Well, it was easy, anyway. Not anymore. Not after what the senior tailback did to Purdue on Saturday.
Hunt wore down the Boilermakers, rushing for 142 yards on 31 carries, catching two passes for 36 yards and scoring the only touchdown of the game as Penn State coasted to a 12-0 victory. In so doing, he reaffirmed his status as one of the Big Ten's toughest running backs, a difference-maker who, when he gets an escort from his on-again, off-again offensive line, can carry a team on his shoulders.
He was amazing, receiver Deon Butler said. There was a screen pass where he just ran through four guys. But you know you're going to get that from Tony. He's so solid, such a solid back. He might not be one of those game-breakers who gives you a 70-yard run, but day in and day out, you know what you're going to get.
The Lions (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) had little choice but to hand the ball to their durable tailback. Blustery field conditions played havoc with the passing game all afternoon, forcing both teams to adjust their game plans.
That might have seemed a sobering prospect for Penn State heading into the game. The Lions' offensive line played poorly in a 26-12 victory over Illinois a week earlier, drawing Paterno's wrath after the game.
But the unit practiced well all week, and Paterno was so heartened that he declined to pull any of his starters. The decision paid off as the linemen helped Penn State amass 240 yards rushing against Purdue. Said the coach, I thought they played better.
Hunt said he sensed that the line was going to have a big game.
We were tired of hearing, 'blah, blah, blah, running game, offensive line.' We went out this week and had probably the toughest and best week we've had all season, he said. Really, it was the toughest and best week the offensive line has had since I've been here.
And yet a lot of Hunt's yards were his alone. One third-quarter reception typified Hunt's afternoon. It looked as though he would be stopped for no gain after catching a screen pass at the line of scrimmage on third-and-8. But he broke a couple of tackles and plowed through a crowd of Boilermakers for the first down.
Even Purdue coach Joe Tiller couldn't help but be impressed.
It was a demonstration of what a physical back can bring to the field, he said. When it was third-and-four, he would get four yards, six inches. When it was fourth down and six yards, he would get six yards, six inches. Hunt made a good individual effort today and broke a lot of tackles. Our defense is young and therefore not as physical. When a guy like Hunt can break the line of scrimmage, he'll probably carry a few guys with him.
Hunt changed the game's complexion when he capped a 12-play drive by rolling across the goal line for a 2-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Before he scored his touchdown — a touchdown that left the Lions with a 12-0 lead after the two-point conversion failed — the Boilermakers were one play away from taking the lead. But when it became clear they would need at least two scores to win, fans started heading for the exits.
It was hard to blame them. Penn State's defense was thwarting the Boilermakers at every turn, blitzing quarterback Curtis Painter and using the wind to its advantage. By the time it was over, Purdue (5-4, 2-3) had amassed only 240 total yards and had been shut out for the first time since 1996, the year before Tiller arrived in West Lafayette.
We definitely pinned our ears back and got after them, said defensive end Tim Shaw, who was part of a high-pressure defensive effort that produced three sacks and two interceptions. We beat some blocks and our blitzes came through. It was great for our defense as a whole. To shut them out and force them to turn it over on downs their last couple [of possessions] was huge.
Both teams struggled in the first half, their offensive troubles exacerbated by the fierce wind and, in Penn State's case, a penchant for ill-timed penalties.
The Nittany Lions controlled the ball, holding it for 17 minutes, 35 seconds, but they managed only six points. Kevin Kelly's 29-yard kick closed out the Lions' first possession and gave them a 3-0 lead.
The Boilermakers, who managed precious little offense in a 24-3 loss to Wisconsin a week earlier, had their own problems. After reaching the Penn State 27 in the first quarter, they lost possession when Dan Connor ripped a short pass away from Selwyn Lymon. In the second quarter, they reached the Penn State 19 only to see Chris Summers' 37-yard field goal attempt fall short of the goal post.
The Connor interception proved critical. It allowed Penn State to maintain its lead and set a tone for the rest of the game. Anytime you get a turnover in that situation, it's got to be a big play, Paterno said.
Penn State went into the locker room with a 6-0 lead after Kelly made a 44-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. It was Kelly's third attempt of the half. He missed a 50-yarder in the second quarter as the Lions attempted to salvage a drive that went awry after Derrick Williams was flagged for illegal motion on second-and-10 at the Purdue 20.
All told, the Lions committed nine penalties Saturday while Purdue was flagged just once. The Lions' receivers also dropped at least four catchable passes, giving Paterno plenty to worry about as the team prepares for its next game, a visit to Wisconsin.
We've got a tough game this week, he said. We've got to keep our noses to the grindstone, try to get a little better, try not to make as many mistakes as we've been making, and we'll see.