MADISON, Wis. - Maybe we should have seen this coming.
Maybe it was too much to ask for Penn State, given the events of the last three weeks, to play its best game against what appears to be the Big Ten's best team in No. 15 Wisconsin.
Penn State knew it could lose, but the Nittany Lion camp did not envision unraveling to the extent that it did in a 45-7 loss to the Badgers on Saturday at rainy Camp Randall Stadium.
Wisconsin’s Nick Toon can’t hold on to a pass in front of Penn State’s Drew Astorino on Saturday.
"No excuses," interim coach Tom Bradley said. "I thought we were ready to play."
The Lions committed seven penalties, dropped passes, three lost fumbles and an ill-timed early interception helped set the rout in motion and contributed to a soggy end to a regular season that, years from now, will be remembered for what occurred off the field rather than on it.
"We didn't have the fire in our eyes," senior linebacker Nate Stupar said. "Just in our stances, our coaches said we kind of turned it in already. I don't know why. We just didn't come out and play football."
Still, Stupar didn't think the mental fatigue of enduring the scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, which led to the firing of Joe Paterno, caught up to the team.
Neither did senior safety Drew Astorino, who said, "We just didn't bring it today."
It's understandable, of course, given everything the players have been forced to overcome. And yet, that wouldn't totally be fair to Wisconsin, which, as offensive coordinator Galen Hall said in his typical understated way, "is pretty good."
"We knew this part of the schedule would be tough, and we knew Wisconsin might be our toughest game this year," offensive tackle and captain Quinn Barham said. "We failed the mission."
Maybe they did Saturday, but it didn't seem to overly dampen their spirits.
"I thought we had a great season - 9-3 isn't too shabby," Stupar said. "Even all the controversy we've been through, it's been a joyride."
That ride will now be engulfed in uncertainty over the next few weeks.
Bradley said the team will meet today and then he'll give everyone a week off.
"They need some time to themselves to recharge the batteries," he said. "I think a week away from everything won't hurt us."
By then, acting athletic director Dave Joyner and new president Rodney Erickson will have sorted out the Lions' bowl possibility.
Bradley plans to be on the road recruiting over the next 10 days, trying to solidify the Lions' 15 verbal commitments. In the meantime, players may be mulling transfer options while others beyond the seniors, such as Jordan Hill and Gerald Hodges, may be checking out their NFL stock.
It's possible fellow members of the staff will be scoping out other job possibilities.
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno was moved after the game when queried about his emotions.
"I was OK until you asked," he said, forcing a smile. "Now that we don't have a game next week, I'll have a day when I can crash and think about some things spend some time with my kids and kind of deal with this because I really haven't had a chance to do that."
Hall has offered to stay on if Bradley is retained and may consider retirement if he's not. He paused a while when he was asked if the coaches would like to know sooner than later.
"I'm trying to sidestep it," he said. "They [administration] have to make that decision. Whoever's on the committee has a timetable and certain people they want to talk to. They'll have to work that out."
Naming a coach soon might make it difficult for those remaining to prepare for a bowl - presuming an invitation comes and is accepted - but at the same time, several potential candidates may be getting their own teams ready.
"Hopefully we'll get one more game, and we won't have to go out like this," Bradley said. "I told them to keep their heads high."
Most teams that lose 45-7 might not heed those words.
But this one should.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.