O'Brien, Lions Soak in First Win

Bill O'Brien

Penn State beats up on Navy for the first victory under its new head coach and since NCAA sanctions were leveled against the program.

His players doused him with Gatorade Saturday afternoon, but there was never any danger that Bill O'Brien would get overheated after his first victory as Penn State's head coach.

“It's just one win,” he said after a 34-7 drubbing of Navy. “Now we have to soak it in tonight.”

Literally, in his case.

And after that, he said, it's back to work. The Lions have to get ready for a game next Saturday against “a very, very good Temple team.”

Senior quarterback Matt McGloin, one of the chief culprits in O'Brien's dousing, threw for 231 yards and four touchdowns, three of those to sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson, as the Lions won for the first time in three games this season.

It was also their first victory since last November at Ohio State, and their first in Beaver Stadium since they beat Illinois last Oct. 29, days before the program was rocked by the Jerry Sandusky scandal and its accompanying aftershocks.

“These players know how to win,” O'Brien said. “Like I've said from Day One, there's nothing that any of us can do about the NCAA. All we can do is play under the rules which they say to play under. So that's what we're doing, and these kids have really stuck together.”

He has often said how fond he is of the players, and he said it again Saturday. But they seemed just as delighted for him -- hence the Gatorade shower. (The students also chanted his name, notably as he made his way from the north end of the stadium, where players from both teams gathered to listen to Navy's alma mater, to the south end, where both listened to Penn State's.)

“It's more important we got the win for him than even for ourselves,” McGloin said. “We got the monkey off his back, and our backs. The media can kind of let us go now and we can hopefully get on a little bit of a roll here.”

As O'Brien said, “The one thing that winning does is it cures a lot of things. Winning also breeds confidence.”

The Lions scored the first three times they had the ball, as McGloin (13-for-21 in all) hit his first seven passes, and 10 of 11, against the overmatched Midshipmen (0-2).

That included a 45-yard pitch to Allen Robinson four plays into the game to set up a two-yard TD pass to freshman tight end Jesse James, and another 45-yarder to Robinson (five catches for 136 yards receiving) on PSU's second possession, that one for a score. The Lions then marched 90 yards in 14 plays on their third possession, culminating in another two-yard TD pass by McGloin, this one to Robinson.

Robinson's final touchdown came late in the third quarter, when he gathered in a pass that deflected off fellow wide receiver Trevor Williams for a 25-yard score. Backup linebacker Mike Hull also returned a fumble 74 yards for a TD early in the final period.

The Lions were far from perfect. Struggling kicker Sam Ficken missed another extra point, and O'Brien elected not to attempt a 25-yard field goal late in the first half, when the Lions faced fourth-and-goal at the 8. McGloin threw incomplete into the end zone.

“I just felt good about the playcall,” O'Brien said. “It had nothing to do with Sam Ficken.”

Nor were the Lions conventional. Their top two tailbacks, Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (shoulder), did not play because of injury, so O'Brien made extensive use of fullback Michael Zordich (11-50) -- often in a single-back look -- and backup tailback Curtis Dukes (11-47). Former quarterback Paul Jones also caught a short pass in his first appearance at tight end, and defensive tackle Jordan Hill lined up as a blocking back in the goal-line offense.

In addition, the Lions were forced to reshuffle their offensive line, which was without tackle Donovan Smith (ankle).

But the McGloin-Robinson pitch-and-catch combo was more than enough to carry the day. McGloin had predicted before the season that Robinson would have a big year, after last year's top three wideouts -- Derek Moye, Justin Brown and Devon Smith -- moved on for one reason or another. (The Lions lost another receiver just last Tuesday, when Shawney Kersey left the team.)

Robinson, a sophomore who hails from the same Michigan high school as former PSU quarterback Rob Bolden (now at LSU), has proven to be every bit as good as expected, with 24 catches through three games.

“He plays a position that's always in a formation where he has a chance to be singled up,” O'Brien said.

“He's not the fastest guy in the world,” McGloin said. “He's got great hands. But his routes are so crisp. They're so good, which is why he gets open a ton.”

Robinson credits O'Brien and receivers coach Stan Hixon for his route-running; they drill all the wideouts ceaselessly on their footwork, he said. And his chemistry with McGloin is the result of extensive off-season work.

“Me and him just wanted to make sure we were always on the same page,” Robinson said, “and try to come in this year and have a big year.”

McGloin is done after this year, and Robinson could depart for another school, if he so chose. Any Penn State underclassman could do so before next August, since the NCAA declared open season on the Lions' roster when it handed down the sanctions against the school in July.

Certainly Robinson will have some offers. But he said he is “definitely here with Coach O'Brien and Penn State.” He believes the new head coach, with his NFL background, can get him ready to play at the next level.

The other thing is, he wants to stick it out with his teammates.

“It's almost like a brotherhood,” he said. “A couple people left, but I wanted to be with my brothers.”

The players are there for the coach. The coach is there for the players. And they're trying to piece something together, one week at a time.

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