UNIVERSITY PARK - To a man, every Penn State player wanted the win more for Bill O'Brien than for himself.
"He's been through a ton so far here," quarterback Matt McGloin said.
The Nittany Lion players have been through more than their share of adversity, too, and Saturday's 34-7 win over Navy took, as center Matt Stankiewitch said, "a lot of weight off our shoulders."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State linebacker Mike Hull returns a Navy fumble for a touchdown ahead of Navy running back Bo Snelson as PSU’s Jordan Hill celebrates.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
PSU coach Bill O’Brien addresses the media after his first win.
"A lot of people hit the panic button after the 0-2 start," McGloin said of those outside the program.
Even the players, whether most would admit it or not, started having doubts after two tough losses.
"Everything's shaken - your character, your confidence," Stankiewitch said of losing.
So they looked to their head coach to keep their spirits up. To keep them inspired. To keep them focused.
O'Brien has been the rock that has kept everything together since taking over in January, and the players desperately wanted to reward him with the first victory of his head coaching career.
"In many ways, it was a long time coming," O'Brien said.
Officially, Saturday's win was the first for Penn State in 15 years, since it beat Wisconsin, 35-10, on Nov. 22, 1997. The quarterback that day was none other than Mike McQueary, who turned out to be a central figure in the Jerry Sandusky scandal that resulted in all wins from 1998 through 2011 being stripped from the program.
O'Brien can't worry about all of the past. As he has said before, he's got enough problems of his own right now, and an 0-3 start could have been devastating.
"The one thing that winning does is it cures a lot of things," O'Brien said. "Winning also breeds confidence."
It didn't take long for Penn State (1-2) to establish control against Navy (0-2), scoring on its first two possessions for a 14-0 lead less than nine minutes in. A crowd of 98,792 celebrated Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium and watched the spirited Midshipmen give everything they had, but it wasn't nearly enough on either side of the ball.
The outcome was never in doubt in the second half, and when the fourth quarter rolled around, McGloin first got the idea in his head to douse O'Brien with the traditional Gatorade bath (water in this case).
"I had to convince Stank to do it," McGloin said.
The players wanted to keep it secret from O'Brien, but Stankiewitch was concerned McGloin would spoil it because he kept telling everyone on the sideline. As it turned out, the offense was on the field near the end of the game, so the honors fell to defensive tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Gerald Hodges to pick up the Gatorade jug.
"I heard the crowd, so I figured something was up," said O'Brien, who saw the bath coming and was able to step forward and save himself from the entire dousing.
The coach later said he wished the players hadn't done it but acknowledged, "They probably enjoyed it and will get a laugh about it tonight when they are sitting around commiserating about the game."
O'Brien's new tradition of having the players sing the alma mater took place after the game - he forgot to have them do so following the opener against Ohio - and the coach noted, "It felt really good doing it after a win."
O'Brien made a key decision right off the bat to help his team prevail. Penn State won the coin toss, and while he likes to defer to the second half, this time O'Brien took the ball - realizing possessions are important against a methodical offensive team like Navy and that getting an early lead could help.
Sophomore receiver Allen Robinson enjoyed a huge day for the Lions, and it started with him making a 45-yard catch down to the Navy 4 on the opening series. That set up a touchdown, and on the next series, Robinson pulled in a 45-yard TD pass from McGloin for a 14-0 lead with 6:40 left in the first quarter.
Robinson caught two more TDs - a 2-yarder in the second quarter and a tipped pass from 25 yards out in the third - and finished with 136 yards on five catches.
"It definitely felt great to get our first win," Robinson said. "I wish it came a little earlier in the season, but that's what we worked hard for."
Robinson has turned into a major weapon for the PSU offense as he already has 24 catches through three games. O'Brien said the receiver often gets single coverage because of the offensive scheme, and when that happens, Robinson usually finds a way to get open.
"His routes are so crisp and so good, that's why gets open a ton," said McGloin, who finished 13-of-21 for 231 yards and four touchdowns.
With win No. 1 out of the way, and that weight off their shoulders, the Lions will try to make it two in a row next week against Temple. The Owls went 0-28 all-time against PSU during Joe Paterno's tenure.
A win next week, and all of a sudden the Lions would have a little streak going and a good bit of confidence heading into Big Ten play.
"I'm very confident we can get on a winning streak," Hill said. "We're a good football team."