STATE COLLEGE – Aided by crutches, star linebacker Michael Mauti stood arm-in-arm with his Penn State teammates to sing the alma mater after what should have been a satisfying win over porous Indiana.
Quarterback Matt McGloin and receiver Allen Robinson had career days, but the Nittany Lions’ 45-22 victory Saturday was tempered by what appeared to be a serious left knee injury to Mauti. The fiery senior helped keep most of the team together in a stormy offseason marked by NCAA sanctions.
The rest of his teammates responded Saturday the best they could – by clinching a winning record for the year, an accomplishment few prognosticators thought Penn State (5-2 Big Ten, 7-4) could reach following the turmoil. Just one game remains for Penn State in a season of change next week against Wisconsin.
“This team is a bunch of resilient guys,” first-year coach Bill O’Brien said. “When a guy like (Mauti) who’s a leader on a football team goes down in a game, it was a good response ... They knew what they had to do.”
McGloin threw for a career-best 395 yards and four touchdowns, while Robinson burned the Hoosiers for a career-high 197 yards and three highlight-reel scores.
Zack Zwinak added 135 rushing yards on 29 carries, but the Nittany Lions (7-4, 5-2 Big Ten) did most of their damage through the air against the Hoosiers (2-5, 4-7).
McGloin said Robinson is playing at his best at season’s end.
“Hopefully, he can finish on a high note,” McGloin said. “As a quarterback, you have to love playing with him and knowing that he’s going to make some plays for you.”
Indiana did turn two turnovers into 10 points, including a 46-yarder from Mitch Ewald to get within 28-22 in the third quarter.
But Zwinak rumbled in from 1 yard out on the ensuing drive to put Penn State back ahead comfortably by two touchdowns.
Cameron Coffman threw for 454 yards for Indiana. With just a trip to Purdue left on the schedule, the Hoosiers lost a chance to become bowl eligible with six wins.
“We don’t like to lose bowl eligibility because of the season, the way we didn’t manage it, call or execute or get our guys ready to win some games,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said.
Coffman was 33 of 59 passing for two picks to go with his touchdown passes, while Shane Wynn had 12 catches for 108 yards for Indiana.
They were both overshadowed by Penn State’s go-to combination of McGloin-to-Robinson.
McGloin finished 22 of 32 passing with an interception, and eclipsed Daryll Clark’s single-season passing record of 3,003 yards. He now has 3,071 with one game still left in the season. McGloin also set marks for career passing touchdowns (45) and single-season completions (251).
Robinson, a smooth sophomore, set the school single-season reception mark with 73. He’s become a master of making mid-air adjustments for spectacular catches.
One score from 26 yards out came after jumping high and reaching across his body over cornerback Brian Williams in the end zone; the third touchdown catch was on a one-handed grab in the air from 10 yards with another defensive back draped over him.
Those scores sandwiched a 53-yard catch-and-run for a TD after Robinson twisted out of a tackle and pulled away from the gassed secondary.
The success of McGloin and Robinson is testament to the job O’Brien has done in reviving a Penn State offense that had struggled in the previous two seasons under the late coach Joe Paterno.
In this new era of Penn State football, the high-octane offense has just as much fun as the defense.
With Mauti out after the first-quarter injury, the other half of O’Brien’s outstanding outside linebacker duo took charge with Gerald Hodges registering 12 tackles and an athletic interception. Several plays after leaving briefly for a cramp, Hodges leaped to block Coffman’s pass at the line of scrimmage then stumbled forward and caught the ball before it hit the ground late in the second half.
“We lost a leader ... and we all needed to step up, including myself,” Hodges said.
McGloin connected with Zwinak for a 16-yard touchdown pass on the drive after Hodges’ interception for a 28-13 lead going into halftime.
The emotional anchor of the Penn State defense, Mauti was having a standout season before getting hurt while being blocked after appearing to get hit low by another Hoosier, running back D’Angelo Roberts.
“It’s part of our game, but I hate it when a great player like that gets hurt,” Wilson said. “He’s a special player.”
A silent crowd rose to its feet and then applauded Mauti as he was taken to the locker room, his hands on the front of his helmet. Injuries – one to each knee – already cut short two seasons for Mauti earlier in his career.
O’Brien said after the game he was unsure about the severity of Mauti’s latest injury. Tears streamed down the eyes of Mauti’s mother as she watched her son sing the alma mater with the team after the game.
Mauti and running back Michael Zordich helped keep most of the team together after making impassioned statements they were sticking with O’Brien two days after the sanctions were announced in July by the NCAA for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“We’re going to continue to rally around him. He’s a team leader physically and vocally,” Hodges said about Mauti. “We’re going to continue to lift him up.”