UNIVERSITY PARK - Who said college football doesn't have an exhibition season?
Penn State emerged from the Grapefruit League portion of its schedule undefeated at 4-0 and untested by a not-exactly-murderer's-row lineup of Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, Syracuse and Temple.
Saturday's 45-3 win over the Owls at Beaver Stadium was the least appetizing of the season-opening menu - especially to Joe Paterno, whose sore right leg sent him from the sideline to the press box after halftime.
The combination of the attention to his physical status and his team's play left him a tad grumpy.
''I thought it was a very, very sloppy performance - fumbles, [we] had an interception, [our kickoff] coverage was terrible,'' he said before reiterating the obvious. ''I wasn't very pleased.''
The Lions' slow start - they didn't score in the first quarter for the first time this year - could be partially attributed to Temple, which played harder than Syracuse and Oregon State, or the Nits' attitude.
''We warmed up flat,'' quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. ''You could sense it.''
The Lions did not practice well Tuesday, JoePa said, ''and I let them know about it.'' He was more satisfied with the focus Wednesday and Thursday, but he also sensed that his team didn't fully stand at attention for the Owls.
''Sometimes you think you're ready, but you don't have that little edge,'' he said. ''You're careless with the football. We played like, 'they can't beat us.'''
That may be natural, particularly against a visiting opponent that hasn't beaten Penn State since 1941.
''I don't care how good a team you are,'' Jay Paterno said, ''it's tough to be emotionally up every week.''
That's true, especially so during a 12-game season, but a lack of focus necessitates better execution, which the Lions clearly lacked.
They fumbled five times, saving the best one for last as tailback Brent Carter turned a fourth-quarter touchdown and a 52-3 lead into a touchback.
JoePa called the play ''stupid.''
His son didn't go that far, but said, ''I'll tell you right now: We'll work on ball carrying quite a bit Monday.''
Fortunately for the Nits, Temple wasn't capable of coming up with any of the other four fumbles and couldn't convert the big plays it made - such as an early interception or a 74-yard second-quarter kickoff return - into points.
''I thought at times our defense played very well, and at times we did some things well on offense,'' JoePa said. ''But we just didn't have the consistency.''
Against better competition, such as a Big Ten schedule that begins Saturday night with Illinois' visit, the Lions won't get away with allowing 221 yards of kickoff returns.
''I thought our defense did well,'' coordinator Tom Bradley said. ''We had some adversity with the kickoff returns, and I know we'll work to shore that up because that can be very costly.''
Despite forgetting and/or not needing its ''A'' game, the Lions still came through the first four games much more impressively than most expected, given injuries and off-the-field troubles cost them four defensive starters.
Having to face the physical challenge Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, rested from a week off, presents, Bradley said keeping his unit fresh ''is a concern.''
But along with a juggernaut offense that keeps tinkering with new looks such as two tailbacks, five wides and an empty backfield, Penn State is eager to gauge itself.
''Obviously, we'll have a tough time with Illinois, but I think the kids are anxious to get into it, and I'm anxious to get into it - to see what kind of a football team we have,'' JoePa said. ''We have to play better than [today], I know that.''
You get the feeling, though, that Saturday's 8 p.m. kickoff will provide more than enough electricity to jolt the Nittany Lions out of a lazy, noon-start malaise.
One in which they still won by 42 points.
Rudel can be reached a 946-7527 or email@example.com.