UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Play the next play.
Those words have become the motto to live by for Penn State Football.
No matter what happens on the field, be ready to play the next play.
If you a throw an interception, miss a tackle, drop a pass, fumble, miss a
blocking assignment, do not execute on special teams, line up in the wrong spot
or make any other mistake, the advice after the play is always the same from
the Penn State coaching staff.
Play the next play.
That theory is tested on the practice field every day, and individually, it has been tested at times during games this season. But not until Saturday did the entire team find its back to the wall on the field in a game situation against a ranked team.
There is a lot of football yet to be played in 2012, but Saturday's fourth quarter was the team's finest hour to date. The Lions erased an 11-point deficit and won going away with a dominant 22-point fourth quarter.
Penn State faced a halftime deficit for the first time this season after Trevor Siemian found Tony Jones for an 11-yard score with 30 seconds left in the second quarter. Penn State answered on its first offensive drive of the third quarter with an eight-yard scoring connection between Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson to set the score at 17-14, Nittany Lions.
Then, Northwestern athlete Kain Colter sprinted into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. Running back Venric Mark followed suit by galloping 75 yards into the end zone on a punt return to put Northwestern on top, 28-17, heading into the fourth quarter.
Some of the air had been let out of the boisterous Beaver Stadium crowd as Mark raced into the end zone in front of the student section, but the score didn't really matter to the players on the field.
The next play, or in this case, the next drive was played as if the game was 0-0 by McGloin and the Nittany Lion offense. The senior believes he will maneuver a touchdown drive every time he is on the field, and he played like it with the game on the line.
The Scranton native has been terrific in 2012, now with 12 passing touchdowns (five rushing) and just two interceptions to go along with 1,499 yards.
In the fourth quarter, McGloin's offense played like it was not going to be stopped, and it wasn't.
First, the senior marched Penn State 82 yards on 18 plays before delivering a strike to sophomore wide out Allen Robinson on fourth down at the Northwestern 6. Down 11 points with under 10 minutes to play, a field goal could have trimmed the Northwestern lead to one possession.
But head coach Bill O'Brien never hesitated because he believes in McGloin. When a confident head coach believes in a confident senior quarterback, the results tend to speak for themselves. McGloin stepped into the pocket and found Robinson to make it 28-23 before Michael Zordich plunged in for a two-point play to make it a three-point game.
"I felt good about the play call we had there," O'Brien said. "I have a lot of confidence even though we haven't shown it. I have a lot of confidence. Our team does and our staff does in the red-area package. We feel like Matt [McGloin] really understands what we're trying to do. I just felt good about what it was there. I didn't think twice about it and made the play call."
McGloin then turned the keys over to a defense that thrives in the face of adversity. The seniors knew it was time to buckle down and get a stop. And when Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Stephon Morris speak to the defensive huddle, the rest of the players listen.
"Everybody went out there with the mindset that no matter what happens, we're not going to get down on ourselves. We're going to keep pushing forward," Hodges said.
Three plays later, the defense ran off the field, and the ball was punted back into the hands of McGloin's offense, a living, breathing display of the type of complementary football Coach O'Brien has been preaching about since day one.
The offense trotted back onto the field with 8:15 to play in the game needing a touchdown to take the lead. This time, McGloin moved the Lions 85 yards in 5:38. The senior again completed a crucial fourth down play on the drive. This time the pass went to Brandon Moseby-Felder, which set up a first down at the Northwestern 6-yard line.
McGloin finished the drive off with a scramble into the right corner of the South End Zone from five yards out on third down to give Penn State a 32-28 lead.
Again, the Nittany Lion defense answered the bell and stopped the Wildcats on fourth down before Zordich put icing on the cake with a touchdown run, and what better player to have the ball in his hands to put the game away than the Youngstown native.
It was a fourth quarter that these players will be talking about for years to come, and in their minds, there was truly never a doubt.
"There's great chemistry in that locker room," O'Brien said. "We're 4-2, who knows where it's going to end up. These guys are playing hard and it's really fun to see the smiles on their faces."
Albeit in front of 95,769 fans, millions more watching at home and the game on the line against a ranked team in the Big Ten on Saturday, they were just doing what their head coach has taught them to do.
Playing the next play.
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