STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Wearing his familiar khakis and jet-black sneakers, Joe Paterno paced the sideline again Saturday and peppered his coaches and players with critique.
In return, his Penn State Nittany Lions welcomed their Hall of Fame coach back to the field with their best passing performance of the year in a convincing in a 34-6 win Saturday over Eastern Michigan.
Quarterback Matt McGloin threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns — two to wideout Derek Moye — and Penn State’s opportunistic defense grounded the Eagles’ running game to 68 yards, 221 below its season average.
Not that the perfectionist Paterno was entirely pleased with what he witnessed.
“I’m not going to go home and jump for joy,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go. Hopefully, we’ll get better.”
At the least, Penn State’s struggling passing game got going against overmatched Eastern Michigan (2-2). Paterno returned to his two-quarterback system, starting sophomore Rob Bolden for the fourth straight game before McGloin took his turn in the second quarter.
And the 84-year-old Paterno took in the first half from the sideline, but returned to the press box in the second half after getting sore. Paterno spent the first three games entirely upstairs while recovering from right shoulder and pelvis injuries suffered after getting accidentally knocked down in practice Aug. 7 by receiver Devon Smith.
Saturday, Smith impressed his coach after finishing with three catches for 104 yards. He turned a screen pass from Bolden into a 71-yard touchdown barely a minute into the second half for a 24-0 lead.
Eastern Michigan was held to two short field goals by Kody Fulkerson.
“I thought our guys were body-to-body on the receivers multiple times and their guy came up with the ball,” Eagles coach Ron English said. “So they made plays today. More than we did.”
While the Penn State defense flourished, the injury news wasn’t good on the field for Penn State. Linebacker Michael Mauti, the team’s leading tackler, limped into the locker room in the first quarter with an ice pack strapped to his left knee.
Later, Paterno said Mauti was likely out for the year after injuring his ACL.
The announced crowd of 95,000 at Beaver Stadium went silent while trainers looked at cornerback D’Anton Lynn’s neck and upper back late in the third quarter. Lynn was strapped to a backboard as a precaution and carted off the field late in the third quarter to be taken to the hospital.
Lynn had “burners” down his arms and was breathing heavily after the hit, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said after the game. He was released from Mount Nittany Medical Center a couple hours after the game after doctors examined his neck and spinal column, a team spokesman said.
The injuries dampened the mood late in what had been a nice afternoon for the Nittany Lions.
“I feel sorry for the kids,” Paterno said. “It does take a little out of the win, but that’s the way it goes.”
Defensive tackle Devon Still led the push up front and Penn State sacked Eastern Michigan quarterback Alex Gillett three times alone in the first half. The opportunistic defense held tailback Javonti Greene to nine carries for 22 yards, more than 90 below his season average.
“Football is an emotional game, and you have to play with a lot of emotion. You’ve got to take that emotion and use it,” said linebacker Nathan Stupar who had a sack and replaced Mauti in the lineup. “You’ve just got to keep on going.”
The defense provided enough cushion for Penn State to get its passing game going. They scored through the air for the first time all season, and both McGloin and Bolden got in on the fun.
Bolden finished 7 of 13 passing for 115 yards an interception, while McGloin, was 14 of 17 for 220 yards. He and Bolden alternated from there until third-stringer Shane McGregor took over in the fourth quarter with Penn State up by 28 points.
Moye’s 5-yard touchdown catch with 56 seconds left was set up by safety Nick Sukay’s interception of Eastern Michigan’s Alex Gillett.
“I thought defensively we came out and played really well in the first half. The last turnover really hurt our team,” English said. “I thought if we go into halftime 10-0, we’re still playing and it’s a close game.”
Not only did McGloin have the better day statistically, but the offense seemed to run smoother Saturday with the junior calling the signals. But offensive coordinator Galen Hall said afterward the coaches had to evaluate film before determining if the Nittany Lions would stray away from their quarterback rotation.
Gillett didn’t have as good a time, though he did have Eastern Michigan moving at times through the air. That was a mild surprise given Eastern Michigan had the sixth-best rushing attack in the FBS entering Saturday.
Gillett finished 18 of 31 passing for 202 yards, and ran for 22 yards on 15 carries.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)