Happy Valley getting its smile back
Notebook: Teams look to clean up act as league action begins
Maybe the world isn’t ending in Happy Valley after all.
Following disappointing losses to Ohio and Virginia to open the season, it felt like the weight of a tumultuous offseason was steering Penn State to an even more difficult campaign on the field. The last two weeks, however, have shown that perhaps all is not lost for the Nittany Lions.
A blowout victory at home against Navy on Sept. 15 and a sound 24-13 win against Temple last Saturday has given the Big Ten’s easternmost school momentum heading into Big Ten play.
“I feel great for these players and staff who have put in a lot of time,” O’Brien said. “Nothing’s better than winning.”
O’Brien was excited with the way his team has bounced back from a disappointing start. He added that his group has come together with the help of a strong work ethic and veteran leadership.
“This football team is a bunch of guys that, to this point, are going to play very hard and with great effort,” O’Brien said. “It’s a close locker room and we have a strong senior class, which has a lot to do with the identity of this team.”
Senior quarterback Matt McGloin threw for a career-high 318 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns in the victory against Temple. He said that the team’s performance against the Owls is encouraging heading into the matchup with Illinois, but acknowledged that some blemishes remain.
“It gives us a ton of confidence, especially heading into the Big Ten next week,” McGloin said. “We wanted to see where we were at by week four and obviously there are some things we have to work on, but that’s why you watch film.”
At 2-2, the Lions will open conference play Saturday by visiting an Illinois team that has been blown out twice this season, including a 52-24 home loss to Louisiana Tech last week.
The match-up presents an opportunity for the Lions to get above .500 for the first time in 2012.
“The Big Ten is up for grabs, it’s anybody’s league right now,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “Nobody has a conference win yet and hopefully we start off the right way.”
Whether or not Penn State makes an impact on the Leaders Division race remains to be seen, especially since they aren’t eligible for the postseason. Still, playing in a weak conference and a hot finish to the first quarter of the season has O’Brien thinking that his team could provide some relief to its wounded community this year after all.
“Winning is somewhat like saltwater, it cures everything,” O'Brien said.
• The Illini turned the ball over six times in their listless 52-24 home loss to Louisiana Tech. Senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase returned from injury to start the game, but departed in the first half after committing a turnover off a sack.
• Illinois is off to a rocky start to the Todd Beckman era. After a solid, 24-7 win against Western Michigan to open the year, the Illini have been blown out by Arizona State and Louisiana Tech. The quarterback situation is tenuous with Scheelhaase’s status unknown for the conference opener against the Nittany Lions.
Next Game: vs. Penn State Sept. 29
• The Hoosiers rank 12th in the nation in total offense at the bye week, but are coming off a disheartening home loss to Ball State on Sept. 15.
• Indiana will face a stiff test when it opens Big Ten play in Evanston against a Northwestern team that will throw more playmakers at the Hoosiers than they have seen so far in 2012. Indiana has one conference win during the past two seasons.
Next Game: at Northwestern Sept. 29
• Sophomore RB Mark Wesiman had a memorable performance on a day Iowa fans want to forget about. The walk-on rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns, but Iowa wasn’t able to hold off Central Michigan in the 32-31 upset loss.
• The Iowa defense turned in its first poor performance of the season, allowing CMU QB Ryan Radcliff to throw for 283 yards and two touchdowns, as well as giving up 9 points in the final 45 seconds of the game. The Hawkeyes have to turn it around quickly as they now prepare to host a Minnesota team they haven’t beaten in three seasons.
Next Game: vs. Minnesota Sept. 29
• Senior QB Denard Robinson threw four first-half interceptions, a career high, en route to throwing for only 138 yards in the 14-6 loss at Notre Dame. Robinson referred to his performance as “the worst game” of his career.
• Michigan has dropped two non-conference games for the first time since 2008, also the last time the Wolverines fell to the Irish.
