Every program has those games that live on forever in its lore and are forever fondly remembered and relived by its fanbase. Penn State fans are fortunate to have a long list of these games- 1981 vs. Pitt, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, 2005 vs. Ohio State- the list can go on and on. Hidden Gems will focus on games that may not have the same prestige as those games, but certainly were memorable in some way or another and are an important part of the overall composition of Penn State sports.
Ignoring historial milestones, 2010 was a very average season when you consider the entirety of Penn State football. A 7-5 record overall, 4-4 in the B1G, and a bowl game loss. Meh. However, as you all may know, I was not the life long Penn State fan that so many seem to be. No one else in my family went to school here. I was not hypnotized to become a Nittany Lion for life. Until the first game of that 2010 season against Youngstown State, I had never even been to a football game on the college or NFL level. In fact, I am now just realizing that the first real football game I saw in person, was a game where Rob Bolden started at quarterback. Jeez...
To this day, this game was the moment when I really understood Penn State football. A night game. On Halloween weekend. A whiteout. Against Michigan. What more could a Penn State football fan possibly want? Even one who had just recently adopted the team as their own? I was so excited for this game, I even put myself through Paternoville, which looking back on now, seems more like a punishment than anything else.
When people look back on this game in a few years, or maybe even right now, it will be known as the game when Evan Royster broke Curt Warner's record for most career rushing yards. I stood there, in my slightly better seat than I would have gotten simply getting in line early, holding up the number on my fingers, needed for Royster to entrench his name in the books. I watched him cut to the outside, and pick up way more than he needed to take the crown. I watched Michael Zordich run in his 2nd career touchdown, to put us up by 21 points. And then I watched Denard Robinson run wild all over the field, and rally his team back to a 7 point deficit. I watched Michigan's last ditch attempt slip through Roy Roundtree's fingers. I even watched Colin Wagner run a fake field goal and pick up a first down. But what really makes this game special, in my mind, is something that surely no one in the stadium thought would end up holding any significance. This, my friends, was the first game that Matthew McGloin started for Pennsylvania State University.
McGloin was making his first career start, replacing the injured Rob Bolden. The play calling featured a heavy dose of Royster and Redd. The Lions jumped out to a 28-10 lead by halftime. They built their lead up to 21 points, when Denard Robinson decided he wanted to toy with our defense, running for 191 yards and 3 touchdowns on the night. The defense was able to hold with the deficit at 7, and the offense was able to tack on one last Wagner field goal. The game was not meant to be the McGloin show, and it wasn't called that way either. However, when a play through the air needed to be made, McGloin stepped up. He threw for 250 yards that night, going 17 for 28 (Good for a 60.7 completion %), and throwing for a touchdown. Royster ran for 150 yards on 29 carries, to go along with 2 touchdowns. Derek Es Moye Bien caught 3 balls for 72 yards. Granted, this was all against a Rich Rodriguez-led Michigan defense, so expectations had to be tempered. However, without this game, one could argue that Matt McGloin never would have been able to thrust himself into the QB competition. His performances in practice and in the Blue and White game would have simply been written off, just as Shane McGregor's were every year. Without this start, he may have never been able to unseat Bolden, Paul Jones, and Kevin Newsome, as he blazed his path to eternal Penn State football glory.
It is impossible to know how things would have been if IT never happened. Maybe Joe would have retired after the 2011 season. Maybe Urban Meyer would have come in to become our new coach. Maybe Matt McGloin would have been re-buried on the depth chart. Everyone thinks they know how things would have happened, but no one can truly know. The only reality we have is what did occur. And as a result of all of the bad, we ended up with a fiery, Irish head coach, choosing the "chip on his shoulder", "ice in his veins", arguably even more fiery, walk-on from Scranton to lead his football team through the darkness. Matt McGloin will not be remembered as the greatest quarterback in Penn State history. He will not own the record books forever. He will, however, always be arguably the most important quarterback to ever walk through that tunnel. Without McGloin leading on the team, O'Brien's first season could have been a disaster, and then who knows what the state of the program would be? Despite the fact that his first start came only because LSU's current backup quarterback was hit too hard the week before, he acted like he had been there before, and like he was meant to be there.
This game holds a place in my heart for being my first true Penn State football game, but also because it helped shape the future of this football program. In his first chance to shine, McGloin stepped up to the plate, and hit it out of the park. I would say, "Little did he know that this was the start of a beautiful thing", but I think we can all agree that he knew damn well what was happening. Go Raiders.
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