BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Saturday's game was so bad for nearly three quarters that talk of 6-4 versus Iowa started coming up.
That was the low point of Penn State's dark years, back in October of 2004. The Mirror's headline the next day read "2 + 2 = Poor" because the Nittany Lions' offense looked absolutely lost in that embarrassing defeat to the Hawkeyes.
There's a rule of thumb in journalism that says the first score mentioned in a game story should be the final score. Most people don't read too deep into stories, so they want to get the final score and get out.
Breaking that rule, it's perhaps more important to note that with 1:41 to go in the third quarter Saturday, Penn State was leading Indiana, 6-3. After 40 minutes of football, that's all the Lions could muster against the Big Ten's worst program.
Penn State wound up winning its Big Ten opener, 16-10, but surviving is the better way to put it.
One week after Indiana lost to one of the worst teams in the Sun Belt Conference, North Texas, the Hoosiers came within 40 yards and one Hail Mary pass from beating the Lions for the first time.
It wasn't as bad as 6-4 against Iowa, but even in victory, it wasn't much better. Not considering the opponent.
"We didn't perform very well," receiver Derek Moye said before pointing out the obvious. "We have a lot of improving to do."
Penn State's coaches continue to say the two-quarterback system between Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin is working. Five games into the season, they're having an increasingly difficult time getting anyone to believe them.
The Lions (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) amassed 464 yards of total offense, which gives the appearance of a good day offensively. It wasn't.
Penn State entered the red zone five times and scored no touchdowns. Bolden threw an interception from the 18 to kill the game's opening drive, and Silas Redd fumbled on first-and-goal from the 3 in the third quarter.
"We have to do some things better, obviously," Joe Paterno said. "Not staying on blocks, we didn't do a couple of things there. We'll go back home and try to get a little bit better."
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno downplayed the situation and said the offense wasn't as bad as some reporters were suggesting.
"You get those two touchdowns [instead of turnovers] and it's a 30-3 game in the fourth quarter, and it's not even an issue," he said.
The younger Paterno is correct in that assessment, but his answer overlooks the obvious: The team didn't score touchdowns because it found ways to shoot itself in the foot.
Not all of it was the quarterbacks' fault. The linemen struggled and there were several key penalties to go along with the turnovers.
"Every part of this offense bears some brunt of this," Jay Paterno said.
Still, given the constant shuffling of the quarterbacks and that just about every player on the team has talked about his preference to have one guy fill the position, it's easy to single out the rotation as the most logical reason for the overall struggles.
Jay Paterno, who recently wrote a column for a website discussing how he handles criticism, snapped at a question about the offense being dysfunctional and the growing sense from the fan base that it's because of the quarterback rotation.
"Next question," he said. "Really, you're trying to lead me into something that, really, it's a non-issue. We won the game. And we had some dropped passes, we missed some open guys and we had some penalties and turnovers that took points off the board.
"You want to call it dysfunctional," he continued, "that's your word, not mine, and I'm not going to bite on that one."
McGloin gave Penn State some breathing room with a 74-yard touchdown strike to Moye with 1:31 left in the third quarter for a 13-3 lead. The Lions' defense had controlled the Hoosier offense up to that point, so the TD and a 33-yard field goal from Anthony Fera with 10:10 remaining appeared to seal the deal for PSU.
Indiana fought back, however, with a 14-play, 77-yard drive. It ended with a 5-yard TD pass from Dusty Kiel to Ted Bolser to make it 16-10 with 3:51 to play.
Redd, who gained 129 yards on 29 carries, broke off a 24-yard burst to the Indiana 47 on Penn State's next series. He picked up 7 yards on his next carry, and the Lions needed just 3 more yards in two plays for a first down that would have clinched the victory.
Redd couldn't get those 3 yards, picking up 2 on third down and getting stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 from the 38. Anthony Fera's punt went into the end zone, giving Indiana possession at the 20 with 2:06 left and no timeouts.
