Penn State Football: Nittany Lions' Win Over Navy Could Turn Ship Around
Inside the media room at Beaver Stadium, the mood was markedly different than that of two weeks ago following Penn State's 24-14 season-opening loss to Ohio.
While Bill O'Brien's first postgame news conference featured an ode to his former boss, Bill Belichick, with short, sharp, one word answers, this time around the first-year head coach was relaxed as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
"Michael and I have had a lot of conversations about his role on the football team," O'Brien said of senior Michael Zordich, who took over some of he rushing responsibilities after the injury to starting tailback Bill Belton. "He's always reminded me that, 'I used to run the ball in high school, coach'. It's like being Ferris Bueller's teacher, it's over and over."
The reference to a classic film Ferris Bueller's Day Off coming in stark contrast to several unsuccessful attempts to leave the news conference as soon as possible only two weeks earlier.
If O'Brien's positive attitude wasn't apparent enough, as each of the key members of team made their way in to the room for interviews, it was as if they were floating on air, many still holding an unopened pizza box, ready to enjoy a post-victory meal.
Senior defensive back Stephon Morris put the victory in context.
"I've been here for four years and I have never seen a team as down as we were after that loss to Ohio," Morris said. "We went out there today and played relaxed football and to win felt great. It's a great confidence booster."
While each had their own way of describing it, it was a sentiment shared by many on the team.
"We had opportunities to win in the last two games," senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. "But we couldn't get that monkey off our back. Our guys definitely deserved this win."
"It was a relief, yes," junior defensive back Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. "We have to keep rolling. It feels good to win; no one likes to lose."
"It was good to win for Coach O'Brien and For all the hard work that we've put in and everything we've been through," Senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "Just to get one game under our belts and one win under our belts is a great feeling."
As a team, this battle with adversity is a first for the 70 or so scholarship players who stuck around following the NCAA sanctions, but as a program Penn State has been at this crossroad before.
On Nov. 13, 2004, Penn State stood with their backs against the end zone with a slim 22-16 lead as Indiana looked to punch it in from only 6 feet out. For three straight plays Penn State's defense held the Hoosiers back setting up a 4th and 2 attempt that saw the Nittany Lions stop Indiana running back Chris Taylor inches short of the end zone with 55 seconds remaining.
While that victory gave the Nittany Lions only their 3rd win of the year with only a game to go, the 37-13 thrashing of 5-5 Michigan State the next week helped springboard Penn State in to their magical run in 2005 that put the program back on the national stage.
In all likelihood, Penn State will face challenges again over the coming years. The NCAA sanctions make each win more crucial as Bill O'Brien looks to prove to high profile recruits that Happy Valley is still a destination of choice.
But as far as the 2012 season, Penn State's victory over Navy serves as a restart button. A national title was never in the picture, a conference championship opportunity was taken away before the season ever started, but for each of players that huddled around Bill O'Brien following the game, it was validation that their hard work had paid off, and a huge weight lifted off of their shoulders.
"This is just one game," O'Brien said. "But this can start a roll if we stay together and keep practicing the way we've been practicing. Lets get this thing going the right way and lets keep it going."