Players: Lions' first win was for O'Brien

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Stephon Morris just knew.

He knew before the final whistle, before the 20-0 halftime advantage and before opening the first quarter with a two-touchdown lead. He swore, before the opening kickoff, he knew this was Penn State's day.

Once he boarded one of the blue buses at Toftrees, a place surrounded by green firs and blue skies, he knew. He turned toward his teammates, and something just seemed different. They were relaxed, focused and confident. This wasn't like the bus rides with Virginia and Ohio.

"That bus ride, it was just special," the cornerback said, smiling. "Coming off the bus, it was just like a whole new air, and you'd never thought we were an 0-2 team. It felt different."

Morris said the practices Monday and Tuesday were OK. But, when Bill O'Brien spoke with the team and told his players his mind was filled with confidence instead of doubt, those players pressed all the more for a win.

Forget the crowd, forget the win/loss column. Players even forgot themselves Saturday. This win, they said, was for O'Brien.

"It's more important for us to get it for Coach O'Brien than ourselves," Matt McGloin said. "He's been through a ton so far. ... We have his back 110 percent."

McGloin planned to surprise the coach with a Gatorade bath, but the quarterback couldn't keep the secret to himself. Center Matt Stankiewitch said McGloin tip-toed from teammate to teammate to fill them in.

Jordan Hill and another player -- O'Brien guessed it was Gerald Hodges or Michael Mauti -- upended the orange water cooler over the coach's shoulders. O'Brien grinned uncontrollably, like one of the students whose tab he paid Thursday at Damon's.

"I wish they didn't do that," O'Brien said. "I think it's more about the players."

O'Brien's relationship with his players has helped spark this team. Mauti told OnwardState before the season he'd sprint into a burning building for the dimple-chinned coach. A 2013 commitment, Adam Breneman, said he felt the same way.

The former New England offensive coordinator blamed coaching for the first two losses and tried to convince the media that this win was all about the players. But even the players weren't buying that.

"It felt good to get a win for him," Hill said.

Players tugged on the victory bell over and over again Saturday evening, and the sound echoed through the south tunnel like church bells on a Sunday morning. They rang it not for themselves, it seemed, but for their coach.

And now that they have rung it for one day, they feel more days like it are coming.

"Once we get that one win, we can keep things rolling," Morris added.

"As much as it felt good getting this win for ourselves, it felt really good to throw the water cooler on Coach O'Brien for getting his first win. Everybody's got his back."