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Penn State Football: 34-7 Win Over Navy Gives Bill O'Brien First Career Victory

by on September 15, 2012 10:18 AM

Fourth Quarter Update

They were wildly celebrating while Mike Hull scooped up a fumble and churned 74 yards for the first defensive touchdown of the season. Penn State wasn't going to drop to 0-3 even before Hull's fumble return put the Nittany Lions up 34-0, but it was a final example of how everything seemed to go right for Penn State on this day.

Opponent: Undersized Navy, which runs a one-dimensional offense that is predicated on limiting possessions and not playing from behind. Penn State jumped out to a 20-0 lead at halftime.

Defense: Another solid effort from a unit that has forced eight turnovers in the last two weeks. Hull's fumble return the highlight. Third down defense? Much improved.

McGloin-to-Robinson a hit for another week: Robinson is one of the few game-breakers on offense, and yet he still set career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns.

More later.

Third Quarter Update

Allen Robinson's charmed game continued with a little luck when a pass deflected off teammate Trevor Williams and into the arms of Robinson, who was standing all alone in the end zone.

It was Robinson's fifth reception, his 136th receiving yard and third touchdown in a game Penn State leads 27-0 entering the fourth quarter. Robinson became the first Penn State receiver since Graham Zug against Michigan in 2009 to record three touchdown catches in a game.

Penn State is 15 minutes of game time away from picking up its first victory in the Bil O'Brien era.

Halftime Update — PSU 20, Navy 0

Navy might just be the right opponent at the right time for Penn State, which watched halftime leads evaporate the previous two weeks.

Everything is working in the Nittany Lions' favor, not the least of which is an undersized Navy team running a one-dimensional offense and a defense that just doesn't have the athletes to match PSU's best playmaker. Penn State is attacking Navy through the air, and Allen Robinson has continued his breakout season, grabbing four receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

Even Paul Jones, the quarterback-turned-'F' tight end caught a pass in the second quarter to move the chains.

Not everything has been rosy for Penn State, however. Sam Ficken missed an extra point after Robinson's two-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter. Ficken has not attempted a field goal since, and coach Bill O'Brien elected to go for it on fourth down twice, including from the eight-yard line. Ficken was loudly cheered by the student section whenever he made a kick during warm-ups, and was loudly cheered when he made his first two extra points. But his miss likely won't matter on this day. PSU's defense has contained Navy's triple-option attack and has a chance to record its first shutout in two years, when it defeated Kent State by 24.

First Quarter Update

Penn State looks on track toward picking up its first win of the Bill O’Brien era mostly because Navy looks the part of many service academy teams — undersized.

But Penn State shored up one agonizing area after two losses to open the season — finishing drives. PSU has cashed its first two drives in for touchdowns by way of air. A 45-yard strike from Matt McGloin to Allen Robinson set up the first touchdown. Later, McGloin hooked up with Robinson for 45 more yards and another touchdown to put PSU up 14-0 after the first quarter.

O’Brien teased Penn State fans earlier this week by hinting that a mystery man would line up in the backfield Saturday against Navy. Jordan Hill did not receive any carries when Penn State showed its goal line formation, but he did leak out into the end zone as an eligible receiver on Matt McGloin’s two-yard touchdown pass to freshman Jesse James.

Curtis Dukes got the start at tailback, but fullback Mike Zordich has been the most active back early, rushing four times for 11 yards and hauling in a 15-yard catch and run.


Bill O’Brien is working against conventional football philosophy by going for it on fourth down as often as he’s done through two weeks. Further, he outlined a plan during his weekly press conference earlier this week that hints at this pattern continuing.

“Once we get really close to the 50, I'm pretty much not going to punt it," O'Brien said. "I'm just going to tell you that. Like we're going to go for it, unless it's fourth and forever -- probably punt it. But if it's a manageable fourth down, we're going to go for it and we have some third down/second down calls on fourth downs depending on the distances that we're prepared for. We prepare the kids for it. The kids know we're going to go for it.”

It’s working so far. Penn State has converted 5-of-7 fourth downs. But why is Bill O’Brien going for it on fourth down?

Penn State is not playing by the same rules as every other team in college football. Players who haven’t participated in a game are free to transfer to any school in the country on the condition they meet standard eligibility requirements. After the season, any player can leave until preseason practice 2013. Coaches have near-unfettered access to these players even now. It’s been that way since the NCAA sanctions were announced July 23.

Bill O’Brien had an immediate goal: Secure the 2012 team. There is no postseason, no bowl game, no tangible reward outside a Big Ten division championship trophy and victories. Because of all this, there is no Silas Redd, no Anthony Fera, no Justin Brown and on and on. Those were tremendous blows to whatever success the 2012 team was having.

But coaches always have to have an eye on the future, and I think that’s what we’re seeing with the fourth down philosophy. Special teams are a shell of themselves since Brown and Fera departed. Going for it seems like the better alternative to trying to pin an offense on its own goal line or try field goals in excess of 40-45 yards.

But there is a deeper thought beneath this. Eighteen-year-old kids are fickle, and that is the prime demographic football coaches target on the recruiting trail. What appeals to one prospect may be a complete turnoff to another. Take Penn State tight end target Adam Breneman, who by all accounts is absolutely signing with Penn State in February. One of the country’s most highly regarded tight ends favors a coaching staff and school over the opportunity to immediately contend for a Big Ten championship. There are prospects who want to play with other top prospects in the Southeastern Conference. There are prospects who want to play close to home, and there are prospects who want to attend a school for a coach who can best afford them a chance to play professionally.

There are also prospects who want a coach that has their back, go to war, be a father figure. O’Brien has the toughest coaching job in college football. Once the season ends, he has to re-recruit his entire roster and hope like hell they stay. His best players will be hit with temptations they may not be able to withstand. But pillars of the program are family and loyalty. O’Brien said he refused to leave New England during the Patriots playoff run because it would look like he was being disloyal to the organization. Going for it on fourth down breeds confidence in his offense to make the yardage or his defense to hold the opposition.

"As a defense, we're always urging them on to go for it," senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. "Just for him to have faith in us means a lot. When we do go for it in those situations and we don't get it, we have to make sure we get their backs and hold them. In years past, we never went for it on fourth and one."

All O'Brien can hope for in the future is that same trust.

PENN STATE (0-2; 0-0 Big Ten) vs. NAVY (0-1)
SAT., SEPT. 15, 3:35 P.M. • ABC/ESPN2

Nittany Lions and Mids Meet for First Time Since 1974


Mike Patrick (p-by-p), Ed Cunningham (analyst), Jeannine Edwards (sideline)

RADIO: Penn State Sports Network (60 stations):
Steve Jones (p-by-p), Jack Ham (analyst), Loren Crispell (sideline) Sirius: Ch. 134; XM: Ch. 193
Local: 93.7 FM & 1450 AM;
Navy Radio Network: Bob Socci (play-by-play), Omar Nelson (analyst), Pete Medhurst (sideline)

WEB: Gametracker & Audio at:

ATTENDANCE: 100,000+

SERIES: The Nittany Lions and Midshipmen are meeting for the 38th time and the first time since 1974. Penn State leads the series, 18-17-2. The last meeting was a 7-6 Navy victory at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 21, 1974. The Nittany Lions won in Annapolis in 1973. The teams first met in 1894.

Bill O'Brien:
PENN STATE RECORD: 0-2, 1st year
VS. NAVY: First Meeting


NAVY RECORD: 32-22, 5th year
VS. PENN STATE: First Meeting

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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