Penn State 35,
-- The final home game of Michael Robinson's Penn State career unfolded before a constant standing ovation. The senior quarterback walked off the team bus more than 90 minutes before kickoff, and 3,000 fans surrounded him. He ran onto the field for his Senior Day introduction, and about 100,000 fans screamed to reward the one player perhaps most responsible for Penn State's resurgence.
Then, for the next three hours, Robinson rewarded them.
By orchestrating a 35-14 domination of No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2), Robinson helped No. 10 Penn State (9-1, 6-1) complete a day defined by mutual appreciation. Penn State fans celebrated a team -- and particularly a senior class -- they credit with restoring Nittany Lions football; players reveled in fan support that, on Saturday, nearly reached an all-time high. The game attracted 109,865 fans, the second-largest crowd in school history.
For Robinson in particular, Penn State's emotional romp provided an idyllic endpoint. After suffering through Penn State's two worst seasons in 40 years under Coach Joe Paterno, Robinson walked out of Beaver Stadium for the final time with his team one win from a Big Ten title and a BCS Bowl. And, typically, when Robinson walked off the field for the final time with 30 seconds left, thousands of fans jumped to their feet.
"It was emotional. It was really emotional," Robinson said. "I never really knew it was going to be like this, but what a way to go out. Everybody got caught up in this game."
That passion remained palpable throughout Saturday's game, even if the contest hardly merited such emotion. Penn State bullied Wisconsin in the first half, building a 21-point lead that its defense would never relinquish.
The Nittany Lions set the tone for a blowout on their first drive, a five-play, 78-yard breeze down the field. Robinson threw three passes on that drive, and he completed all of them. His third throw, a high-arcing toss down the right side of the field, fell into the waiting arms of Deon Butler, who ran into the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.
The scoring drive had lasted less than two minutes, but it foreshadowed the next 46: Penn State's offense would stall only when it stopped itself.
Bolstered by an offense so dominant, Penn State's defense made a Wisconsin comeback nearly impossible. The Nittany Lions sacked Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco nine times, including four sacks by senior Tamba Hali. Wisconsin's star running back, Brian Calhoun, had no luck either. The nation's fifth-leading rusher entering the game, Calhoun managed only 38 yards on 20 carries.
"We weren't going to let them drop back and pass," Hali said. "Every time he went back, we got to him. The pressure was great. They weren't going to get down the field."
Penn State, meanwhile, flew downfield -- and often. On the rare occasion Robinson struggled to find wide-open receivers, he ran the ball himself.
Taking advantage of a gun-shy Wisconsin defense, Robinson racked up 125 rushing yards, eclipsed only by tailback Tony Hunt's 153.
Twice in the first half, Robinson moved Penn State down the field with his legs. On a third and eight midway through the first quarter, he avoided the rush and scurried 24 yards. Late in the second quarter, he stumbled in the pocket before taking off. Two spin moves, three broken tackles and 34 yards later, Robinson finally went down.
Robinson finished the game with 238 passing yards, and 363 yards -- a performance so stellar it rendered his two interceptions forgettable. He has accounted for 2,687 yards of offense this year, besting the school single-season record formerly held by Kerry Collins. Robinson's season totals (695 rushing, 1,992 passing) nearly make him the first Penn State player in history to rush for at least 500 yards and pass for 2,000.
"He's obviously taken over this football team," Paterno said. "He plays so well in the clutch when he has to make plays. He's just a great competitor. We wouldn't be nearly as good without him."
Robinson said he relishes such success primarily because of the hardship that preceded it. When Penn State went a combined 7-16 during the 2003 and 2004 seasons, Robinson sometimes felt like he'd never win again, he said.
On Saturday, though, he enjoyed a ride through the opposite sphere of emotion.
As he walked off the bus to a standing ovation before the game, he tucked his chin to his chest and fought back tears. He walked through the fans and into the stadium tunnel. Then he hugged quarterback coach Jay Paterno, Joe's son.
"I told you the end would feel like this," Jay Paterno told him. "It feels pretty great, doesn't it?"