PSU pulling out close wins
When he boarded the team bus to take Penn State to Beaver Stadium, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley sensed something different with his players.
It wasn't a good thing.
The Nittany Lions veteran assistant called it a lack of energy. Whatever the reason, Linebacker U. nearly got run over and upset by Purdue on homecoming weekend.
Just another tight game this season for Penn State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten).
''You just feel it sometimes, you get a feel when they get on,'' Bradley said about the short ride on the blue school buses from the football complex to the stadium. ''The way they're moving. Their body language. ... Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I didn't think we were energized or had the right edge.''
The Boilermakers in their 23-18 loss Saturday scored as many points as Penn State had allowed combined the previous three weeks (19). Purdue ran for 162 yards and amassed 344 altogether, both well above Penn State's season averages and lofty standards this season.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges, who had three tackles for losses, said Purdue had a ''weird type of finesse run,'' in which the offensive line would act as if they were pass blocking before the quarterback handed off. That had Hodges and his teammates taking an extra step to the ball after initially dropping into coverage.
''I think we hung in there,'' said safety Drew Astorino. ''They did, I think, exactly what they wanted to do.''
The bad news with so many close calls is that three victories have come against teams that Penn State arguably should have defeated more soundly. Purdue, for instance, lost to Rice already this season.
A fourth-quarter drive and defensive stand helped Penn State avoid a potentially devastating loss in a 14-10 victory Sept. 17 over Temple.
The Nittany Lions defeated conference weakling Indiana by only 16-10 on Oct. 1 - the same Hoosiers that have losses to Ball State and North Texas.
Penn State has a quality, if otherwise close win over Iowa, 13-3 on Oct. 8, to go with expected blowouts of FCS school Indiana State and Eastern Michigan. The only loss was 27-11 on Sept. 13 to No. 2 Alabama.
Penalties and otherwise uncharacteristically sloppy play have slowed Penn State at times no matter the foe.
So, just how good are the Nittany Lions?
Tailback Silas Redd isn't paying attention to the questions or a perceived lack of respect.
''We don't really care what anyone else says. We're 6-1,'' Redd said. ''We know what type of team we are. As long as we keep winning, I don't care what anyone else says.''
A positive with all the tight games is that the Nittany Lions are getting better at winning in clutch situations, an experience that may prove useful with the meat of the schedule to come. After a night game next week at Northwestern, Penn State finishes with that brutal four-game stretch of Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Coach Joe Paterno's crew is using the formula of a strong, opportunistic defense, solid kicking game, and an improving rushing attack spearheaded by Redd.
Passing struggles aside under the two-quarterback system, the offensive line is springing enough holes for Redd to burst through and spin past would-be tacklers. A 5-foot-10 back initially known for his slashing ability, Redd is also proving he can gain yards after contact and push past defenders.
With 131 yards on 28 carries, Redd had his third straight 100-yard game.
''Honestly we're still searching. We haven't found a clear-cut answer yet,'' Redd said when asked to assess the state of the offense. ''We still have to do a better job scoring, and eliminating the mistakes.''
Since adding placekicking to his punting and kickoff duties several weeks ago, Anthony Fera has solidified special teams. He added three more field goals Saturday, a reliable fallback option for a team that has struggled in the red zone.
Fera is also still booming punts, such as a clutch 69-yarder downed at the 2 that pinned Purdue deep in its own territory late in the fourth quarter. That drive ended with a tipped pass intercepted by linebacker Nate Stupar.
Such takeaways have been a defensive staple this year.
''We've just got to keep trying to get better and be able to make some plays in the clutch,'' Paterno said, ''which I think our defense has done not only (in) this one but in a couple of games.''