From the view of the press box an hour before kickoff, there were maybe 30 cars tailgating in the parking lot directly outside Ross-Ade Stadium.
There were no lines to get in, or palpable buzz in the vicinity.
By the end of the first quarter, letters from the massive “PURDUE” painted in the north end zone bleachers were still visible.
There’s no simile, metaphor or comparison that can really do the situation justice; Saturday in West Lafayette was the furthest thing from last Saturday in Beaver Stadium.
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A total of 33,157 filed into Ross-Ade Stadium, which seats 57,236, and save for a few Boilermaker touchdowns, the atmosphere was expectedly dull.
Penn State knew it’d be like that, too.
That’s why all week long the Nittany Lions practiced without music blaring like they normally do.
That’s why the Penn State coaching staff harped on “bringing your own juice” — and then literally handed out juice boxes to players on Friday night.
The Nittany Lions, fresh off a memorable upset over then-No. 2 Ohio State, were staring down the biggest of trap games. Purdue, which led then-No. 7 Nebraska last weekend at halftime, boasted a quick-hitting offense and the life-sucking aura of Ross-Ade Stadium behind it.
It would’ve been easy for Penn State to sleepwalk through Saturday.
And for much of the first half, that’s kind of what the Nittany Lions did. They scored on their first drive, sure, but the offense stalled out from there and the defense gifted the Boilermakers with a few pop plays with arm tackles galore.
“I was worried about going from the White Out, which is as good as any environment in college football, to this which would be a little different than that,” head coach James Franklin said after the game.
But credit to Penn State, it fixed what needed to be fixed.
Running back Saquon Barkley said the Nittany Lions didn’t need any “rah-rah” speeches at halftime.
“We knew what we had to do,” Barkley noted. “Once we got the flow going, we didn’t stop at all.”
*checks second-half scoreboard*
Yeah, whatever groove the Nittany Lions got into I’m sure they’d like to bottle it and use it every week.
▪ Saquon Barkley, for starters, was the very definition of “good” on Saturday. The sophomore’s 277 all-purpose yards were the most by a Nittany Lion since Larry Johnson racked up 289 against Michigan State in 2002. It’s the second time in three games that Barkley has rushed for more than 200 yards, while having 508 total in that span.
It was a stellar showing — and yet, it wasn’t necessarily a surprising one. Not to say a 200-plus yard performance is expected, but the Boilermaker rush defense was putrid entering Saturday, allowing 249 yards on the ground per game.
Penn State’s 257 rushing yards was basically par for the course for Purdue.
It wasn’t so much the total as much as it was the way Barkley ran that was impressive, especially on his 81-yard touchdown run.
The way he went inside, assessed the situation, bounced it, and weaved through defenders was special for a 19-year-old.
As he was ushered to an interview with ESPN after the game ended, a Penn State fan yelled from stands, “SAQUON FOR HEISMAN.”
While Barkley likely won’t be invited to New York this year, he certainly has the talent to be considered in elite company.
▪ Shot after shot after shot — Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead clearly trusts quarterback Trace McSorley to toss it deep.
And why not?
The redshirt sophomore, who completed 12 of 23 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns against the Boilermakers, has grown significantly from Penn State’s Week 2 loss to Pittsburgh, especially throwing the ball downfield.
After Saturday’s performance — in which he hit Saeed Blacknall for a 42-yard completion — McSorley ranks sixth nationally with 14.78 yards per completion.
The deep balls to Blacknall, Chris Godwin, DeAndre Thompkins and DaeSean Hamilton this year have extended the Nittany Lion offense, offering a complement to Barkley’s running ability.
Sometimes, chucking it deep is somewhat of a necessity.
“Almost every rep everybody was within seven or eight yards of the line of scrimmage,” Franklin said of Purdue’s defense. “We were trying to run it in there and be patient, but at some point you just have to take some shots downfield.”
And McSorley is connecting on a bunch of them.
For a decent chunk of the first half, it looked like the Purdue offense had an extra player on the field. Penn State’s defense was getting worked in open space.
The Boilermakers, who were tied with the Nittany Lions 17-17 at halftime, racked up 210 yards after two quarters, including 147 yards through the air by Purdue quarterback David Blough.
The Boilermakers utilized plenty of mid-screens and quick throws to their tight ends and running backs — or as Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda would call them, “Penn State beaters.”
“They came and had their Penn State-specific offensive plays,” Cabinda said. “But I kept telling the guys, once they get into their base stuff, we’re going to clamp down on them and get the job done. And that’s what we did.”
He’s right; the Nittany Lions allowed only 131 second-half yards, 62 of which came on one play (a touchdown throw from Blough to DeAngelo Yancey).
While the halftime adjustments are encouraging for Franklin and Co., permitting opposing offenses that first-half cushion is certainly something they want to eliminate.
Shortly after the Boilermakers sliced through shoulder and weak arm tackles, Purdue’s offense had a 1st-and-goal at Penn State’s 8-yard line — and the Nittany Lions decided to give them some help, too.
An offsides by Curtis Cothran moved Purdue’s 1st-and-goal from the 8 halfway closer to the 4-yard line. From there, Boilermaker running back Richie Worship was stopped after a 2-yard gain, but Penn State was penalized for a second-straight offsides.
Alrighty, bring up 1st-and-goal from the 2.
The Nittany Lions defense appeared to overcome the pair of mistakes to halt Jones for a 1-yard loss. That is, until more laundry hit the field. Penn State was called for a facemask, putting the ball on the 1-yard line where Purdue punched it in.
Back-to-back-to-back penalties killed a couple positive plays for Penn State’s defense, and it was just the beginning to a yellow flag-filled day. The Nittany Lions committed 11 penalties for 91 yards on Saturday, the most since Penn State had 11 against Illinois in 2013.
That aspect of the game frustrated Penn State’s head coach.
“We’ve been one of the more disciplined teams in the country, and we had so many penalties,” Franklin said. “We just kept giving them life.”