Next Game: at Purdue Oct. 6
No. 20 Michigan State (3-1)
• The Le'Veon Bell Show continued on Saturday as the junior RB rushed for a career-high 253 yards and a touchdown in the Spartans' 23-7 escape of Eastern Michigan at home.
• Michigan State's defense held the Eagles to under 300 yards on the day. It's the fourth consecutive game the Spartans have accomplished the feat. The group will be put to its toughest test of the season when Michigan State hosts Ohio State and multi-threat QB Braxton Miller on Saturday.
Next Game: vs. Ohio State Sept. 29
• The Gophers are out to a 4-0 for the first time since 2008 after defeating Syracuse 17-10 on Saturday. Backup QB Max Shortell threw for 231 yards to lead Minnesota in place of injured starter MarQueis Gray.
• RB Donnell Kirkwood ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns as the Gophers remained one of three undefeated Big Ten teams heading into conference play. Minnesota will likely be riding high when it heads into Iowa, where it'll be looking for its third consecutive victory in the series.
Next Game: at Iowa Sept. 29
No. 22 Nebraska (3-1)
• Senior RB Rex Burkhead returned from a knee injury to run for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the Cornhuskers' 73-7 shellacking of Idaho State. Burkhead wore a knee brace throughout the contest, and said he was at "90 percent."
• With a touchdown on offense, defense (interception return) and special teams (punt return), the Cornhuskers scored in all three phases of the game for the first time since 2009. It was a good all-around game for Nebraska, which will try to put the dismal performance from a year ago out of its collective mind while preparing for Wisconsin this week.
Next Game: vs. Wisconsin Sept. 29
• The Wildcats capped off what was arguably the Big Ten's most impressive non-conference run with a 38-7 workman-like victory against South Dakota. Northwestern jumped out to a 28-0 lead before coasting in the second half.
• The Wildcats will take one of the conference's rare unblemished records into conference play as they host Indiana. Starting QB Kain Colter's health remains the only issue for the team as he left Saturday's game with a wrist injury. He is expected to start against the Hoosiers.
Next Game: vs. Indiana Sept. 29
No. 14 Ohio State (4-0)
• The Buckeyes fought through an up-and-down performance to ride sophomore QB Braxton Miller's two touchdown runs to a 29-15 victory against UAB. Despite the result, Ohio State was out-gained by the Blazers 403-347 as well as dominated in time of possession 33:47-26:13.
• Due to NCAA sanctions, the Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play, making the game against Michigan State one of the team's biggest of 2012. Ohio State will be looking to avenge last year's 10-7 home defeat at the hands of the Spartans.
Next Game: at Michigan State Sept. 29
Penn State (2-2)
• Senior QB Matt McGloin threw for a career-high 318 yards and ran for two touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' 24-13 victory against in-state rival Temple. Penn State overcame many mistakes including nine penalties to beat the Owls for the 23rd consecutive time.
• Penn State put together it's most complete performance of 2012 in the victory. The Lions will be favored when they head to take on a struggling Illini team to open conference play.
Next Game: at Illinois Sept. 29
• The Boilermaker offense is a perfect 13 of 13 inside the red zone, scoring 12 touchdowns and one field goal in the team’s 2-1 start. Senior QB Robert Marve vowed to return at some point this season following a knee injury, but there is no timetable on his recovery.
• Purdue has committed nine turnovers on the season, seven from its quarterbacks. It has one final attempt to clean up the miscues as the Boilers host Marshall in their final non-conference match-up.
Next Game: vs. Marshall Sept. 29
• Senior RB Montee Ball exited with a head injury, but backs James White and Melvin Gordon combined for three touchdowns in the Badgers' 37-26 win against UTEP. Ball's early exit was not fast enough to keep him from fumbling for the first time in his career. He let one get away after not losing a fumble in his first 656 career carries.
• Wisconsin was somehow able to get through coaching changes and several injuries to Ball to emerge from the non-conference schedule with a 3-1 record. The Badgers are still looked at as one of the top contenders for the Legends Division, but will be tested at Nebraska to kick off Big Ten play.
Next Game: at Nebraska Sept. 29