It also marked Penn State's first win since the NCAA clubbed the football program with harsh sanctions as its response to the university's handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Since then, the Nittany Lions had lost 13 players, including nine who transferred out. Disappointing losses in their first two games had people wondering if they would ever recover.
While it counts as only one victory, the players gained some confidence Saturday and hope it will lead to more wins.
"It does feel good," McGloin said. "It's definitely more relaxing now, I think. A lot of people hit the panic button after the 0-2 start, but we didn't. We practiced hard, we prepared hard, we knew the type of team we had. We knew we could put it all together. Did we put it all together today? I don't think so, but we're getting close."
Linebacker Michael Mauti, who again set the tone for the defense, said the weight on the team's shoulders was relieved "a little bit."
"It's better than 0-3," Mauti said. "We're trying to hopefully build some momentum going into the Big Ten season. Nobody's really paying attention to us. That's the way we like it. We're just going to continue to do what we've been doing. That's really all we can do."
Many players said they wanted to get the victory for O'Brien, only eight months into the first head-coaching position in his 20 years in the business. However, though happy for his team, O'Brien didn't want to make too much of one win.
"I felt very good for this football team," he said. "I felt in many ways that it was a long time coming. I told them all the hard work they put in this week and past weeks paid off. But it's just one win. We have to soak in tonight, and we have to get back to work on Monday and get ready for a very, very good Temple team" here next Saturday.
The Nittany Lions did some good things Saturday. For the second straight week, they didn't commit a turnover. They scored on their first three possessions of the game, with McGloin throwing one touchdown pass to true freshman tight end Jesse James and two to Robinson, who caught five balls and now has 24 receptions in three games.
They stopped Navy's farthest first-half penetration into Penn State territory when linebacker Gerald Hodges intercepted Trey Miller's pass at the 10. In the third quarter, Mauti forced Miller into an intentional-grounding penalty on fourth down that resulted in a 21-yard change of field position that set up the Lions' final touchdown.
But you could see why O'Brien didn't want to overreact to the victory. The Nittany Lions scored twice on four turnovers, including linebacker Mike Hull's 74-yard return with a fumble recovery, but could have had another score.
After a fumble recovery by defensive tackle Jordan Hill, O'Brien passed on a field-goal try and went for the touchdown on a fourth and goal from the Navy 8 one possession after sophomore Sam Ficken missed an extra point. But the play resulted in a McGloin incompletion.
In addition, the Lions didn't play great in the second half, getting outgained, 241-79, by the Midshipmen (0-2) and holding the ball for slightly more than eight of the 30 minutes. Still, they scored two touchdowns - a 25-yard pass from McGloin to Robinson on a ball that was tipped by teammate Trevor Williams, and Hull's fumble return.
"I thought we ran the ball good from tackle to tackle, but we had a couple of missed assignments," O'Brien said. "We have to fix that up. I think overall our passing game is OK, but I know it can be better."
The Nittany Lions realize they have much work to do, but they'll gladly accept the first win.
"Just getting the win felt great," Hill said. "To be able to come back in the locker room and just laugh and know that you won the game and not be down about it."
Head coach Bill O'Brien and Penn State players react to Saturday's win over Navy: philly.com/lioneyes.
Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.