UNIVERSITY PARK - It's easy to get caught up in what Penn State is not.
It's not a dominant football team.
It's not very good offensively at least consistently, and its stubborn quarterback rotation that may have finally - mercifully - ended here Saturday brought ugly boos aimed at Rob Bolden.
And it's not beaten anyone confused with a Top-10 team.
But reinforced by their 10-7 tooth-pull win over Illinois at snowy Beaver Stadium, it's clear the Nittany Lions have qualities that plenty of other teams around the country don't.
They're tough and poised, persistent and resilient and awoke this morning as the Big Ten's only unbeaten team at 5-0. They stand at 8-1, riding a seven-game win streak and are starting to reek of intangibles that have punctuated the Paterno Era.
"We're not killing people," Joe Paterno said. "We've had to struggle. But they stick together and keep their poise, and they have a lot of character."
In winning or securing six of their victories in the fourth quarter, the Lions have built a resolve that is raising some comparisons to their predecessors.
Unbeaten teams of 1968, '69 and '73 won a lot of games this way. So did the teams of '78 and '85 that played for the national title.
"It's more like '85," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "So many games have come down to the wire."
The '85 team won seven games by a touchdown or less, finished unbeaten and lost to Oklahoma for No. 1 in the Orange Bowl.
This team will likely find itself offensively challenged when the competition amps up as it will in November with Nebraska on tap followed by trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
But Saturday's win, the Lions' third come-from-behind verdict this year, was an exercise in overcoming adversity: Penn State fumbled six times (losing two), punted eight times and converted just three of 16 third or fourth downs.
"Some years you play great defense and great kicking," Paterno said, "and some years you have to offset that with more offense. This club is obviously a very fine defensive team."
And one that deserves better offense. The defense has had to overcome its own offensive staff as Paterno and his son, quarterbacks coach Jay, insisted once again on giving Bolden a chance.
He was 0-for-4 in four second-quarter series, never sensed the rush, fumbled twice and was booed repeatedly, including when he took the field for his third series.
Here's hoping these coaches don't put Bolden in that position again this year.
Conversely, Matt McGloin has been equal to the challenge. Since the middle of last year, often coming off the bench to relieve Bolden, the Lions are 11-3 when McGloin takes the majority of the snaps.
He wasn't great against Illinois, completing 9-of-24 for 98 yards, a pick and he took three sacks. But on the game-winning drive, he was 4-for-6 for 58 yards and drew a key pass interference penalty for another 15.
McGloin prides himself on his mental toughness "playing one quarterback is tough enough, let alone two and learning how to deal with it," he said and Paterno acknowledged "Mac epitomizes" the qualities this team has shown.
Despite a defensive struggle in which the Penn State offense did not deserve to win for 57 minutes, the entire Lion sideline stayed positive.
"We have a lot of poise and confidence and a lot of trust in each other," linebacker Nate Stupar said. "I had no doubt the offense was going to do their job at the end."
That belief has translated to 8-1.
Welcome to the bye week.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com