ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Deon Butler savored his weekend off with the Seattle Seahawks, who have a bye today.
That allowed Penn State's all-time receiving leader to hop a plane and take in Saturday's game at Michigan Stadium along with a usual contingent of ex-Nittany Lions.
Standing in the steady mist behind the Penn State bench in the closing moments of the Lions' resounding 35-10 victory, in front of the quietest 110,377 ever assembled, the outgoing Butler wore an ear-to-ear grin.
"This is good, real good - especially at a place I never won," Butler said. "For us to come in here and take on a crowd like this and handle Michigan, it's a great feeling. The defense dominated, and the offense put up points. That's a textbook way of taking the crowd out of it and winning on the road."
And yet it was something Penn State couldn't do here in its five previous trips - in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2007.
Butler, who graduated after the 2008 season, was on two of those teams, and whether it was faulty execution or coaching tightness or suspect officiating - whatever - the Lions always bused away from here on the short end.
"We felt we were the better team, especially the last year ," he said. "But these guys took on a new approach."
Indeed, the Lions loved every second of, in one day, stuffing five games worth of previous frustration into the past.
"It was kind of like a sigh of relief," fifth-year defensive end Jerome Hayes, who was here in 2005 and '07, said. "When you looked up at the scoreboard and saw we were up by 25 points, it really made me happy."
Penn State will always be measured against Ohio State and Michigan and big-name bowl opposition and under that criteria, though the Wolverines did not play well, this was the Lions' most complete performance in more than a decade.
"We made a statement of playing four quarters of great defense and great offense," fifth-year senior Sean Lee said.
In exorcising all the demons they've endured since winning here in 1996, including a nine-game losing streak that ended last year at Beaver Stadium, Penn State immediately answered Michigan's impressive no-huddle touchdown drive that opened the scoring.
"They were ahead of us 10-0 last year up our place," Joe Paterno said. "We felt we were all right."
It helped that the Lion offense, with Daryll Clark playing quite possibly the best game of his career - again, against meaningful opposition - made up its mind to attack.
With solid protection and pinpoint accuracy, Clark totally exposed Michigan's porous defense by spreading the ball around to Graham Zug in the corners, Derek Moye on the flanker screens and Andrew Quarless over the middle.
That opened the running game for Evan Royster to pound away for his third-straight 100-yard conference game.
"When the game first started out, everyone was loud," Clark said. "That first drive we had was going to be critical to the rest of the game, and we knew that."
The offensive success allowed the defense to take some chances with blitzes that effectively made Michigan's two-headed quarterbacking tandem of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson look like the true freshmen they are.
But as much as anything, on both sides of the ball, the Lions showed a resolve lacking against Iowa and a renewed confidence that could allow them to run the regular-season table all the way to 11-1.
"They [Michigan] blocked a punt, but we responded with stripping the ball," Lee said. "In the past, we didn't make big plays in big situations. This time, we did."
"Everybody just made up their mind we were going to show people we were a pretty good football team," JoePa said.
Now that they've done that, these next four weeks - and a bowl game - will help determine just how good.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.