INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe a hurricane hitting the Northeast should have been a sign that Penn State was in for a strange week.
The path leading up to Saturday‚??s 34-9 win over Purdue was full of odd happenings for the Nittany Lions, beginning with a flat tire on the team plane on Friday that delayed the trip out to Indiana.
The Lions typically arrive for road games in the mid-to-late afternoon. But they didn‚??t get to their hotel in Lafayette -- a Best Western that‚??s actually connected to an indoor water park called ‚??Buccaneer Bay‚?Ě -- until nearly 10 p.m.
‚??I actually liked it,‚?Ě senior cornerback Stephon Morris said of the delay. ‚??More sleep. More rest on Friday.‚?Ě
The next day at the stadium, the Lions warmed up in front of just a few thousand fans, slow to arrive on a cold and dreary day.
Looking to fire the team up was Craig Fitzgerald, Penn State‚??s always animated strength and conditioning coach.
Despite a temperature in the 30s, Fitzgerald was in trademark blue ‚??IRON LION‚?Ě T-shirt and shorts. Getting ready to finish out some stretches with a series of up-downs, Fitzgerald suddenly ripped off that shirt and threw himself to the turf that had just been subjected to sleet.
The bizarre show of spontaneity did the trick, however, as frenzied players ran up and formed a circle around him, led by senior linebacker Michael Mauti, who practically tackled the coach.
‚??He‚??s an animal,‚?Ě Mauti said with a smile. ‚??We all just really feed off that energy. We love him.‚?Ě
It didn‚??t, however, prevent Purdue from snapping the Lions‚?? first-quarter shutout streak. The Boilermakers drove for a field goal on the game‚??s opening drive for a 3-0 lead. Penn State was the last FBS team in the country to allow a point in the first quarter.
In the second half, quarterback Matt McGloin was frustrated following a delay of game penalty and, as he is prone to do on pre-snap flags, quickly tossed the ball toward the line of scrimmage.
Only problem was that his center and roommate Matt Stankiewitch was standing there and took a pigskin to the head.
Stankiewitch appeared especially upset on the field but said after the game that it was an accident and that McGloin had apologized.
‚??I forgave him pretty quickly,‚?Ě Stankiewitch said.
On that same drive, McGloin scrambled for a first down and ducked out of bounds right after the sticks on the Penn State sideline. Guard Miles Dieffenbach gave a shove to a trailing Purdue defender, creating a domino effect that led to quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher taking the worst of a collision.
The affable Fisher is typically one of the calmest figures on the Lions sideline, a sharp contrast to the occasional histrionics from head coach Bill O‚??Brien, secondary coach John Butler and, of course, Fitzgerald.
But this time it was Fisher who had to be restrained after a play, screaming in the direction of the players that sent him to the ground. Purdue ended up with a 15-yard penalty on the play.
‚??I didn‚??t see what happened, I just hope we got that on film,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said with no lack of amusement. ‚??That‚??s all I hope for.‚?Ě
The day ended on an appropriately peculiar note as Purdue scored its lone touchdown with no time left on the clock in the fourth quarter. The officials wouldn‚??t even allow the extra point try, interrupting the Boilermakers‚?? train whistle celebration by announcing, ‚??The game is over.‚?Ě
Not a moment too soon.
Penn State made that strange trip without the team‚??s top tight end and second leading receiver in Kyle Carter. Two players more than made up for his absence as true freshman tight end Jesse James and junior wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder. Both caught second-half touchdowns to bury the Boilers.
Moseby-Felder, who likely would have been strictly a reserve player this year if not for Justin Brown transferring and Shawney Kersey leaving the team, had a career day, finishing with six catches for 129 yards.
‚??He‚??s really done everything we‚??ve asked him to do this year,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??He‚??s caught important passes for us. Not many drops. He blocks in the running game. He‚??s a smooth route-runner. He‚??s instinctive. A smart guy. He can play both outside (wide receiver) positions and the slot. So he‚??s a good receiver.‚?Ě
James, who saw most of the snaps in Carter‚??s customary F-tight end spot, lined up all over the field and had three grabs for 49 yards.
‚??He‚??s really one of our most improved players,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??From the spring until now, he‚??s in the top five of the most improved players on our roster.‚?Ě