By: C.J. Doon
Penn State suffered its worst loss of the season on Saturday.
It’s not the type of loss that first comes to mind when thinking about football. It doesn’t involve X’s and O’s, or the performance of the team. It won’t show up on the scoreboard, the loss column, or the statbook.
It was the loss of leader.
Senior linebacker Michael Mauti suffered a devastating knee injury after an illegal chop block by Indiana’s running back, D’Angelo Roberts. The block left Mauti writhing on the ground in pain grasping his left knee, a place that’s all too familiar for the Butkus award semi-finalist.
Mauti suffered season-ending knee injuries in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons. After undergoing reconstructive surgeries to both his right and left knee, Mauti was finally able to play an entire season at linebacker for Penn State for the first time in his career. With just one game remaining before Senior Day, the Mandeville, Louisiana native was forced to watch his team finish off the Indiana Hoosiers from the sidelines, supporting his 6’ 2”, 232 lb. frame with a pair of crutches.
At first, Penn State players and fans didn’t know who was injured. But when the huddle finally cleared, the #42 jersey was nowhere to be found.
“I didn’t even know who was hurt until someone said it was (Mike) Mauti,” senior center Matt Stankievich said. “Then of course you get that feeling in your stomach, but I didn’t hear what the injury was yet. I saw him and said, “Keep your head up and I hope the best for you.”
Members of the Nittany Lion family walked onto the field to support the senior leader. Some players took a knee and prayed, while others just looked on from afar, hoping what they were seeing wasn’t real.
“It’s breathtaking,” senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. “But, if you dwell on it, that’s when you are going to give up plays. We just had to keep it going and just play for him, basically. We were all thinking “just play for Mauti.”
Penn State players and coaches each expressed love and admiration for Mauti after the game, praising him for his leadership and contributions to the team both on and off the field.
Senior quarterback Matt McGloin: “He is a great person, a great player and comes from a great family. I am very close with him and it is hard when things like that happen. You cannot replace a guy like that.
Senior fullback Michael Zordich: “He is a huge reason why we are all here right now.”
Junior linebacker Mike Hull: “His impact was huge. Obviously he was one of the guys that decided to stay. He talked to me every day and was constantly telling me how important I was to the team and what my role would be.”
Senior linebacker Gerald Hodges, on Twitter: “If I could give my knee to my brother #42 he would have it by the end of the game.”
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof, with tears in his eyes: “He means so much to me, personally. From day one and meeting one, our relationship has gotten nothing but stronger, stronger and stronger. I totally trust him.”
Head coach Bill O’Brien: “I’ve coached a hall of fame quarterback, hall of fame receivers, great players and he’s one of the most special players I’ve been around. Like I said from the day I got here, it’s about that whole senior class. There’s a bunch of special players in that class. He embodies, in my opinion, what Penn State’s all about.”
Through it all, Penn State still had to play a football game against the Indiana Hoosiers.
Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson once again set career-high marks, leading the offense to 45 points, their largest total of the season.
McGloin completed 22 of 32 pass attempts for a career-high 395 yards and four touchdown passes. Robinson, a sophomore receiver from Southfield, Michigan, caught 10 passes for 197 yards, including three highlight-reel touchdown receptions.
With his performance on Saturday, McGloin now owns the record for the most completions and passing yards in a single season, and surpassed Daryl Clark for the most career passing touchdowns as a Nittany Lion.
“It is an honor and I am blessed to be with some of the great Penn State quarterbacks that have played here and to be on top of the list is a great honor,” McGloin said after the game.
“It feels good when your hard work pays off.”
Robinson needed only one catch the set the record for most receptions by a Penn State wide receiver in a single season, but decided that one catch wasn’t enough. With his thrilling performance, Robinson continues to lead the Big Ten in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
The Hoosiers put up some big offensive numbers of their own, racking up 478 total yards. Quarterback Chase Coffman threw for 454 yards on 59 attempts, throwing two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Indiana’s hurry up offense had the Lions on their heels for most of the game, and even pulled within one possession early in the third quarter after Mitch Ewalds’ third field goal of the day made it 28-22.
Penn State responded with 17 unanswered points, highlighted by touchdown runs from Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich. Zwinak and Zordich combined for 184 yards rushing on 38 carries against the Hoosiers, who rank among the worst teams in Division 1-A against the run.
The Lions now must shift their focus towards the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) has already clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game, but will be looking to close out the regular season with a win. Penn State will play its final game of the season at Beaver Stadium on Senior Day, in what is expected to be an emotional day in Happy Valley.
The game is set to kickoff at 3:30 ET, and will be televised on ESPN2.