Nittany Line: Penn State surprisingly strong despite turmoil

Quarterback Matt McGloin has led Penn State to a surprisingly successful season; McGloin says the seniors' goal is to help the program 'get back to the top.'
Quarterback Matt McGloin has led Penn State to a surprisingly successful season; McGloin says the seniors' goal is to help the program 'get back to the top.' (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: November 02, 2012

STATE COLLEGE - It was about a year ago when Penn State was changed forever by something unimaginable.

Yet it was only Thursday when former Penn State president Graham Spanier was charged with felonies relating to the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse case.

That this occurred a year after charges were first announced against Sandusky and former administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz shows how explosive the case was, and still is, for Penn State.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh led an internal investigation into the scandal and in July issued a blistering report that said that powerful leaders at Penn State covered up "critical facts" about the Sandusky case to avoid "bad publicity." That included former head coach Joe Paterno, who was fired on Nov. 9, 2011, for his failure to do more to stop Sandusky.

After Freeh's report was released, the football team was sanctioned heavily by the NCAA, as organization president Mark Emmert cited an athletic culture gone "horribly awry."

But the silver lining was that the team was still permitted to play its schedule.

It's done a fine job of that.

Though nine players transferred from the program after the sanctions were announced, first-year coach Bill O'Brien has led a beleaguered program to a 5-3 record (3-1 Big Ten) and second-place standing in the Big Ten's Leaders Division.

It's been a quick rebound.

"It has gone by fast," linebacker Mike Hull said. "But you try not to think about all that stuff and you just try to play football."

Penn State is ineligible to play in the postseason, has fewer scholarships for the next 4 years and has to pay a $60 million fine.

But from the coaching staff to players to students, a commonly heard phrase this season is "moving forward."

The Nittany Lions flirted with a place in the Associated Press poll a few weeks ago. They started the season 0-2, then rattled off five straight wins, including a 35-7 laugher at Illinois after Fighting Illini coach Tim Beckman tried to recruit Penn State players during the summer.

There's no longer a statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium, but at least in 2012, the team is having success similar to the Paterno era.

"I think the program is doing extremely well," said guard John Urschel. "I feel that we're stronger than ever. We have a fantastic coach in Bill O'Brien. I don't think we could have asked for a better head coach right now, especially to handle the sanctions, the Freeh Report, all the things that have occurred."

Penn State still draws huge crowds for home games. Last Saturday's game against Ohio State resulted in a 35-23 loss for the Lions, but 107,818 filled Beaver Stadium to watch it.

For the past year, the scandal and the events surrounding it often have made national news, and the media has descended on the campus numerous times to garner student reaction.

The football team has generally been an afterthought. It has just practiced and played on.

"I know the feeling that we have is, this is our football team first, and everything that's happened in the past is trying to get pushed out of the way," quarterback Matt McGloin said.

Penn State has two semifinalists for the Butkus Award in linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, and a handful of players who appear to be NFL-bound.

As the games continue to be played, the program continues to move forward.

"We're trying to play our football game and do the best that we can do to get this program where it should be and let it continue to rise, and get back to the top," McGloin said. "For us seniors, we know we only have four games left, so we're trying to leave this place on a high note and keep it where it belongs."

AGENDA

Who: Penn State (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten) at Purdue (3-5, 0-4)

When: Saturday, 3:30

Where: Rose-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.

TV: ESPNU

Radio: WNTP (990-AM), WNPV (1440-AM)

3 things to watch:

1. Penn State's offensive line was pushed around against Ohio State. Quarterback Matt McGloin was left to scramble too often, and the Nittany Lions rushed for only 32 yards. The line had been having a strong year, and will need to rebound quickly: Purdue defensive tackles Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston weigh a combined 618 pounds.

2. How will Penn State come out for a road game that probably won't be too heavily attended? After the Nittany Lions played in front of almost 108,000 last Saturday, Purdue's atmosphere will not be nearly as exciting: The Boilermakers have yet to draw a crowd even half the size of the Penn State-Ohio State game. But maybe that will be a plus: Guard John Urschel said he thinks the team was a little too excited for the Ohio State game.

3. It seems that Penn State's secondary has been better every week. A thin unit, its starters have managed to avoid major injuries, and cornerback Adrian Amos notched the unit's first interception against Ohio State. Look for the secondary to try to take advantage of a shaky Purdue quarterback situation.

Prediction: Though it's 0-4 in the Big Ten, Purdue has shown an ability to keep up with the big boys this season, falling to Notre Dame by three points and taking Ohio State to overtime before losing. That said, I don't see any major threat Purdue poses, except for the possibility of a trap game before the Lions head to Nebraska. But I don't think Bill O'Brien will allow his team to fall victim to that, so make it Penn State, 30-16.

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