But fortunately for PSU this was perennial league doormat Indiana, 1-3 coming in with losses to Ball State and gulp North Texas. So another strong showing by the State defense was enough to allow Joe Paterno's crew to escape with a too-close-for-comfort 16-10 victory.
The Nittany Lions are now 4-1 on the season and afterward the theme in the media room was about how it is better to learn from an ugly win than a loss.
We have to do some things better, obviously, said Paterno, who for the second straight week spent the first half on the sideline before heading to the press box for the final 30 minutes. We've got a lot of work to do.
It wasn't as if the offense was a complete bust.
For the fourth time in five games, Matt McGloin came off the bench and outperformed starter Rob Bolden at quarterback. Both passers were shaky in the first half. But McGloin got a hot hand in the second, and finished 10 of 22 for 204 yards and a score.
But all of that good stuff was off-set by a bevy of mistakes. The offense stopped itself with key penalties (one rushing TD was wiped out by a holding penalty) and turnovers (a fumble and interception in the red zone).
It's a mind-set, maybe, Paterno said. I don't know. We're wasting too many opportunities.
Here is our breakdown of the game.
CLOSE SECOND: Among Moye's catches was a 74-yard scoring strike from McGloin. It gave PSU a 13-3 lead and a little breathing room.
HONORABLE MENTION: Defensive tackle Jordan Hill had four tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.
OPPOSING MVP: Dusty Kiel started in place of Edward Wright-Baker at QB and helped keep Indiana in the game. He connected on 22 of 45 passes for 184 yards and a score. Not fantastic numbers, but solid considering how well the PSU defense played.
TURNING POINT: Moye's long TD finally broke it open (even if the Hoosiers had a late score to make things interesting).
STRONG STRATEGY: Giving McGloin the bulk of the snaps in the second half was a good move by the PSU staff. It should have allowed him to play the entire fourth quarter, since by that time he had found a groove.
BY THE NUMBERS: Penn State cranked out 464 yards of total offense, tallied 22 first downs and held a 37:27-22:33 time-of-possession advantage. And yet the Lions still scored only 16 points.
JOE SHOW: Paterno was moving well on the sideline before the game and in the first half. In the postgame, he was in generally good spirits and didn't really go back and forth with any reporters.
ASSISTANT ASSESSMENT: A thumbs-up to defensive coordinator Tom Bradley for getting mostly strong play out of his unit despite having to replace Mauti and starting corner D'Anton Lynn (concussion).
GREAT PLAY: Corner Chaz Powell made a third-quarter interception despite having been knocked flat on his back. Heads-up.
NOT-SO-GREAT PLAY: Redd lost a fumble near the goal line with PSU leading 6-3 in the third quarter.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Anthony Fera made a career-high three field goals. His only miss on the day was from 52 yards to close the first half.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: Defensive tackle Devon Still only had three tackles on the day. But two of them were in the Hoosier backfield. He also recovered a fumble.
HIT SQUAD: Indiana corner Greg Heban was all over the place, making a team-high nine tackles. But his hardest hit came when he leveled Bolden after the Lion QB tried a screen pass to reserve tailback Derek Day.
HIDDEN HERO: Receiver Shawney Kersey had a pair of catches for 32 yards, including a 26-yarder that set up PSU's first field goal in the second quarter. We should be seeing more of this guy.
We can't quite figure out why the staff won't give McGloin a crack at the starting job. The argument that he plays well off the bench is tantamount to an admission that the offense needs someone off the bench every week.
Tailback Curtis Dukes had nine carries for 54 yards. And yet there were still times when Day played in his place on third down. The staff has frequently said Dukes must improve his pass blocking. He must need a lot of help.
Right tackle Chima Okoli had an offside call in the second quarter and was pulled mid-series. Mike Farrell took his place for the rest of the game.
Mauti, who sustained the ACL injury last week, made the trip. He obviously did not play. But he was on the field before the game tossing the ball around with teammates. Mauti has not had surgery yet. Lynn did not make the trip.
True freshmen who made the trip included CB Adrian Amos, WR Allen Robinson and K Sam Ficken, who have all played this year. Also on the trip were redshirting DE Deion Barnes and OT Donovan Smith. One surprise: receiver Bill Belton, who had played earlier this season, was not on the trip.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Is this the worst 4-1 team Paterno has had?
SUGGESTED HASHTAG: #UglyWinn