Column: The Most Important Win in Penn State History

Story posted October 17, 2013 in CommRadio, Sports by Joe Garofalo

Over the last 23 months the Penn State football program has been weathered with every storm imaginable. After the loss to Indiana two weekends ago, the clouds over Happy Valley seemed as dark as ever.

It appeared, by suffering the program’s first loss to the Hoosiers, as if the much-discussed and ‘unprecedented’ sanctions were overtaking all the success and progress of the previous season.

Coaches looked to be in over their head, with players incapable of winning games against better superior and inferior opponents. Fan commitment even began to waver.

Once one of the most storied programs in college football, with the (*once) all-time winningest coach, Penn State was held to a much higher standard than most. But those days ended when the NCAA levied their sanctions.

Penn State became just another school, no better than anyone else, and yet the 2012 season saw the Nittany Lions finish 8-4.

Fans were blinded by the gleam of light, last season’s team brought, and didn’t quite understand the severity of the sanctions.

That ray of hope vanquished into the darkness on October 5th in Bloomington, Indiana, setting up the anticipated matchup this past weekend with an undefeated and ranked Michigan squad.

A combination of a Beaver Stadium “Whiteout” and Homecoming Weekend provided the perfect stage for something remarkable to happen.

But could the team live up to it?

For once it seemed the sky was clear and the sun was shining, Happy Valley was back. The gloom of the loss from the week before was gone, as was the fear of what might be coming the remainder of the season. None of that mattered.

“Its Penn State Michigan, ESPN, 5:00, 108,000,” head coach Bill O’Brien said earlier in the week. “I think it would be crazy to think this is just another game.”

He was right; it certainly wasn’t just another game.

In fact it was simply the first four-overtime game in Penn State football history, but that isn’t even where the real significance of the game lies.

Saturday’s win over the previously undefeated 18th ranked Wolverines was the most important win in program history.

That’s right the most important win in the 125-year history of the program.

In fact more important than the two National Championships. Name any game and this was more important.

The game had implications both in the present and the future, unlike any game this school and maybe the country had ever seen.

With nearly 100 recruits roaming the sidelines to watch a program that admittedly isn’t the same, Penn State needed to put on a strong performance against Michigan, and boy did they ever.

Penn State, not just the players, but Penn State as a whole needed to bring their best and that’s just what they did. The nearly 108,000 in attendance were loud and proud, the coaches prepared, and the players driven.

Instant classic type wins leave a lasting thought in the minds of those who watch it, and I guarantee you some of those recruits are still thinking about what took place at Beaver Stadium, Saturday night. Down by 10 points, with as few as seven minutes remaining, the Nittany Lions seemed to be left for dead.

The storm was returning and so were the clouds, Happy Valley was once again becoming a gloomy place. But the players and coaches didn’t lose sight of what was ahead of them, as they trudged on and continued to fight.

Resiliency. Pride. Determination.

Is there any denying those three words epitomize Bill O’Brien and his team?

Question his in-game decisions all you want, but when the time comes to go to battle and fight for their football lives, the head coach has his troops ready. Which has never been more evident than on Penn State’s final drive of regulation.

Down seven points, with 50 seconds left, no timeouts and led by a true freshman quarterback…Piece of cake, right?

Weeks of practicing the two-minute drill to end each practice paid off now and for the future.

The ability to bring in recruits such as Christian Hackenberg and help them succeed so quickly has to appeal to prospective players.

Simply put this win is a program-defining win going forward. No matter the circumstances or obstacles, Penn State proved they can win against the best of opponents and that they are only getting better.

With the return of more scholarships and other possible reductions to the sanctions potentially on the horizon, this win was huge for the future.

Now let’s talk about the current team.

Penn State will win no more than three conference games. This was my thought after an Indiana game, which I thought would be tough but in no way a loss.

After the Michigan game there is no denying the potential is there for a second straight 6-2 record. Ohio State and Wisconsin seem to be stretches, but who is to say this team couldn’t get hot and carry the momentum of Saturday, to win one of those matchups.

There were as many storylines as there were field goal attempts in this game.

For starters we learned a few things about both sides of the ball.

On offense, is there any doubt this should be Bill Belton’s job? Belton has proved to be the best and most reliable running back, and the days of Zach Zwinak as starter well they are to be coming to an end.

Brandon Felder and Jesse James showed how potent this pass game could be, in addition to Allen Robinson. If they can provide a variety of options for young Christian Hackenberg, there is no telling what he can do the remainder of this season.  

Did I mention Christian Hackenberg is poised well beyond his years? I think its safe to say he’ll go down as the best quarterback in school history.

On defense, we saw John Butler deserves a chance as defensive coordinator and the talks of letting him go were a little premature. Completely taking Fitzgerald Toussaint out of the game Saturday was no simple task.

C.J. Olaniyan, well lets just say he’s the real deal and if the Deion Barnes we all saw in the overtime periods decides to play well for four quarters each game Penn State’s defense will only improve.

We all knew replacing Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges in the linebacker corps would prove difficult, but with a healthy Mike Hull, to go along with Glenn Carson and Nyeem Wartman “Linebacker U” still has plenty of talent.

On that one night the tide of the storm shifted and Penn State was on the winning side: a side their fans should continue to expect them to stay on.

The storm is passing and clear skies are upon us, are you ready Happy Valley?

Joe Garofalo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email