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Analysis: Imperfect win suits team

Matt McGloin didn't want to take his uniform off.

Jordan Hill knows the 2012 Penn State team will be remembered for far more than its record.

Penn State's senior quarterback marched into the media room and took his familiar seat in front of the usual horde of cameras and recorders, this time wearing full pads, his jersey and eye black instead of a golf shirt or sweater.

"I can't bring myself to take it off," he said. "I think I'll be sitting here for a little while. When Spider comes to rip it off I'll know it's time."

Jordan Hill ran off the field after racking up a dozen tackles and found his father in the stands. Larry Hill has been confined to a wheelchair and battled health issues stemming from a stroke three years ago. The senior defensive tackle knew there was one person he wanted to share the moment with.

They didn't want it to end, these seniors. Twelve full games and two possessions of overtime wasn't enough. But then, even two more games -- a Big Ten championship plus a bowl -- wouldn't have been enough. So, they did what they've done all season; they made the most of the hand they were dealt.

"The whole game, it really told a story about what we've been through all year," Hill said. "Being knocked down early but being able to get back up."

Penn State's 24-21 overtime defeat of Wisconsin went against so many season trends. All year long, the Nittany Lions -- particularly the defense -- owned the first quarter. Wisconsin became the first team to score a first-quarter touchdown against Penn State this season on its very first possession, then added another seven points on the second possession for good measure.

All year long, Penn State couldn't get out of its own way in the third quarter. Saturday, it out-gained the Badgers 161 yards to 17 and outscored them 6-0 in the third period. All season long -- with the exception of the Northwestern game -- the Nittany Lions couldn't close out a tough game in the fourth quarter. Saturday, it battled back to take the lead late, then won in overtime.

There was a certain amount of degree of difficulty here, too, and it had nothing to do with the near-freezing temperatures and swirling winds. Shutting down Montee Ball and Jared Abbrederis is no easy task most days. Doing it without your defensive leader on a day when you could easily drain your emotional tank before the game even starts is another thing entirely.

"It would have been tough to come in here and not win after that pregame ceremony," coach Bill O'Brien said afterward.

But win the Nittany Lions did. And because they claimed their eighth victory in 10 games and sixth in eight Big Ten games, they'll go into an important offseason with confidence and swagger and their seniors will turn in their cleats and jerseys with satisfaction.

"This win is probably the greatest win I've been a part of, just because it was the 2012 team and all we went through as far as the sanctions and all that," wide receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder said. "But we played our hearts out today and left everything on the field."

They needed to, because the execution was not exactly precise.

McGloin, rarely comfortable in the pocket, completed fewer than half his pass attempts. Big-play machine Allen Robinson had only 35 yards receiving. Seven of the offense's 13 possessions totaled fewer than 20 yards. The special teams gave Wisconsin a huge field position advantage for most of the day. And the defense, after forcing eight straight punts and utterly dominating the Badgers (Ball had 111 yards but needed 27 carries to get them and Abbrederis had only three catches), permitted the visitors to drive 66 yards in 14 plays in the final minutes to tie a game Penn State seemingly had sewn up.

In a perfect world, McGloin would have taken his final snap in victory formation, and poor Glenn Carson wouldn't have had to sweat out Kyle French's field goal attempt after dropping what could have been a game-ending interception ("It hit me in the worst possible spot -- the hands," the linebacker, who played an otherwise terrific game, groaned afterward). In a perfect world, Gerald Hodges doesn't wear No. 42 on Saturday, because Michael Mauti is playing alongside him.

But in a perfect world, the Nittany Lions don't wilt in the second half against Ohio, Sam Ficken makes one more field goal in Charlottesville, McGloin doesn't toss a pick six against Ohio State and Matt Lehman's touchdown in Lincoln is correctly called. This 2012 Penn State team didn't play in a perfect world, and it certainly wasn't perfect, and that's the whole point.

It was how this imperfect team responded each time it faced adversity, the way it brushed itself off time and again and just kept coming, that will secure it a permanent residence in the hearts and minds of its fans.

"I want it to go down in history, not for the wins but for the character of all our guys," Hill said. "Everything we've been through and how to overcome stuff when you get knocked down."

The Nittany Lions showed that the best way to overcome is to do it together, the way they did in the second half Saturday and the way they did all season. You can't blame them for wanting that feeling to last as long as possible, even if it meant making the equipment manager wait a few more minutes.

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