Quarterback Matt McGloin sprinted toward the tunnel, sweat dripping from his forehead, a towel flapping from his side, an arm extended toward photographers working to depict the frustration attached to Penn State’s season-opening loss to Ohio University.
Postgame sprints and stiff arms weren’t needed this past Saturday.
McGloin celebrated a 39-28 victory over Northwestern by joining teammates, the Blue Band and Beaver Stadium fans in a booming version of the alma mater.
Penn State entered a bye week, which started Sunday, with four straight victories, an extended stretch of prosperity for a program that endured 10 tumultuous months followed by a puzzling 0-2 start.
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After defeating a ranked opponent on their own turf for the first time since 2008, the Nittany Lions, might finally be moving on. Current questions don’t involve transfers, scholarship reductions or reopened recruiting processes. The Nittany Lions are now discussing momentum and competing for a Big Ten Leaders Division title.
“Right now we are confident,” tight end Kyle Carter said. “We have six more games to play and we just want to win this league.”
Penn State (4-2) and and eighth-ranked Ohio State (6-0), which whacked Nebraska 63-38 on Saturday night, are the only Leaders Division teams with 2-0 Big Ten marks. Neither school is eligible to appear in the conference title game because of NCAA-mandated postseason bans.
But the conference announced last month that both programs can compete for the divisional trophy. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes meet Oct. 27 at Beaver Stadium.
Before the potential showdown, Penn State visits Iowa on Oct. 20. The Nittany Lions haven’t won in Iowa City since 1999. The Hawkeyes, who didn’t play this past weekend, are 3-2 and visit Michigan State on Saturday.
Players are already bracing for what could be the first unruly crowd they will encounter this season. Penn State visited Virginia and Illinois last month. Virginia fans are tame. Illinois fans are apathetic.
Iowa’s crowd, which exceeds 70,000 fans, is a different story. Plus, the game begins at 8 p.m.
“We like playing there,” center Matt Stankiewitch said. “We like hostile crowds. Iowa, is a very hostile crowd. They aren’t going to welcome us with open arms. We are going in there, try our best and perform to the best of our abilities.”
A week to heal and patch fissures should help Penn State. The bye week arrives at an ideal time, giving first-year coach Bill O’Brien and his staff a median to evaluate the season. Penn State has six games remaining. Purdue, Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin are also on the second-half schedule.
O’Brien said his team will conduct light practices today, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“We won’t be out there long,” he said. “It won’t be a bloodbath.”
The NCAA limits Division I programs to 20-hour work weeks. O’Brien might not push that limit this week. He said the quality of the next three practices will determine how he structures the rest of the week.
Improving the special teams, which had an uneven performance against Northwestern, adding offensive explosion, building additional depth and tweaking defensive schemes are potential bye week focuses. The injury report has thinned out, but nobody is complaining about a week to soothe exerted muscles, bones and joints.
The Lasch Building projectors are expected to receive lengthy workouts this week.
“I’m going to watch Iowa,” cornerback Stephon Morris said of his bye week plans. “I’m going to watch a lot of film.”
The winning has lightened the mood surrounding the program. With a slew of high school prospects gazing from the recruiting lounge, O’Brien conducted a relaxed postgame news conference following Saturday’s victory.
The only question that sparked a short response involved a fiery first-half exchange that brought O’Brien and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald onto the field.
“I didn’t yell at Pat Fitzgerald,” O’Brien said. “I was yelling at myself. I was mad at myself.”
The statement incited chuckles. The news conference ended with a question about Matt McGloin’s 5-yard touchdown run that handed Penn State a 32-28 lead with 2:37 left.
“That was a scramble all the way,” O’Brien said. “Now, he’s going to come in (today) and tell me he’s a 4.3 in the 40. I’m going to tell him we’re timing his 40 with a sun dial.”
McGloin proved this past Saturday that lunging toward a pylon beats sprinting off the field following a difficult loss.