Kiel, playing for injured starter Edward Wright-Baker, put a scare into Penn State as he drove the Hoosiers 40 yards as the clock ticked down. Kiel converted a fourth-and-3 from the PSU 43 and stepped out of bounds at the 40 with two seconds left.
Indiana set up a Hail Mary attempt, with Kiel throwing into a strong wind. His pass hung up in the air and was tipped by PSU at the 5, and the ball hit Indiana receiver Damarlo Belcher in the hands before falling to the ground to end the game.
"Almost had a heart attack on that last play," PSU offensive lineman Quinn Barham said.
McGloin once again put up much better stats than Bolden, although neither played exceptionally well. McGloin was 10-of-22 for 204 yards and the 74-yard TD to Moye. Bolden was 6-of-14 for 67 yards and the one interception.
McGloin was co-Offensive Player of the Week in the Big Ten last week, but he still watched as Bolden started for the fifth straight game.
"Sure, yeah, I was disappointed," McGloin said. "I thought I played well enough to get the start. I thought I played well enough [Saturday] to get the start next week. But as of right now, I have no idea and just have to wait it out another week."
McGloin did have the coaches' confidence and got the call to lead the offense in the closing minutes when PSU was trying to run out the clock.
Bolden and McGloin both talked extensively about the offense needing more consistency.
"Today we struggled at times, but sometimes we looked really good," Bolden said.
Asked if the two-quarterback system was the cause of that, Moye said, "I wouldn't say it's disrupting the offense. We've just got to make plays, and we've got to execute our assignments each and every play no matter who the quarterback is."
"If we want to be the team that we expect to be and want to be," Moye added, "we have to start making more plays and clean up a lot of little mistakes we're making."
Get live updates from Bloomington by following @CoryGiger and @NeilRudel on Twitter.
Indiana 3, Penn State 0: Rob Bolden's interception deep in Indiana territory killed a scoring opportunity for the Lions, who a play earlier appeared to have scored a TD on an 8-yard run by Silas Redd but had it called back because of holding on tight end Andrew Szczerba. The Hoosiers took advantage of the turnover with a drive that resulted in a 49-yard field goal by Mitch Ewald with 6:51 left in the quarter. Dusty Kiel hit tight end Ted Bolser for a 24-yard pickup to the PSU 44 and found Jay McCants for 9 yards two plays later. The drive stalled, but Ewald converted a tough kick into the wind.
Penn State 3, Indiana 3: Matt McGloin led the Lions on a long drive from the 30 to the Indiana 5, but PSU couldn't punch it in. McGloin found Derek Moye for 18 yards to convert a third-and-10 early in the drive and later hit Shawney Kersey down the middle for 26 yards to the 11. Redd was stopped for no gain on second-and-4 from the 5, then McGloin threw a pass behind Devon Smith. Anthony Fera came on for a 22-yard field goal to tie it with 2:57 left in the half. Fera got a shot at a 52-yarder on the final play of the half but came up short.
Penn State 6, Indiana 3: The Lions cashed in on a turnover by the Hoosiers deep in their own territory as Stephen Houston fumbled, and it was recovered by Devon Still at the 13. PSU managed just 3 yards in three plays, and Fera kicked a 27-yard field goal with 12:18 left in the quarter. Penn State came up empty inside the 5-yard line on its previous drive as Silas Redd fumbled on first-and-goal from the 3. The Lions converted on fourth-and-inches from the 5, but Redd coughed it up on the next play.
Penn State 13, Indiana 3: McGloin fired a strike to Derek Moye down the right sideline for a 74-yard catch-and-run TD with 1:31 left in the quarter. It was McGloin's first play of the second half as he took over the offense at the Indiana 26. Bolden had been in for the first two series of the half.
Penn State 16, Indiana 3: McGloin once again led a scoring drive on his second series of the second half, moving the team from his own 21 down to the Hoosier 15. The drive was mostly through the air as McGloin hit Justin Brown for 19 yards and Derek Moye for 10 to convert a third-and-7 at the 29. Fera came in after the drive stalled and kicked a 33-yard field goal with 10:10 to play.
