Quarterback Matt McGloin’s and tailback Zach Zwinak’s campaigns in Champaign yielded a slew of impressive stats next to their names in the final book from Penn State’s 35-7 win over Illinois.
The names of Mike Farrell, Miles Dieffenbach, Matt Stankiewitch, John Urschel and Donovan Smith, meanwhile, were showcased in the participation report and that’s about it.
Still, it’s this offensive line that has helped make the difference in McGloin’s and Zwinak’s unanticipated success this season.
Urschel said that the Illinois’ front four is one of the best in the Big Ten, and the Nittany Lions’ success in the trenches Saturday gives them confidence heading into conference play.
“That's a great defensive line that [Illinois] has and our offensive line definitely was ready for the challenge,” McGloin added. “After the first couple drives, we settled down a little bit and started playing football.”
McGloin was sacked three times by the Fighting Illini and he fumbled once, but those numbers don’t do his protection justice. The quarterback seemed more hesitant to scramble than he has in past games. On at least one sack, he rolled right into a block. On a fourth down, he missed a hole that the line had opened up for him, and instead he threw an incomplete pass.
But more often than not, McGloin had plenty of time to march the Lions downfield. They ran five plays from Illinois’ 1-yard line, and four went for touchdowns. McGloin had two rushes, and Zwinak had the other two.
Zwinak’s 12 points accounted for just two of his 100 yards. During the rest of the game, the redshirt sophomore said the offensive line formed noticeable gaps that opened up bigger runs.
“They get along really well and care about each other and care about their teammates,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “They're physical players and we told them from day one of training camp that we were going to try and be a physical offense, a north and south running team, and they've done a nice job of that.”
O’Brien added that the offensive line was one of the most improved units in spring practice and it’s gotten better every week.
Stankiewitch, a senior center, is the only returning starter from 2011. Smith and Dieffenbach — who man the left side — are only a redshirt freshman and a redshirt sophomore, respectively. Smith has been fighting through some injuries, but he returned to the field Saturday. Stankiewitch said the first-year starter adds some important depth to the line.
Despite their relative inexperience, Urschel said he’s seen particularly large strides in their communication since the new group first started working together on a full-time basis.
“Honestly, we’ve got good individual players,” he said. “The key is making sure we come together as an offensive line and that we’re all on the same page every single way.”
And that’s not just with the other lineman, but with every player on the offense.
“We knew going into this football game that they were going to be a physical team up front,” Stankiewitch said. “We knew it was going to take every aspect of that game, offense, defense, special teams… We all had to be clicking on one heartbeat to get the win.”