Better late than never, right?
The first win of the Bill O'Brien era might have been a couple weeks overdue, but it was an efficient, dominant, never-in-doubt victory that Penn State can hang its hat on moving forward, one that they'll have an opportunity to build on heading into next week's match-up with Temple and the Big Ten slate after that.
The story of the first half was Matt McGloin. Throughout the first two games, it was evident that he'd taken a huge step forward, but early on, McGloin made it look easy. He completed his first six passes--and nine of his first ten--looking confident and comfortable in the pocket and nifty and mobile outside of it as Penn State ran up a 20-0 lead. McGloin started to scuffle as the second quarter ticket to a close, throwing a stupid interception (which would be later ruled a drop, but still) on 4th and goal from inside the 10, and never really regained his rhythm after that, but the early returns would be more than enough.
But why was Penn State going for it on 4th and goal from Navy's 7, already up 20-0 with 4 minutes left in the 2nd quarter? Because it should have been 21-0. Sam Ficken's miserable season continued with a shanked extra point, and can you blame Bill O'Brien for losing all faith whatsoever in his sophomore kicker? Open kicking tryouts will be held on Wednesday, and you can bet that O'Brien and staff are hoping they'll find their own personal Matt Williams.
But anyway, besides the remarkable futility of Penn State's kicking game, most everything that Penn State can take from this game is positive. The defense started to go all "bend but don't suck" in the second half after completely swallowing up the Navy option in the first, but even after they started to struggle to get off the field on 3rd and 4th downs in the third quarter, the D still made plays when they absolutely had to. If only they'd been able to wrap up QB Trey Miller in the backfield, we'd be talking about a historically dominant performance--but I'll take three takeaways and just 7 garbage time points.
Yeah, there's really not much to complain about after this one. For O'Brien and staff, for these players, and for the whole Penn State community, this first win is one to savor. At least for a week or so.
Quarterbacks: B+. McGloin cooled off after his red-hot start, though it's tough to find fault with a final stat line of 13/20 for 221 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 picks. He even showed some dexterity, scrambling for a couple first downs and avoiding a sporadic pass rush. Without Rob Bolden standing in his way, McGloin has become a perfectly serviceable Big Ten quarterback, and that's all you can ask for from the former walk-on.
Running Backs: B. Without Bill Belton and Derek Day, the onus of the ball carrying was left to Mike Zordich, who took handoffs from both the fullback and tailback positions--and you know what? He wasn't half bad! Neither was Curtis Dukes--who did fumble once (though Penn State recovered)--as the two combined for 97 yards on 22 carries. We didn't see much--if any--of Zach Zwinak, though, after reports that he might start this game.
Receivers: A. This is Allen Robinson's world, and we're just living in it. After 19 catches in the first two games, Robinson hauled in only 5 today, but for 132 yards--oh, and three touchdowns. Even the other wideouts seemed to be in on the joke--Trevor Williams had a ball go off his hands, only to see it pop into the air and into the waiting arms of Allen Robinson. Also of note: Paul Jones hauled in his first career catch today! Good for him. And it's only one game, but Shawney who?
Offensive Line: B-. Without starting left tackle Donovan Smith, Penn State got a little weird today. We saw plenty of Eric Shrive and Angelo Mangiro, as Mac McWhorter shuffled pieces around the line to varying degrees of effectiveness. There were some blown assignments, and Matt McGloin faced more than his fair share of free rushers, but on other occasions, he had all day in the pocket. For such a thoroughly uneven performance, I can't think of a more appropriate grade.
Defensive Line: B+. Against the option, Penn State's defensive line was solid enough--DaQuan Jones made a couple nice stops in the backfield--but against the pass, the unit was phenomenal, forcing Miller to throw under intense pressure. They couldn't always come up with the sack, but it certainly wasn't easy for Navy to throw the ball--and this after Miller went 14/19 against Notre Dame in the opener. Deion Barnes, by the way? He's going to be a stud. Anthony Zettel? Him too.
Linebackers: A+. Gerald Hodges, on the other hand? He already is a stud. Now, we knew that, but everyone else watching: now they do, too. He, along with Mike Mauti, teed off on the Navy option, and Hodges even came away with an interception, too. Mike Hull made the most of his scant playing time, scooping up a fumble and returning it 74 yards the other way for a score. In Vanderlinden we trust.
Secondary: C-. Penn State's defensive backs continue to be this team's Achilles heel. We knew this would be the case before the season--and especially after the losses of Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake--but I don't know if any of us expected it would be this bad. And it's weird--guys like Stephon Morris can run with just about anyone, but when the ball's in the air, without fail, they just get lost. The only saving grace was the solid run support, especially from Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.
Special Teams: D. Sam Ficken only missed one kick today, so I suppose that's progress. Then again, it's not like Bill O'Brien's giving him too many more chances. Though he hasn't come under nearly the same amount of scrutiny, Alex Butterworth hasn't been much better--I don't know how many he's even booted 40 yards this year. At least Ficken consistently reached the endzone on his kickoffs.
Coaching: A. Credit where credit's due: Ted Roof's defense handled the option with aplomb. And Bill O'Brien's offense exploited its greatest mismatch--Allen Robinson against, well, anyone--throwing the ball down the field more than we've seen from a Penn State offense in a long time. Once again, Penn State faded as the game went on, but with a three-score halftime lead, you can't blame the coaching staff for easing up on their opponent. But John Butler, who's in charge of both the defensive backs and special teams, needs to get his house in order.