Pen State 16, Indiana 10: Dusty Kiel drove the Hoosiers down the field 77 yards in 14 plays and connected with Ted Bolser from 5 yards out with 3:51 to play to keep his team's upset hopes alive.
Giger's five keys to the game
INDIANAPOLIS - Five things to look for as Penn State plays its final tune-up game against Indiana before getting into the meat of the schedule starting next week.
No. 1: Cautionary tale
This is not a good Indiana team, evidenced by last week's brutal loss at North Texas. It's quite possible the Hoosiers, who have never beaten Penn State, will not recover from that loss and will lay down the rest of the season.
However, if the Indiana players and coaches have any pride, they'll come out guns-a-blazin' and try to prove right off the bat that they're better than last week's debacle. It's a desperate team, even though it's just week five, and desperate teams are libel to try anything.
Penn State needs to be motivated and ready from the outset, something the program has struggled with for years in noon starts on the road.
No. 2: Start McGloin
This needs to be the final audition game for Rob Bolden, who has been outplayed in every category by Matt McGloin.
With Iowa looming next week, the coaches should give McGloin an opportunity to start a game and see what he can do right off the bat. Just flip the roles for today and have Bolden play in relief as McGloin has been doing, thereby giving both one more shot to make or break his chances in the competition before we get down to the nitty gritty of games.
McGloin, who torched Indiana last season by going 22-of-31 for 315 yards and two TDs, may or may not be the best quarterback for the long haul at Penn State. But he has earned at least one start to see if he can lead the offense to early success.
Giger's game breakdown
Might we see Matt McGloin get his first start at QB? Or will the coaches keep the same rotation and start Rob Bolden once again? Both will play. The bigger question is: Will it still be a competition next week if McGloin outplays Bolden again?
QB Edward Wright-Baker leads a Hoosier offense that likes to go no-huddle. He's a threat to PSU secondary, averaging 231 yards while completing 62 percent. IU doesn't have strong running game, with D'Angelo Roberts (58.3 ypg) leading way.
Advantage: Penn State
Others will have to pick up the slack after season-ending injury to OLB Michael Mauti (knee) and with CB D'Anton Lynn (head/neck) out at least one game. Nate Stupar in for Mauti, Stephon Morris for Lynn. Look for D-line to get a lot of pressure on QB.
Hoosiers can't stop the run, allowing 190 yards per game, so it likely will get a heavy dose of PSU RB Silas Redd. McGloin lit up IU last season, going 22-of-31 for 315 yards and two TDs. LB Jeff Thomas 31 tackles (4 for losses). IU just 1 sack all season.
Advantage: Penn State
Lions much better last week after dreadful game at Temple two weeks ago. Anthony Fera first since Chris Bahr in 1975 to handle PK, P and KO duties in same game, and did all three well. Punt returners should get a lot of chances to break one.
PK Mitch Ewald 4-of-6 on FGs with long of 49. Adam Pines averaging 38.5 yards on 20 punts, though he does have six inside the 20. Nothing impressive about PR Dre Muhammad (7.2 average) or KOR Shane Wynn (18.1). Mediocre all-around.
Advantage: Penn State
Joe Paterno has always favored one-QB system, but Tuesday he said something odd: that backup has advantage because he can see what defense is doing. Neither of his QBs agreed with him. Not sure who JoePa is trying to kid with that.
IU has never beaten PSU. New coach Kevin Wilson might be wondering what he got himself into after last week's humiliating loss at North Texas. Wilson guided Oklahoma's offense from 2002-10. IU will either fall apart or come back fired up after last week.
Advantage: Penn State
This might be Rob Bolden's last chance to prove he even belongs in the QB competition. Look for him and Matt McGloin to play well. Penn State 27, Indiana 13