Robinson Comes Through in Clutch

EVANSTON, Ill. — Good teams overcome adversity. Penn State surely did that Saturday afternoon in surviving a well-prepared and game Northwestern team, 34-29, at Ryan Field. Never mind that the Nittany Lions created much of the adversity for themselves.

His team was so fortunate to stay unbeaten that Joe Paterno admitted afterward he probably should "go home and go to Mass."

"Turnovers, breakdowns and you come out winning a game on the road?" Paterno said, still shaking his head in near disbelief.

The Lions dropped passes. Their defense could not get off the field in the first half. They were outschemed on special teams. They committed two personal foul penalties that sustained stalled Northwestern possessions with one — the late hit by Chris Harrell — nearly turning an admirable PSU comeback into what would have been a brutal loss.

But nobody created and overcame adversity like Michael Robinson, who kept both teams in the game.

Robinson fumbled four times and threw three interceptions, although two of the picks bounced off receivers' hands. Robinson also had several balls batted down at the line of scrimmage.

Had Penn State lost, he would have been the biggest reason.

And yet, when the Nittany Lions needed him most, Robinson came up huge.

He wound up throwing for 271 yards, rushing for 60 more on nine carries and contributing four touchdowns.

With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, facing fourth-and-15 from his own 15 with no timeouts left and knowing an incompletion would have sealed the loss and started the Big Ten season with another thud, Robinson showed everybody he may be something special.

He drilled a 20-yard pass over the middle to Isaac Smolko for a first down to the Northwestern 35.

To a man, his teammates said Robinson's demeanor in the huddle did not change, even though a loss would have immediately cued the Nittany Nation's chorus for Anthony Morelli.

"Mike was great," Smolko said. "He called almost all those plays on the last drive. He was calm and collected the whole drive."

Robinson read the safety, who followed the Lion wide receivers, and alertly picked out Smolko in part because he was open, in part because "he probably has the most reliable hands on the team."

Suddenly, a feeling came over the Nittany Lions which they haven't experienced in the past few years: They knew they could win.

On third down from the Northwestern 36, facing a maximum blitz that decked him, Robinson got enough on the ball to find Derrick Williams, who was wide open behind the Wildcats' secondary and made the lone remaining defender miss.

"That last drive," Robinson said, "was all heart."

And nobody showed more of it than M-Rob.

While the jury is still out on him as a big-time quarterback — for one thing, he's got eight fumbles in four games — he definitely grew up as a leader Saturday.

"That's the Mike we've been hoping to see," Smolko said. "That's the type of leadership you need from a quarterback to be a good team. And we got it."

Robinson will have to protect the ball better, and he'll have to eliminate turnovers. But give credit where it's due: He's hitting nearly 60 percent of his passes, and he's now thrown three touchdowns in each of the last three games.

His nine touchdown passes is one shy of the Lions' total of 2004.

"I've always been a Michael Robinson fan," Paterno said.

No doubt the new receivers have made a big difference, but Robinson's performance helped the Lions pass a character test they had been failing for the past several years.

With road wins, let alone comebacks, few and far between since many of these upperclassmen joined the program,

Penn State flew home Saturday with a renewed and needed sense of confidence.

"Playing in the Big Ten, there's going to be more times when we'll have to come from behind," said Tony Hunt, who rushed for 99 yards and recovered Robinson's last fumble to keep alive the game-winning possession. "I'm glad to see we were able to do that."

Maybe Penn State is starting to grow up.

And maybe, just maybe, Robinson's quarterback skills will grow to match his leadership.

Neil Rudel covers Penn State football for the Altoona Mirror. His post-game coverage can also be read on FightOnState.com.

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