|Purdue 28, Penn State 14|
|October 11, 2003|
|Ross-Ade Stadium - West Lafayette, IN|
|Kickoff Time: 3:40 p.m. EDT|
|WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.
- On a dazzling 90-yard run with an interception at the end of the first
half that seemed to be a game-turning play, Penn State cornerback Alan Zemaitis
gave the beleaguered Nittany Lions reason to believe that relief was coming
in this awful season.
Quarterback Michael Robinson said he thought it was a sign from the heavens. Tight end Matt Kranchik figured it was time to take a ride on this unexpected wave of momentum.
Ultimately, though, Zemaitis' big play got lost beneath another avalanche of recurring mistakes that seem to be leading Penn State towards its worst season in the 38 years since Joe Paterno became head coach.
Anyone who invests emotion in Penn State football has heard it all before, but for the record here goes:
The Nittany Lions (2-5, 0-3) lost again yesterday, this time to No. 18 Purdue, 28-14, in a Big Ten conference game at Ross-Ade Stadium.
It was the first win over Penn State for the Boilermakers (5-1, 2-0) since the Nittany Lions joined the conference in 1993.
For Penn State, the special teams were terrible. Again.
The defense against the run was ineffective. Again.
The passing game, which clicked for 379 yards in Robinson's first start last week against Wisconsin, was virtually non-existent. There were the usual dropped passes at critical moments. Three more by senior Tony Johnson, who couldn't hang on to a perfectly thrown long pass that could have been a touchdown, prompting Paterno to sit Johnson for most of the second half.
And often when receivers broke free, Robinson couldn't connect. The redshirt sophomore completed 10 of 32 passes for 98 yards and threw two interceptions.
"I overthrew receivers. I underthrew receivers. I put the ball in bad spots," said Robinson, whose grim performance included a clipping penalty against him when Penn State tried to execute a reverse.
"I played horrible. I wish I had some of those throws back. I just couldn't get into rhythm."
And Penn State had three more turnovers and now has a turnover rate of minus-11.
This loss appeared to sting Paterno more than the previous four because he had been insisting the team was making progress, that it was only a big play here or a break there from turning things around.
But as Paterno picked through the ruins of a defeat that brought Penn State closer to its third losing season in the last four years, he seemed at wit's end.
"We took a big step backwards today," he said. "Purdue is probably the best team we've played yet. But I thought we were on our way to being a better team than we were today.
"It's tough when you're hanging in there and you can't make something happen when you need to. I'm not discouraged. I'm angry. I've got to figure out a way to get us to win a game like this. We can point the finger at everybody, but it comes back to the head man. No, that doesn't mean I'm quitting."
Once again, the Nittany Lions made life easier for their opponent by botching special teams play. Three punt returns by Purdue's Anthony Chambers - one a 76-yard TD that gave the Boilermakers a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter, another a 42-yarder to the Penn State 29 that set up Brandon Jones' 1-yard TD early in the first quarter - turned into 21 points.
"We had a return set up for straight up the middle and my two wing blockers gave me a great opportunity to return the ball," Chambers said of his TD run. "There were no defenders within in 10 yards of me when I caught the ball."
Once Purdue coach Joe Tiller realized he didn't have to employ his pass-happy offense to win the game, the Boilermakers chewed up Penn State's defense for 219 rushing yards. Brandon Jones, who made it 28-14 with his second 1-yard TD midway through the fourth quarter, ran for 149 yards on 29 carries. He became the seventh player to run for more than 100 yards against the young, undersized Nittany Lions' defensive front this season.
With an interception that prevented Purdue from building on its 17-7 lead before the half, and instead set up a 3-yard scoring pass from Robinson to Isaac Smolko, Zemaitis gave Penn State cause to gather some confidence.
"But we couldn't capitalize," said Kranchik, whose lost fumble in the fourth quarter ended any hope for a comeback. "We had too many dropped balls, and some of that is on me. We didn't even get 100 yards passing. We didn't make plays for Mike."
Told that Paterno said the team took a step backward, Robinson smiled weakly and said, "We certainly didn't take a step forward."
Notes: Freshman running back Austin Scott, who leads Penn State in rushing, did not make the trip because he has mononucleosis, according to a university spokesman... . Penn State is 2-5 for only the second time under Paterno. They were also 2-5 in 2000 before finishing 5-7.