Yes, it was just one win over what is a poor Illinois football team. Yes, it was just one win in September. Yes, it was just the Big 10 opener.
Nevertheless, it was one win that will be cherished by the Penn State football players, coaches and fans.
As much as they tried to downplay it all week, it was clear that Illinois’ eight-coach invasion of State College during the summer still was an issue with everybody involved on the Penn State side.
This team was clearly on a mission to send a message Saturday – and it did just that.
Penn State demolished Illinois 35-7 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score and could’ve been much worse. Quarterback Matt McGloin clearly wasn’t sharp – especially early in the game – and placekicker Sam Ficken’s troubles continued with a missed field goal and a blocked 18-yarder.
Yet, the Nittany Lions physically beat up the Illini. This is a Penn State team that didn’t have a rushing touchdown from a running back and it ran the ball down Illinois’ throat.
Zach Zwinak rushed for 100 punishing yards and the offensive line pushed around the supposed strength of the Illinois defense all afternoon.
Remember when Penn State threw the ball twice as many times as it ran against Ohio. Against Illinois, it was the other way around.
Led by a fired up Michael Mauti, the defense was again stellar. Mauti’s performance -two interceptions, six tackles, a forced fumble, a sack – will become legendary over time as Penn Staters remember the significance of this game.
Mauti was angry at Illinois in the summer and said it. He then marched into Champaign and backed up every word he uttered.
Mauti, according to his teammates, can be a nutcase before every game. Against Illinois, though, they said he took it to a new level. His intensity, his focus couldn’t help but be noticed by everybody in white and he delivered on the field.
"Anytime you have things to say, it's very important to go out there back it up,'' Bill O’Brien said of Mauti after the game. "That's kind of what life is all about in a way. He's a guy that doesn't have a lot of problems backing things up.''
The win pushes the Nittany Lions over the .500 mark for the first time all season. The key now is continuing to improve.
Yes, they could easily be 4-1 or 5-0 but 3-2 and improving doesn’t sound bad at this point.
Northwestern comes to Beaver Stadium Saturday undefeated and probably ranked on the fringes of the Top 25.
It’s another mission for a team that has something to prove to everybody every week.
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