Afterward, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said the Nittany Lions will take the victories any way they can get 'em.
We're not going to the prom here, Bradley said. We're not talking about our dates to the prom. It's about winning.
Penn State won despite an uncharacteristically sloppy effort by the defense (which gave up its longest pass and run plays of the year), another disjointed performance by the offense and one key special-teams breakdown.
The Lions offset those issues by forcing three turnovers, dominating time of possession and delivering a heaping helping of kicking game magic themselves.
As it has done in every game but one this season, Penn State made key plays in the clutch, culminating with LB Nate Stupar's clinching interception with 1:59 remaining.
Here is how the game broke down.
MAN O' THE HOUR: We're going to give the nod to kicker/punter Anthony Fera. He was good on three of three field-goal tries. He averaged 44.5 yards on six punts, with three of them downed inside the 20. He all but iced the game with a 69-yard bomb that Nick Sukay downed at the Purdue 2-yard line with 2:36 remaining.
CLOSE SECOND: TB Silas Redd churned out 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Another strong effort on a day where the line wasn't exactly blowing open holes.
HONORABLE MENTION: Stupar had a pair of interceptions. Do you realize that the entire linebacker corps had one interception last season (by Stupar)?
OPPOSING MVP: RB Ralph Bolden did not get nearly enough work, in our opinion. He carried 13 times for 97 yards (or 7.5 per carry). The rest of the team carried 20 times for 65 yards (or 3.25 per carry).
TURNING POINT: After Purdue pulled within 20-18 in the fourth quarter, Penn State's Chaz Powell uncorked a 92-yard kickoff return before being tackled at the Boilermaker 3. Even with a dicey taunting call on Powell for tossing the football after the play, the Lions were in good shape. Fera eventually nailed a 29-yard field goal for the 23-18 lead that held up.
STRONG STRATEGY: Even though PSU only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, we liked the emphasis on the run. The Lions had 48 rushing attempts, which helped them dominate time of possession and keep Purdue's effective offense off the field.
BY THE NUMBERS: Speaking of TOP, State won the battle, 33:51-26:09. That included an 18:01-11:59 edge in the second half. TOP can sometimes be misleading, as offenses that score quickly usually don't hang onto the ball very long. But for a struggling offense like Penn State's, it is good to dominate the possession battle.
JOE SHOW: Joe Paterno was on the sideline for the pregame but up in the box once the action started. He said he was still sore from the near sideline collision he had in the Iowa game.
ASSISTANT ASSESSMENT: With top wideout Derek Moye out (broken foot), the receiving corps was still very effective, led by Justin Brown's four catches for 86 yards. Brandon Moseby-Felder had two grabs for 40 yards in his first career start. Kudos to position coach Mike McQueary for having the wideouts ready to go even without Moye.
GREAT PLAY(S): On offense, Brown had a spectacular 34-yard one-handed grab in the fourth quarter. On defense, Nick Sukay made a nice diving interception of a tipped ball late in the third quarter to snuff out a Boiler drive.
NOT-SO-GREAT PLAY(S): The two worst play calls of the first half happened back-to-back. Late in the second quarter, on third and long from his own 36, Purdue QB Robert Marve threw across his body and was intercepted by Stupar. The return and a personal foul penalty gave State the ball at the Purdue 12 with 14 seconds left. Then the PSU offensive brain trust dialed up a reverse -- a play that has not worked all season -- and Brown was stopped for no gain. Penn State went back to the reverse leading 23-18 and facing a first-and-10 from its own 29 in the closing minutes of the game. Devon Smith was dropped for a four-yard loss, and was lucky to recover his own fumble.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: We already mentioned Fera and Powell. So here is a special shout-out to Stephon Morris, who had a touchdown-saving tackle when Purdue's Raheem Mostert returned a kickoff 71 yards in the third quarter.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: The stat sheet once again did not do justice to defensive tackle Devon Still's game. He had four tackles, one in the backfield, despite being double-teamed frequently.
HIT SQUAD: CB D'Anton Lynn, back from a concussion, leveled Ralph Bolden after an 8-yard gain in the third quarter.
HIDDEN HERO: Smith had two catches for 34 yards. He's a good receiver. Not such a good reverse guy. Speaking of which
It is difficult to figure out Penn State's love affair with the reverse. The Lions ran it three times Saturday for a total of two yards (.67 YPC) and a fumble. The reverse with the game on the line was crazy.
QB Rob Bolden started for the seventh straight game. He was ineffective again, completing only 2 of 6 passes for 40 yards. He was clobbered on a third-quarter sack and was lucky to recover his own fumble.
Speaking of which, Penn State now has 15 fumbles on the year. The Lions are fortunate they have only lost six of them.
QB Matt McGloin was once again zinged for playing fast and loose in or near the red zone. Up 20-12 in the third quarter, the Lions were on the brink of putting the game away when McGloin's errant toss was picked off by LB Albert Evans in the red zone. Evans returned the pick 55 yards to set up a Boilermaker scoring drive.
We get that tight end Andrew Szczerba has gone through a very difficult time with the recent death of his uncle. But we'd be remiss if we did not point out two more big mistakes by the senior. He had a false start that led to a drive stalling in the second quarter. Then he dropped what appeared to be a sure touchdown pass right before the half. He was pulled in favor of sophomore Kevin Haplea in the second half.
Penn State now has 11 interceptions on the season. It had 10 in 13 games in 2010.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: As the Big Ten schedule takes a decided turn for the more difficult, will Penn State be able to keep winning while playing such sloppy ball?
SUGGESTED HASHTAG: #JustWin(Ugly)Baby