UNIVERSITY PARK - The word before the game was that Penn State all-conference wide receiver Derek Moye could play in an emergency situation.
Clearly, having its undefeated record in the Big Ten in jeopardy qualified.
"The doctors said Moye can play if you really need him, but be careful with him,'' Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno said. "We were dropping the ball. I said, 'You tell Mike McQueary I want our best receivers in the game.'''
Enter Moye, who came back from the broken foot that sidelined him for the last two games to spark a Lion offense that had sputtered all game and helped lift them to a 10-7 victory over Illinois on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
"They told me before the game that I may play, just be ready. At halftime, [McQueary] told me again to be ready, to stay by the bike and be ready to get warmed up if he needed to put me in,'' said Moye, who caught two passes for 29 yards and drew a big pass interference penalty on fourth-and-6 from the Illini 32 in the last 2 minutes. "I got the call, and I was excited and ready to go in.''
Despite missing the last two games, Moye still came into the Illinois game leading the Lions with 28 receptions for 485 yards and three touchdowns. He saw action briefly in the third quarter and early fourth quarter, then took the sideline again until the waning moments.
The 6-foot-5 Moye's insertion at then end paid immediate dividends. On Penn State's play from its own 20 with 3:05 to go and trailing by four, Moye worked his way open and hauled in a 20-yard pass from Matt McGloin that gave the Lions life.
"When you can get start off a drive like that, you get a little bit of momentum, a little bit of confidence knowing you can move the ball,'' Moye said. "I think it was big to start off a drive like that.''
Before that, Penn State's quarterbacks were a combined 5-for-22 for 40 yards, and McGloin was just 5-of-18. On the last drive with Moye in, McGloin was 4-for-6 for 58 yards.
McGloin clearly has formed a rapport with Moye that has benefitted both since taking over as starting quarterback in the middle of 2010.
"It was really exciting to see Derek back in there. To be honest, he hadn't practiced all week,'' McGloin said. "That's what a star like Derek will do. He'll come in and make adjustments for his team.''
A soft-spoken captain, Moye said he wasn't lobbying to go into the game, but McGloin was lobbying Moye to lobby for himself.
"He said, 'When you going in? Are you going in? You good to go? You going in this drive?''' Moye said.
Moye also hauled in a 9-yarder during the decisive march. However, when McGloin looked to Moye on a third-and-6 slant at the 32, Moye nearly turned from hero to goat. He dropped the pass that would have been a first down at about the 25.
"I literally was about to cry. I felt I let my teammates down,'' Moye said. "Then I got back in the huddle, and I realized there was another chance.''
It was a good thing he did, too. Instead of going for the first down on the next play, McGloin went for it all, looking once again for Moye in the end zone.
The pass was incomplete, but only because of pass interference on the Illini's Justin Green that gave Penn State new life and a first down at the 17.
Four plays later - one the 9-yard Moye reception - Silas Redd pushed into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
Moye said he was surprised McGloin threw to him on the pass interference play.
"I had a streak, and I thought he was going to go underneath to Justin [Brown]. I was covered. I saw him load up and launch and I was like, 'What the heck?' Then I just had to make a play on it,'' Moye said. "I didn't see the flag immediately, but I felt like I was interfered with. The defender didn't give me the best chance of coming back to make a play on the ball. I couldn't get my hands up.''
Moye had missed the Lions' last two wins against Purdue and Northwestern with a foot he broke in a freak accident, jogging down his steps on his way to the store. He thought it was a twisted ankle at first.
Initially, the plan was to keep him out until after the Lions' bye week. He said, though, he was completely ready to play after conditioning Monday through Wednesday of the week leading up to the Illini game and then getting on the practice field Thursday.
"I feel 100 percent,'' Moye said. "I just think today or even on Thursday when I was running I was a little hesitant to make some cuts because I was coming off an injury. But there was no pain or anything like that.''
Moye was asked if he remembered a similar drive the 1994 Lions made against Illinois that kept alive what turned into a Big Ten championship and a perfect season. He didn't.
This team and this offense are world's apart, but Moye like the history lesson.
"That'd be good for us,'' Moye said.