Joe Paterno has always said a football team makes its biggest improvement from its first to its second game.
Would he -- or you -- settle for the third game?
The Nittany Lions may not need to improve dramatically from last week's loss to Alabama to beat today's opponent, Kent State.
But they will need to button down some areas in a hurry in order to: 1) start developing confidence; 2) win this game decisively; 3) better position themselves to avoid the landmines that await, on the road, in the Big Ten.
Because what we've seen on both sides of the ball so far, excluding (surprise) the special teams, has not been close to good enough.
In fact, if the Lions don't start creating turnovers and making the opposing passer more uncomfortable, and if they can't establish their own running game, a lot of the 9-3 and 8-4 predictions will turn to 7-5 or 6-6 realities.
Kent State hung tough at Boston College last week. Boston College probably would beat Penn State.
The back-to-back road trips won't help the Golden Flashes, but when the Nittany Lions aren't right -- like they weren't in 2000 and the early part of the last decade -- Toledo, Kent's brother in the Mid-American Conference, came in and won.
We'll find out today whether this is a football team that will use the Alabama game as the learning experience it should be or one that might struggle against most of the teams on the schedule.
Remember, Youngstown State held the Lions without a touchdown until a minute remained in the first half.
An early loss like the one Penn State took at Alabama, at least in the past, has often triggered some position changes. Keep an eye out for that today, especially on defense, where the Lions are fielding their slowest unit in memory.
The front seven has seen a number of substitutes, in part because it was so humid in Tuscaloosa, but there's a definite sense that starting spots haven't been nailed down. Ditto in the secondary, where the likes of Andrew Dailey and Malcolm Willis, both safeties, were playing late in the game last week with the rest of the first unit.
JoePa might -- might -- give some of his starters another chance today, but it's doubtful he'll be terribly patient if things don't go well.
The clock is ticking: Two weeks from today, the Lions visit Iowa.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.