LANDOVER, Md. - Let's see if we can get this straight: Penn State was locked in a battle Saturday, deep into the second half, with a team that could not afford to host this game.
That is what we were witnessing against Indiana, which got $3 million from FedEx Field, a bowl-type venue in which 90 percent of the 78,790 on hand arrived wearing blue and white.
Penn State eventually put away the Hoosiers, 41-24, but the Nittany Lions needed a blocked punt for a touchdown and a strong fourth quarter to do it.
How can that be?
The explanation would take you into a third cup of coffee this morning, but one of the reasons is a lack of discipline.
Penn State doesn't have a great team this year. That was made clear by mid-October. It needs most of the experienced players it has, but four of them - including three starters - were suspended for being late for the team breakfast Saturday.
One was defensive captain Ollie Ogbu, the first time in memory a captain did not show up at midfield for the coin toss for a non-injury related matter. (Offensive captain Brett Brackett handled the responsibility with late designation Bani Gbadyu.)
Ogbu watched the first half from the sidelines with fellow defensive tackle Devon Still and offensive tackle Chima Okoli. Backup DeOn'tae Pannell was the fourth offender; he and Okoli didn't play at all.
"They were very late," Joe Paterno said. "The bus was leaving, and I told them I wasn't going to play them the first half."
This comes on the heels of a week where two other contributors, running back Silas Redd and defensive end Sean Stanley, were cited for disorderly conduct and urinating in public.
Both played Saturday. Stanley had some previous discipline problems that caused him to miss a couple of games earlier this season.
By themselves, none of the issues rise to a high level of concern, but collectively, they might help signal how the Lions could blow an early 14-0 lead and how they can play so unevenly this season.
Considering the Jekyll-Hyde performances against Northwestern and Ohio State and failure to knock out Indiana until the game turned into a 24-24 scare, this may be one of the most mercurial of the 45 teams JoePa has fielded.
Paterno has been looking for teaching moments for his young team, and Saturday was one.
"Whatever it was - overslept, didn't hear the phone call - it can't happen," Brackett said. "The older guys have to set the tone."
None of the late players were available to the media.
"We're captain brothers," Brackett said of Ogbu. "I had to tell him it's unfortunate, but you have to be professional about it. Coach has rules, and that's what makes him who is he."
In part because the Lions won, Paterno was able to joke about it afterward. He saw an upside in that the players got the message, the team overcame the adversity and that Jordan Hill and James Terry - who started at defensive tackle - and Mike Farrell, who replaced Okoli, got their feet wet and performed well.
"That was a plus I had not figured on," JoePa said.
Compounding the challenge was an ankle injury to Doug Klopacz that forced guard Stefen Wisniewski to center and John Urschel to guard.
They contributed to the Lion offense pouring in 30-plus points for the fourth time since Matt McGloin took over. But the defense kept allowing Indiana back in the game until it finally stood up in the second half.
"I was concerned that we had a good lead and let them back in the ballgame," Paterno said.
Despite Saturday's struggle, and some unnecessary drama, Penn State dragged itself closer to an 8-4 regular season. The Nits have a chance to deck Michigan State from a possible BCS bid this week and could still land in one of the Florida bowls, likely the Outback or Gator.
While neither destination will match the footsteps Paterno ultimately prefers, he was able to get a point across to his team that could help its future.
"How good do you want to be?" he asked afterward. "We're trying to make sure they understand certain things."
Like how to set an alarm clock.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.