For just a few short hours on a magnificent, sun-drenched September afternoon, fans in Happy Valley could feel as if they had their winning football team back.
Gone were the storm clouds that seemingly would never pass. Also absent was the gloom that had engulfed this university and its football program nearly 10 months earlier following the now-infamous child sex abuse scandal.
Obviously visible on this late summer Saturday was a blue-tinged limitless sky and a highly flammable Beaver Stadium filled with 98,792 desperate fans anxiously awaiting a reversal of fortune for their beloved Nittany Lions, who, unlike the sky above, were all too familiar with restrictions.
And finally, after absorbing a near-fatal right hook dealt by the NCAA in July, withstanding an exodus of 13 players (nine taking advantage of the new transfer rule that had been put into place) and suffering two disappointing losses (24-14 to Ohio and 17-16 to Virginia) to open the season, the Blue and White Nation was finally granted its wish.
Led on this day by quarterback Matt McGloin (13-21, 231 YDS, 4 TD), the Lions would score on their first three possessions, sailing to a 34-7 victory over the Navy Midshipmen on Military Appreciation Day.
It was the Nits' first official victory (the Lions were forced to vacate all of their wins following the 1997 season) since they defeated Wisconsin back on Nov. 22, 1997. It was also Bill O'Brien's first win as a head coach.
And with an ensuing Gatorade shower orchestrated by McGloin, and assisted by teammates Jordan Hill and Gerald Hodges, the proverbial monkey (or in this case...600-pound gorilla) was dispatched from O'Brien's back where it had been firmly attached since replacing the legendary Joe Paterno back in January.
"I said 'Hey listen, it's his first win as a head coach. You've got to give it to him,'" McGloin said with a laugh.
While McGloin and his new favorite target, 6'3" sophomore Allen Robinson, hooked up for three scores to lead the Blue and White on offense, it was the defensive unit that refused to be overshadowed, creating four Navy turnovers.
"The one thing that winning does is it cures a lot of things. Winning also breeds confidence," said O'Brien in the post-game press conference.
And it was quite visible that this unit is playing with more confidence as it spends more time mastering O'Brien's system. For the second consecutive week, the Lions failed to record a turnover.
If the Lions protect the ball as they have and their confidence continues to blossom under O'Brien, there may be plenty of bright days ahead for a program that has refused to wallow in anguish following the storm of sanctions.
The Temple Owls (1-1) are up next for Penn State this weekend. The Owls, who are becoming a bit of a rival to the Lions, have not beaten the Blue and White since 1941. They did, however, come close to pulling off an upset last season at Lincoln Financial Field losing 14-10 in the final minutes.
Unfortunately for the Cherry and White, they are missing their top five skilled position players from a year ago and have struggled early this season throwing the ball. This bodes well for a defensive unit that has been stingy with its run defense thus far, anchored by linebacker Michael Mauti.
Do not assume, as some opponents may, that these Lions are asleep after everything they have endured. With a victory this Saturday, they will even their record at 2-2, and the forecast for the future looks sunny, with a chance to win.
Joe Rogers is a college football writer and operates the website The College Football Bowl Report.
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