Win provides Penn State with confidence boost

Bill O'Brien and quarterback Matt McGloin celebrate after a second-quarter touchdown pass on Saturday. GENE J. PUSKAR / AP
Bill O'Brien and quarterback Matt McGloin celebrate after a second-quarter touchdown pass on Saturday. GENE J. PUSKAR / AP
Posted: September 18, 2012

The questions have ended, at least for a week. People can stop wondering if Penn State will ever win a game after being hit with brutal sanctions that demoralized Nittany Nation and resulted in the departure of 13 players, including four starters, from the team.

That first win of the Bill O'Brien regime, a 34-7 victory Saturday over Navy at Beaver Stadium, was not a thing of beauty. The head coach called it "not the most unbelievable game."

But the outcome assured the Nittany Lions that they are going about the program's post-sanction world - scholarship reductions and no Big Ten championship or bowl games - the right way.

"The one thing that winning does is it cures a lot of things," O'Brien said. "Winning also breeds confidence. When the guys go out there and start fast . . . [they] have confidence from lifting all those weights in the summer or from practicing the way we practice. There's a reward for that, and we know how to win and we can win. Now we have a new staff that knows how to win. These players know how to win.

"Like I've said from Day 1, there's nothing that any of us can do about the NCAA. All we can do is play under the rules in which they say to play under. So that's what we're doing. These kids have really stuck together. This group of players in the locker room right now is just really high-character kids that have come together. It's one win, and hopefully we can build on it."

It marked only the Nittany Lions' second win on the field in seven games since Nov. 5, when former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child sexual-abuse charges touched off a firestorm of outrage.

The NCAA sanctions that grew out of the scandal included the vacating of Penn State's 112 victories from 1998 through 2011, making Saturday's victory the first official win since Nov. 22, 1997.

The most encouraging sign for Penn State thus far has been an ability to create turnovers. After failing to force a mistake in their opener, the Lions have claimed eight turnovers in the last two weeks. The number is tied for eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the plus-5 turnover ratio leads all Big Ten teams.

"It's really satisfying," linebacker Michael Mauti said. "What you emphasize is what you get on the field.

"We have a ball in our meeting rooms that we're constantly ripping at. Every time you walk in or walk out, you've got to rip the ball. In every drill, sometimes we'll repeat plays if we're not ripping out the ball. It's constant. I think that's definitely helped."

The Nittany Lions improved in other areas Saturday. They limited the Midshipmen to a 4-of-15 rate on third down conversions (though Navy was 5 of 8 on fourth down). Penn State's tailbacks, Curtis Dukes and converted fullback Michael Zordich, averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

Quarterback Matt McGloin hit Allen Robinson with a pair of 45-yard completions, the longest plays of the year for Penn State. Robinson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, has 24 catches this season for 322 yards, ranking 10th in the latest NCAA statistics in receptions per game and sixth in receiving yards.

"He's not the fastest guy in the world," said McGloin, whose eight touchdown passes in three games have matched his total for the entire 2011 season. "He's got great hands, and his routes are so crisp and they're so good, which is why he gets open a ton."

However, after driving to a 20-0 halftime lead, the Penn State offense coasted a little too much - three first downs; 79 total yards; 8 minutes, 7 seconds time of possession - in the final two quarters. The defense set up a second-half touchdown and scored another on linebacker Mike Hull's 74-yard run with a recovered fumble.

O'Brien knows the Lions will have to play better Saturday when Temple (1-1) comes to Beaver Stadium. The Owls were idle on Saturday.

"We have to get back to work on Monday," he said. "We have to get ready for a very, very good Temple team, which is coached by a good friend of mine, Steve Addazio. They're a very, very good team. It's time to move forward pretty quickly here."


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.

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