"Undo Purdue" was the Citizens Bank button this week. And the Nittany Lions obliged. In a game that had as many twists and turns as a Tom Clancy novel, and was, in many respects, just as unnerving, the Penn State special teams finally exerted their influence in making big plays.
This game was also entertaining, in a weird sort of way, with its back and forth, anything can happen, nature. Nick Sukay's first of two interceptions occurred at the end of the first half and put 7-6 Penn State on Purdue's 24-yard line with 14 seconds left in the half.
With seven seconds left, a perfectly thrown pass by Matt McGloin to Andrew Szcerba was dropped at the goal line. A field goal made the score 10-6 at the half. We breathed a sigh of relief that we were ahead but it would have been a lot more comfortable had that touchdown been scored!
One moment we watched Justin Brown make a phenomenal one-handed catch of a 34 yard pass on the Purdue 23-yard line, while also being interfered with. The next moment we watched Matt McGloin throw into the end zone and suffer a crazy deflection off a couple of bodies that wound up in an interception by Albert Evans. For a 55-yard gain for Purdue and a 20-18 score a few plays later.
Of course, it didn't look that the special teams would help win this game when in the third quarter the game was tied 13-6 and an Anthony Fera kickoff was returned by Raheem Mostert for 71 yards. That looked like a major breakdown, and the defense could not hold Purdue, with a very short field, from making a touchdown. But an extra point miss helped keep Penn State in the lead, and that 13-12 score would be the closest Purdue would get.
The special teams redeemed themselves. Not just with being perfect on field goals and extra points.
We watched Justin Brown achieve the longest punt return - 33 yards - so far this season. Chaz Powell ran a kickoff back for 92 yards putting us in great position for a touchdown.
But he had the unfortunate judgment to throw the ball up in the air after the play was over...say what? That's celebration? We were sitting across from where it happened and didn't even notice the throw after he was tackled. Still, even with that fifteen yard penalty, that return put us in field goal range in a tight game where every point counted, and we certainly needed those three points.
And, to my absolutely delight having just complained about it last week, special teams players Nick Sukay and Malcolm Willis were able to pin the Boilermakers on the 2-yard line on a perfectly executed 69-yard punt from Anthony Fera.
And while the offense still had a tough time in the red zone and the defense didn't impress quite as much at first as they had in the past games, they did get tougher as the game progressed, making the big plays when needed to contain Purdue, and the entire team held together to get the win.
Still, the offense controlled time of possession, and running back Silas Redd had another impressive 100-yard plus game.
Of course, it helped that Purdue made as many, if not more, mistakes than we did. Including missing a field goal and an extra point, and making some bad throws themselves. Still, they stayed in the game until the very end and kept it close.
And so the Nittany Lions won yet another nail-biter this week, where the outcome wasn't assured until there was about two minutes left on the clock and Purdue went for it on its own eight-yard line on fourth down. Nate Stupar intercepted that pass at the Purdue 19-yard line.
What was Nate thinking? He should have batted it down. But it didn't matter. Except perhaps to those who are foolish enough to take or give points on a Penn State sports bet.
As usual, a Joe Paterno coached team will never run up the score if he knows the game is won. Even in a tight battle. And so, while it was possible at the end for Penn State to try for another touchdown with about 5 yards to go and about a minute left on the clock, McGloin took two knees to end the game.
That actually generated boos from the audience. Why? Because the point-spread for this game was 12 points, and had Penn State scored a touchdown, the final score would have been 30-18.
I don't bet on college football so it didn't matter to me. But it might possibly matter in BCS rankings, if so-called "style points" still matter.
And so my mantelpiece right now has only Big Al the Elephant still standing of the teams we have played. The Temple Owl, Indiana's Big Red, Herky the Hawkeye, and now Purdue's Pete the Boilermaker are all on their backs.
We are undefeated, 3-0, leading the Big Ten Leaders division right now with a 6-1 record. That doesn't really mean much at this point in the season, because the only undefeated Big Ten team Wisconsin, also in our division, is a game behind us in play.
Matt McIlnay, our guest for the game with his spouse Ryann Reynolds-McIlnay, exclaimed, "Hey, we're bowl-eligible now!!!"
My response to Matt was, "Who cares? We're still in the running for the Big Ten Championship! That should be our goal. Not a bowl game."
Both Matt and Ryann are 2004 Smeal College graduates. Ryann was a student of mine, and we have stayed in touch since she graduated. This was the first time they came to a game with us, and we had a great deal of fun.
Of course, to Matt and Ryann, who attended Penn State during the worse possible years of Joe Paterno's career and saw PSU go to a bowl game just once in the four years they were students, perhaps just getting Penn State to a bowl is its own reward.
"Good teams find a way to win," my husband Terry is fond of saying, and he is saying that of this 2011 football team. This team may be one of those teams that continues to learn how to overcome any adversity thrown their way and do just that.
It will be an uphill battle for Penn State to win the Leaders division over the next several weeks. Our schedule continues to get tougher and tougher, starting with a cat fight at Northwestern in Evanston Illinois next week.
You have to admit it's possible. We are not at all sure how probable it is.
This post can also be found at View from the Stands - Penn State Football, where you can also view a slideshow from the game.