SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The Penn State Express rolled over Syracuse, 55-13, yesterday in the Carrier Dome. Other than flattening a down-on-its luck team, there wasn't much new to learn about this locomotive.
After three wins over inferior competition - by a combined score of 166-37 - the Nittany Lions have faced little on-field adversity and aren't expected to when 1-2 Temple visits State College on Saturday. But, at the very least, No. 17 Penn State (3-0) has been businesslike in its approach and has carried itself the way all good teams do.
The question, though, is just how good?
"I think we're a pretty good football team," coach Joe Paterno said. "I just don't know how good and I won't know until we have some adversity."
As far as the players are concerned, they have faced enough off-field hardship to even out the relative ease they have encountered on the field.
"We've definitely had our share of things that we've had to work through," defensive end Aaron Maybin said. "And I think the team as a whole has done a great job working through everything and staying together."
Maybin was referring to a distraction-filled off-season that included suspensions and expulsions, and the early-season drama surrounding several players and a marijuana investigation.
But it's almost as if the team has used game day as a refuge. And the weak sisters on the schedule have paid the price. Syracuse (0-3) was this week's victim.
"Football is easy after what we went through off the field," defensive end Josh Gaines said.
By halftime, the Lions had 393 total yards to the Orange's 42. They had 19 first downs to Syracuse's three. And they led, 38-6, joining the heralded 1994 team as the only Penn State teams to score more than 35 points in the first half of three consecutive games.
Wide receivers Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood continue their climb up the program's records list. The seniors became the first Penn State twosome to go over 100 yards receiving in a game since 2003, reaching the century mark before the half.
Butler had seven catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Norwood finished with five grabs for 113 yards and two TDs - his second consecutive game above 100.
Quarterback Daryll Clark was 10 for 21 for 163 yards and two TDs.
Yesterday, Penn State added a wrinkle and inserted backup Pat Devlin early in second quarter. The sophomore from Downingtown East High connected on his first six attempts, finished 8 of 13 for 130 yards and two TDs, and resurrected the notion that the quarterback spot remains unsettled.
"Yeah, absolutely," Devlin said. "I'm always going to go out there and try as hard as I can to win the job."
Devlin said he was told yesterday morning to be ready. Clark, who was solid if not as spectacular as last week, said he knew of the decision mid-week. He said the reduced role was "not a problem."
Running back Evan Royster (13 carries for 104 yards) topped 100 yards for the second straight week. And the defense continued to impress despite mass losses, especially along the front.
Tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu paced the Lions' rush defense, holding the Orange to just 49 yards on 25 tries. Syracuse running back Curtis Brinkley, a West Catholic High product, managed just 21 yards on 14 totes.
Still, it's hard to be overly enthusiastic. Syracuse bears little resemblance to the Orange teams that battled Penn State through a nearly seven-decade rivalry. It had been 18 years since the old East Coast foes had played, and that storied past was honored with the Friday premiere of
The film chronicles the life of Syracuse running back Ernie Davis. A number of the program's greats were on hand along with actors Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid. The game and this Syracuse team were hardly Hollywood-worthy.
"Obviously, it would feel better playing a team that's not struggling as much, just from the standpoint that you get a feel for how good you are yourself," Butler said.
The Owls are next. Big Ten Conference play begins the following week against No. 24 Illinois.
"We'll find out in the next couple of weeks," Paterno said.