UNIVERSITY PARK - On a day when Penn State honored its 1986 team that won the national championship with less-than-stellar offense, the Nittany Lions of today showed some old-school toughness.
Their defense has played well almost all year.
The difference Saturday was an offensive line that played up to its potential and escorted a running game that punished Iowa en route to a 13-3 victory on a glorious afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
"We kind of challenged them," Joe Paterno said of the offensive line.
The unit that had been inconsistent and penalty-prone responded by not allowing a sack and pounding out 240 rushing yards. Without a single false start.
"It's a certain attitude, and that's what happened today," Lion senior guard DeOn'tae Pannell said. "We wanted to take it to them."
The offensive line got stronger as the game unfolded and stuffed the ball down the Hawkeyes' throat in the fourth quarter - rushing 10 straight times to the Iowa 2 before a 2-yard touchdown pass with 8:08 left gave Penn State a two-score lead Iowa could not overcome.
Not even a 10-yard hold (on Michael Zordich) that wiped out Silas Redd's 18-yard touchdown discouraged the plan. And twice on third down - third-and-4 from the Iowa 17 and third-and-5 from the Hawkeyes' 8 - the Lions converted with runs of 5 yards (Curtis Dukes) and 6 (Redd).
"Statement drive," senior offensive tackle Chima Okoli said. "[Our attitude was] I'm going to run this ball, and you've got to stop it."
Iowa could not.
The Lions' drive came on the heels of a brutal interception in which Matt McGloin was picked in the end zone - after driving 90 yards from the PSU 4 to the Iowa 6 late in the third quarter with PSU leading 6-3.
"Frustrating," Pannell said. "We get down there and turn it over in the red zone, which has been a problem all year."
While McGloin once again outplayed starter Rob Bolden - and this time got most of the snaps - his interception could have been crippling. But with Redd and Dukes averaging 5.1 and 6.7 yards per crack, Penn State went back to the run and stuck with it.
"Some of the young backs are getting a better feel for the holes," Paterno said.
Until the coaching staff commits to McGloin - and even if or when it does - this is not a football team that will win consistently by averaging the 33 attempts it did for the first five games.
Saturday, it attempted 26.
"Redd is probably the best athlete I've seen," fullback Joe Suhey said. "He has the ability to break every play."
So as the Lions hit the midway point at 5-1, they may have decided to embrace their old identity.
"For us to be the type of football team we want to be, we have got to be able to run the ball better than we did the first five games," offensive coordinator Galen Hall said. "We have to finish drives. We can't settle for field goals."
They've determined they have a better chance to do that by emphasizing the run game in the red zone, and that may be a victory in itself.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.