defensive end Deion Barnes had another tremendous day, forcing a fumble for the second straight game, and recording his third sack of the season. After the game, Barnes credited defensive line coach Larry Johnson for teaching him how to strip the football. The Philadelphia native aims to keep creating turnovers, saying “Whenever I have a play, I’m going for the ball.”
The biggest defensive play of the day belonged to sophomore linebacker Mike Hull, who scooped up a fumble by Navy’s fullback Noah Copeland at the Penn State 26-yard line and returned it to the end zone for a 74-yard touchdown, giving the Lions a 34-0 lead.
As a sign of the changing landscape of Penn State football, chants of “Bill O’Brien!” replaced the familiar “Joe Paterno!” that was a tradition at home games. Although many have embraced the new era, Paterno’s legacy still remains at Beaver Stadium. During the first half, a student held up a life-size cutout of the former coach, prompting cheers from thousands of fellow students. Many fans continue to wear the popular “Joe Knows Football” t-shirts to home games, choosing to honor the on-the-field accomplishments of the late head coach.
Saturday was Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium. The day kicked off with Penn State military alumni taking part in the Blue Band’s Parade Order, as well as the pre-game Pep Rally at Bryce Jordan Center. Before kickoff, players and fans participated in singing the National Anthem, which was followed by a fly over of two F-18 fighter jets piloted by Penn State graduates. At halftime, Penn State honored senior fullback P.J. Byers and freshman linebacker Brent Smith, who are currently enrolled in the armed forces. The Penn State Blue Band followed with a rendition of the fight song of each branch of the military, and created the images of a tank, an anchor, and a fighter jet on the field during their marching routine. Penn State ROTC members even had their own cheering section, and were dressed in full uniform for the festivities.
As a sign of respect to both the military and their opponents, Penn State players sang “Anchors Aweigh” with the Midshipmen players and cadets after the game. Navy returned the favor, joining the Penn State players in the singing of the Alma Mater. Head coach Bill O’Brien called it “pretty neat” and said the respect shown by both teams is “what college football is all about.”
With the first win of the season under their belts, Penn State and head coach Bill O’Brien look forward to this week’s battle vs. Temple (3:30 ET on ESPN2/ABC). Coach O’Brien said “The one thing that winning does is it cures a lot of things. Winning also breeds confidence.” The Nittany Lions will try to build on that confidence, but O’Brien understands that his team needs to remain focused. “We have to get back to work on Monday and get ready for a very, very good Temple team,” O’Brien said.
After the sting of two consecutive heartbreaking losses to start the season, Penn State’s win on Saturday was a comforting sight. There have been very few reasons to be excited over the past nine months, but with Saturday’s win, many are finding the courage and belief to proclaim “We Are” once again.