Smolko Praises Quarterback

Isaac Smolko won't tell you the name of the play that may have saved the Nittany Lions' season. To him, that would be akin to revealing a (Penn) State secret.

But the senior tight end has no problem addressing the importance of his 20-yard reception from quarterback Michael Robinson, a catch that converted a late fourth and 15, enabling the Nittany Lions to sustain what turned into the winning drive in Saturday's 34-29 victory at Northwestern.

The play, from the PSU 15-yard line, happened with 1:39 remaining and the Wildcats holding a 29-27 lead. Since State had only one timeout remaining, Northwestern could have run out the clock had it gotten the ball back.

“It was very important,” Smolko said Tuesday. “I can't say it wasn't. But I didn't do anything special. Mike made a great pass, that's what it was. It was a very, very important play to our season, and I'm glad I got to make it. … It could have made or broke our season.”

Indeed, a loss Saturday would have marked Penn State's sixth straight defeat in a Big Ten opener and third-straight pratfall vs. a very average Northwestern program. With home dates against Minnesota and Ohio State looming, followed by a road trip to Michigan, things could have unraveled very quickly.

Instead, Smolko broke open over the middle and made the key catch. The Lions are now 4-0 for the first time since 1999 and have already matched their win total from last season.

“I had a pretty good idea that I was going to be open,” he said. “I ran it earlier in the game and was open, but he threw it before I was open. I was hoping he was going to come to me.”

Smolko was looking for a bit of redemption after dropping what would have been a certain touchdown early in the previous week's win over Central Michigan. Head coach Joe Paterno chewed him out on the sideline, and a few days later said, “Smolko right now is on the verge of being a really good, big-time tight end. Having said that, he has to do some things in the clutch.”

Saturday was as clutch as it gets. Smolko, however, insists he didn't do anything extraordinary, that Robinson, who whipped the pass through a forest of defenders, deserves the praise.

“At the time, I didn't realize how tight the throw was,” Smolko explained. “I saw it on tape, and it was a great throw. Everyone's giving me credit for the play. I didn't do anything. I did what I was supposed to do; I caught the ball. He made the great pass.”

Asked if it was good to see Robinson succeed after coming under heavy criticism for throwing six interceptions and losing four fumbles to that point of the season, Smolko suggested that the QB was not the only one feeling the heat.

“I want him to succeed because I know if he's succeeding, I'm succeeding,” Smolko said. “This team is not in this to have Mike succeed only, we're in this for the team to succeed. Mike's been through a lot, but so had everyone else. We're in this as a team.”

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