Penn State won a football game on Saturday, but the headline on Monday will likely be about the loss of perhaps the most influential player in the country.
The Nittany Lions were able to pull away from the pesky Indiana Hoosiers and eventually settle on an offensive fireworks induced 45-22 win, but did so after learning that star senior linebacker Michael Mauti had suffered a left knee injury. Mauti was injured in the first-quarter and was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious injury. The senior was back on the field with crutches as the team sang the schools Alma Mater following the win.
On the field, the Nittany Lions got career days from quarterback Matt McGloin and receiver Allen Robinson on offense in route to the blowout. McGloin set a career-high with 395 yards and tied a career-high with four touchdown passes, three of them to Robinson, who posted a career-best 196 yards. The sophomore had a three touchdown reception game against Navy earlier this season. But the Lions weren’t done on offense, as tailback Zach Zwinak chipped in 135 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
But it was the explosive Penn State passing attack that was on full display against the Hoosiers on Saturday. Part of the explosion was the immaculate connection between quarterback and receiver that produced touchdown’s of 10, 26 and 53 yards on the day.
The duo got the scoring started with a 26-yard touchdown strike to take a 7-0 lead 4:26 left in an otherwise scoreless opening quarter, but fell behind after an Indiana field goal and touchdown with 13:20 left in the second quarter. Trailing 10-7, the Lions went right back to the McGloin/Robinson combo, who hooked up on a short screen pass that Robinson turned into a 52-yard touchdown after slipping a few Hoosier tackles. After another Hoosier field goal to pull within one at 14-13, it was time for McGloin and Robinson to go work one more time. McGloin threw a beautiful back shoulder fade to Robinson from 10-yards out to put the Lions up for good at 21-13.
McGloin then found someone not named Allen Robinson: Zach Zwinak, for a 16-yard touchdown to stretch the lead to 28-13. But the Hoosiers put together back-to-back scoring drives to hang around with a six-point deficit halfway through the third quarter at 28-22, but Penn State closed the quarter with touchdown runs from Zwinak and Michael Zordich to push the lead to 42-22 after three quarters. Kicker Sam Ficken added a 28-yard field goal with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring at 45-22.
Despite the win, Penn State fans and players had already moved onto thinking of their fallen star linebacker. Mauti, who was instrumental in convincing Penn State players to stay with the program following heavy NCAA sanctions this summer, was in the middle of playing his second to last home game when he went down. He’s already missed two seasons, including almost all of last season, with knee injuries in his career. Coach Bill O’Brien called him, “One of the most special players I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach” after the game.
Penn State fans and players no doubt share that same sentiment, taking to twitter to share their thoughts on their leader. Fellow senior linebacker Gerald Hodges, who had 12 tackles on the day, posted that he wished he had a knee to lend to his teammate on twitter following the game. Fan sentiment was much the same, calling Mauti one of the most influential players in the programs proud tradition.
For the Hoosiers, the loss ended their chances of gaining bowl eligibility and extended their losing streak to the Nittany Lions to 16 games. They have never beaten Penn State. Quarterback Cameron Coffman threw for 454 yards, a pair of touchdowns and interceptions in the losing effort. It’s easily the most passing yards the Penn State defense has allowed this season. Receiver Shane Wynn made 12 catches for 108 yards on the afternoon, but was out shined by highlight-reel grabs of Penn State’s Allen Robinson.
Allen Robinson/Matt McGloin, Penn State. How could this not be the QB/WR tandem from the Lions? McGloin and Robinson have hooked up with regularity this season, which has resulted in McGloin setting the all-time passing yardage mark in a season and Robinson setting a new reception record for the team.
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State. The senior will likely miss senior day next week against Wisconsin, which is a shame for such an important part of the program. Mauti was a key cog in holding the Penn State program together following the sanctions in July. Not only was he a leader on the field, he was a leader and spokesman for the team off the field during one the darkest times in the history of the university. He truly is irreplaceable, and a special, special individual that Penn State is lucky to have.
Looking ahead…the Lions play host to Wisconsin next week on Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. Among the players being honored will be Mauti, Hodges, McGloin and Zordich among others.