UNIVERSITY PARK — Defensive end Brad Bars slipped around the right side of Navy’s offensive line, applying heavy pressure to quarterback Trey Miller.
Linebacker Michael Mauti stormed through the middle, flustering a quarterback who spent three quarters trying to elude a determined set of defenders.
Miller flipped the ball to nobody, forcing referee Jerry McGinn to call an intentional grounding penalty.
Mauti waved his arms and shouted. An excited safety Malcolm Willis sprinted along the far sideline.
For one of the first times in the last 10 months, Penn State players had fun on a football field Saturday, hammering Navy 34-7 before 98,792 fans at patriotic Beaver Stadium.
The victory is Penn State’s first under head coach Bill O’Brien and first since the NCAA levied major sanctions against the school.
“With everything we have gone through, this isn’t just for the team,” senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. “It’s for the whole Penn State community. This first win just felt really good.”
And it wasn’t easy to obtain.
A 24-14 home loss to Ohio University and draining 17-16 setback at Virginia had placed the Nittany Lions in an 0-2 hole for just the 10th time in 126 seasons.
Penn State relied on a longtime trademark — a stingy defense — to avoid falling into an early-season abyss. The unit forced four turnovers for the second straight week. Unlike in the Virginia game, the Navy turnovers were flipped into points.
The Nittany Lions (1-2) thwarted the Midshipmen (0-2) by scoring 13 points off takeaways.
Penn State forced turnovers in all four quarters. The final one sealed the victory as sophomore linebacker Mike Hull grabbed Noah Copeland's fumble and raced 74 yards for his first career touchdown.
The play gave Penn State a 34-0 lead.
“I was just in the right spot at the right time,” Hull said. “Somebody blew him up. I just scooped it up and saw the green grass in front of me and ran as hard as I could.
“It was awesome.”
Navy scored its lone points on Gee Gee Greene’s 12-yard touchdown run with 10:03 remaining.
The Nittany Lions' defensive intensity never diminished on the clear mid-September afternoon.
On Navy’s second drive, defensive coordinator Ted Roof tracked strong safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong down the sideline, removing the junior after the Nittany Lions allowed 21 yards on a pitch play. But Obeng-Agyapong returned and forced a fumble by drilling Miller in the second quarter.
“We have been more physical,” Roof said. “We have done a good job forcing takeaways the last couple of games. When you do that, it usually flips field position and good things happen.
“I have been real pleased with that. Kids are fighting to get to the ball and there was a lot of good contact today.”
Navy outgained Penn State 391 yards to 341. The Midshipmen attempted 83 offensive snaps, while the Nittany Lions attempted just 49.
But Penn State notched the game’s biggest plays, beginning with Allen Robinson’s 45-yard grab on Matt McGloin’s underthrown pass on the opening drive. Three plays later, McGloin tossed a 2-yard touchdown to true freshman Jesse James.
Robinson, a sophomore who has developed into McGloin's top target, provided a large chunk of Penn State's offense by catching five passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns. His touchdowns went for 2, 25 and 45 yards.
McGloin completed 13 of 21 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly, he guided an offense that didn’t prematurely surrender the ball for a second straight game.
Asked about a second straight turnover-free game, McGloin pounded a wooden table in the Beaver Stadium media room three times.
“We just don’t want to beat ourselves,” he said.
The big pass plays helped offset an ailing running game. Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (shoulder), the Nittany Lions’ top two tailbacks, couldn’t play because of injuries. Penn State also competed without starting left tackle Donovan Smith (ankle).
The Nittany Lions rushed for 110 yards on 28 carries, led by fullback Michael Zordich’s 11-carry, 50-yard effort. Improving the run game represents a major objective.
But for at least one afternoon, the Nittany Lions could savor a victory.
The game produced some riveting scenes, beginning with a fighter jet flyover and P.J. Byers leading the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel waving an American flag. Byers, a senior fullback, is an active member of the Navy.
After the game, defensive tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Gerald Hodges doused O'Brien with ice water, a physically shocking conclusion to the coach’s milestone day. Players from both teams then gathered by the Navy band and performed the Midshipmen alma mater.
Penn State players also started a new tradition, singing the Penn State alma mater with the Blue Band.
“What we agreed on was that we would sing with their band and they would sing with our band,” O'Brien said. “I thought that was pretty neat. To me, that's what college football is all about. I thought it was pretty cool.”
Winning is another major part of college football, and O'Brien now has his first victory as a head coach.
“Winning feels great,” he said. “Obviously, in the history of Penn State football, there’s been a lot more wins than losses. It feels great, but again it’s only one win.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.