UNIVERSITY PARK - Not many, if any, opposing teams over the years have come to Beaver Stadium and gone for a fourth-and-1 from their own 29 on the game's first possession.
Illinois coach Ron Zook did just that Saturday, and his team justified his gutsy decision.
Mikel Leshoure picked up 2 yards, an ominous tone was set, and the Illini went on to push the Nittany Lions all over their own field en route to a shockingly-easy 33-13 victory before the quietest 107,638 in memory.
"I saw people leaving [early]," senior guard Stefen Wisniewski said, "and I couldn't blame them for it."
If the one-sided 24-3 losses at Alabama and Iowa were not surprising, this one sent the Lions staggering to a 3-3 record - 0-2 in the Big Ten - and facing the strong possibility of their first losing season since 2004.
Afterward, a visibly and admittedly discouraged Joe Paterno pledged a re-evaluation of personnel during this week's open date since "we're not making any progress."
All of Penn State's myriad of problems bubbled to the surface Saturday.
There have been many a year when the Nittany Lions could count on their defense to carry an offense limited by talent or its own conservatism. This, however, is not one of those seasons.
The defense has been decimated by the biggest rash of injuries of the Paterno Era.
It was on the field for nearly 40 minutes Saturday and did manage to force four field goal attempts. But it was consistently outslugged at the line and was dominated despite the Illini never really attacking vertically - "cheap little hooks and crosses," JoePa called them.
The strategy worked, though, as Illinois piled up 437 yards of total offense against a battered, tentative unit that has yet to force a fumble all season.
And that's the bright side of the Penn State story.
The offense? Well, it may be the least functional unit the Lions have ever fielded. Many of the problems can be traced to an offensive line that is making everybody around it worse.
As was the case at Iowa, the Lions were stuffed on a couple of early short-yardage plays that contributed to their whopping rushing first-down total of two.
"That has got to be a matter of will," Wisniewski said.
He could not dispute that intangible is missing and believes complacency may be a reason. He said the next week of practice will find out "who wants to step up and who wants to shrink."
He said the offense needs to "play with more desire than we have - staying on blocks and fighting for extra yards."
JoePa and the players felt practice went well last week, and that the team was ready to play. It even watched a motivational video Friday about Penn State's past success.
"At some point, we need to stop relying on all these other things to get motivated and motivate ourselves," senior tailback Evan Royster said.
Twice Illinois gift-wrapped golden opportunities for Penn State by fumbling punts inside its own 20, and twice this feeble Lion offense could not score a touchdown.
It's a mess that will be nearly impossible to fix this year.
Beyond being led by a freshman quarterback, the Nits are trying to play three tailbacks. At least three times Saturday the Lion receivers ran routes short of the first-down marker. And when the team did inch its way inside the 5, it reacted in the same disorganized manner it did a week ago at Iowa when frantic substitution led to an illegal shift penalty (that was declined) during a rushed Bolden incompletion.
Instead of a possible 7-0 lead, Penn State settled for a game-opening field goal.
"I thought we were over that," Paterno said. "We spent an awful lot of time with play selection in the red zone."
Instead, it remains the Red Sea, and the Lions are drowning to the point where Paterno, stuck on 397 career victories, may need the 2011 Blue-White game for 400.
He tried to crack a joke to lighten the somber post-game mood.
"I did a lousy job," he said. He also admitted the Lions were "outcoached" at Alabama.
"Anytime you lose, you can point a finger at somebody else. We weren't competitive, so who do you blame?" he asked. "I'd like to blame you guys [media], but I can't."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.