Penn State quarterback Zack Mills does not want to forget his entire performance last weekend against Boston College. Just four passes in particular.
“I’ve never thrown four interceptions in a game before,” Mills said Wednesday.
Three of the four picks came in the fourth quarter, when the Nittany Lions were scrambling to make up a 14-point deficit. Mills still completed 23 passes, the second-highest single-game total of his career and the ninth-best mark in team history.
“I thought I was playing pretty well for the majority of the game,” Mills said. “I don’t know how many incompletions I had, but I didn’t have many after three quarters.”
Entering the fourth quarter, Mills had completed 16 of 21 passes for 182 yards and one score.
Mills went 6 for 6 for 63 yards in the first quarter. He began the third by going 5 for 5 for 57 yards in an eight-play touchdown drive.
In other words, tossing those interceptions was sort of like scribbling a mustache on the Mona Lisa — a small but glaring defect on a pretty good picture.
“I always thought we had a chance in that game, regardless of what was going on with my performance,” Mills said.
“It’s kind of a battle with myself mentally. Throwing four picks, I’ve never done it. It’s very disappointing. Frustrating. But at the same time, I thought I played pretty well at times.”
The first interception came less than a minute into the second quarter, and was Mills’ first incompletion of the game. On first-and-15 at the BC 21-yard line, Mills saw a blitz was coming and audibled a quick slant pattern.
Linebacker Brian Toal tipped the ball and inside linebacker Brian Henderson snagged it at the 15.
“I don’t think you can blame (Mills) on that one,” Lions coach Joe Paterno said.
On its first drive of the fourth quarter, Penn State drove to the BC 49. Mills tried to go over the middle, but tight end Isaac Smolko cut the route too fast and the ball went right to free safety T.J. Stancil.
“That was the worst one,” Mills said. “I didn’t see (Stancil) until I threw it. It was one of those ones you wish you could pull back as soon as you throw it.”
The third interception turned out to be just as good as a punt. On fourth-and-10 at the Lions’ 47 and facing a heavy rush, Mills simply heaved the ball deep. Cornerback Will Blackmon picked it off at the 21 and was dragged down back at the 16.
“I was kind of glad they intercepted that one, to be frank,” Paterno said.
With less than three minutes to play, Penn State moved to the BC 14. On second-and-12, Mills again looked for Smolko — Paterno said the tight end ran the wrong route — and Henderson intercepted it at the 3.
“I forced it,” Mills said. “But in that situation, you kind of have to force some things to try to make some things happen.”
Said Paterno, “That’s the only one I felt maybe he could see what was happening and maybe should not have thrown it.”
Mills admitted it was painful to review the BC game tape — sort of his own personal Zapruder film — this week during team meetings. But with the final nonconference game against UCF looming in 48 hours, he is putting last week’s mistakes behind him.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Sunday was a tough day, and even Monday was tough. The best way to get rid of that game is to come out and have a great game Saturday against Central Florida.”
n Note: Penn State’s game Oct. 2 against Minnesota at the Metrodome in Minneapolis will kick off at 8 p.m. and will be an ESPN regional broadcast