Forget everything he does on the field, the fact that he might well have been the Big Ten's best linebacker, a possible All-American, and the latest great to come out of Linebacker U. Throw away the reality that Penn State will be without its best defensive player in the season-ending match-up with Wisconsin a week from today.
These things, today reinforces, don't really matter.
In this game, you get four years to leave a legacy that'll last far, far longer, and it's less about the plays you make than the way you go about doing it. Michael Mauti was the rare player who made us fell in love with the way he did both. For all his tackles and interceptions and dominance on the football field, there was even more perseverance, and heart, and love for this university that we all call home. If there was any player in the nation who deserved this fate less, I haven't met him.
If what seems certain to be Mauti's third torn ACL in four years isn't evidence that there's no justice in the world, I don't know what is. Life simply isn't fair. Normally, people get a grasp on that concept by the time they turn 5, but today was just a cruel reminder of the nature of sports, especially college sports. Yes, it's corrupt, and yes, it's scandal-ridden, and yes, there are so many things wrong with college athletics that we spend Sunday through Friday arguing about, but when we got to watch Michael Mauti play, it was so easy to forget that this sport is anything less than beautiful and perfect, and we'll never get a chance to do that again.
He wasn't just the heart and soul of a defense and a football team that needed his leadership more than ever this year, he was the rallying point of a university and a community that so desperately sought something to believe in. And Mike, you never let us down.
Against all reason, the game did go on after Mauti was rolled up into a heap and carted off, and though Indiana led early, and challenged in the third quarter, this game never felt like it was truly in doubt. Bill O'Brien's offense had its best showing of the season--the Indiana secondary was hideously overmatched trying to cover Allen Robinson--and the Ted Roof defense, despite never quite getting into a groove, dared Indiana's offense to make the plays it never could, not consistently, at least.
Matt McGloin had a career day, the high point of a career year, in what's now the best passing career in Penn State history (at least, by the numbers) feasting on an Indiana defense that, outside of a pair of very good defensive tackles, boasted neither talent nor execution. Despite some early struggles, he found his favorite target early and often--Robinson (who himself became Penn State's single-season receptions leader) finished with 10 catches, just shy of 200 yards, and 3 touchdowns--and finished just a few yards shy of the first 400-yard passing day in Penn State history.
Defensively, Penn State was prone to the big play, and, had Cameron Coffman been able to hit all his open receivers, this game could have gone much differently. Penn State, so thin in the secondary already, and playing without Malcolm Willis, stayed mainly in it's base 4-3 even against Indiana's 4-receiver sets, and had its pass rush effectively neutralized by Indiana's quick-strike attack. It took Ted Roof a little too long to realize that blitzing wouldn't help alleviate that, but Indiana could rarely make Penn State pay.
It's weird to remember that Indiana was right there with Penn State early, even leading briefly after a terrible first-half interception by McGloin. The Hoosier defensive line, led by Adam Replogle, was generating a good pass rush from the inside and stifled Zach Zwinak as often as he was able to get to the second level. Hell, Penn State first two touchdowns were almost all Allen Robinson--a terrific catch on a back shoulder fade on 4th and 3, then a little bubble screen on 3rd down that he took 53 yards to the house.
Then it was Gerald Hodges, who had one of his finest games of a standout senior season, keying the touchdown drive that helped put this one out of reach with an unbelievable play--leaping up to bat a pass in the air, then diving to haul it in. When, three plays later, McGloin found a wide open Zach Zwinak on a corner route (and when the refs deemed that Zwinak held on to the ball, which he probably didn't), Penn State went up 28-13 just before the break, and the rest was history.
Not that the Lions didn't try their darndest, but Indiana couldn't take advantage of Penn State's latest third quarter swoon. The Hoosiers' first play from scrimmage of the second half was a swing pass that went for an 80-yard touchdown (but the extra point was missed), then Indiana recovered a surprise onside (but the ensuing field goal was missed), then Zach Zwinak fumbled (again), and Indiana finally capitalized with a field goal to close to within six. The Lions recovered--the next three series went Penn State touchdown, Indiana interception, Penn State touchdown--and Penn State finally put it out of reach.
But man, I'd have traded that win for the chance to see Michael Mauti play just one more time.
On to the grades:
Quarterbacks: A. McGloin took advantage of a terrible Indiana defense, but despite the 397 yards and 4 touchdowns, his game had plenty of room for improvement. He threw a terrible pick that led to Indiana taking an early lead, and took a couple bad sacks (and another intentional grounding penalty). But he's now Penn State's single-season passing leader, it's all time touchdown-leader, and so we congratulate the former walk-on for doing something nobody could've possibly expected.
Running Backs: B+. Early on, Zach Zwinak ran downhill with reckless abandon--a couple times, he was just a shoestring ankle tackle away from a long touchdown run, and look as quick to hit holes as we've seen this season. But he fumbled once again, and his ball-carrying ability is starting to go from "nuisance" to "real issue." Once again, there was no Bill Belton, but Michael Zordich made the most of his touches.
Receivers: A. Without Kyle Carter, you'd expect Matt Lehman and Jesse James to play a larger role in the passing game, but really, this was the Allen Robinson show. He caught 10 of McGloin's 22 completions, and looked like the kind of player Big Ten defenses will be terrified to face over the next couple years. Brandon Moseby-Felder deserves a shout-out, too--his extra effort in converting a 4th-and-9 led to a Penn State touchdown.
Offensive Line: B. It was an up-and-down game for the line, varying as much from drive to drive as from play to play. It was really a matter of whether they could contain Adam Replogle--when they did, holes opened in the running game, and McGloin had all day to throw. When they didn't? It got ugly.
Defensive Line: B+. Indiana's offense makes it hard for opposing defensive lines to have much of an impact, and the pas rush was very inconsistent, but Penn State still racked up six sacks on the day, and completely took the running game out of the equation for Indiana, making the Hoosiers entirely one-dimensional.
Linebackers: B. I miss Mike Mauti already. Hodges was great. Hull kind of struggled in coverage. Carson was okay. Whatever.
Defensive Backs: C. Indiana threw for 454 yards on this defense--admittedly, on 59 pass attempts--but the fact is, it could've been a whole lot worse if Coffman took advantage of the holes in the Penn State zone (especially when Roof dialed up a likely-ineffective blitz). To be fair, though, it was very often the linebackers who were victimized on shorter underneath throws. Jacob Fagnano struggled mightily to replace Willis, but Adrian Amos' interception came at the right time to put away the lingering Hoosiers.
Special Teams: B+. No big plays either way, save for a nice 22-yard scamper from Jesse Della Valle on a punt return. Sam Ficken nailed another short field goal, Alex Butterworth's few punts were mostly solid (one rolled all the way down to the 2!), and Trevor Williams looked better returning kicks than pretty much anyone else has this season.
Coaching: B+. It took Ted Roof way, way, way too long to realize that his incessant blitzes off the edge weren't getting there, but you can't blame him for the defense's struggles against the pass attack--it's simply a bad matchup for the personnel he has. As far as O'Brien's offense, no qualms with anything, there--though Zach Zwinak could've used a few more runs early on, when Matt McGloin was still struggling to find a groove. Both fourth downs were converted, too.