So much for feeling intimidated.
Heading into their second road game of the season, players are still talking about the challenging nature of life on the road. But this time their wary talk rings a lot truer.
This week's opponent — Purdue — has a veteran quarterback, a squadron of talented receivers and, in Joe Tiller, an innovative coach who is determined to field a winning team in his final season in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers are also a conference opponent, which means the Lions can expect a much livelier greeting than they received in the Carrier Dome.
It's an absolute challenge any time you're on the road playing against a Big Ten team, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark said. One of the things about being on the road is that you're stepping into a hostile environment and you have to match their intensity. We're not taking anything lightly at all.
Having risen to sixth in the Associated Press poll, the Nittany Lions are wearing a much bigger target than they were last month against the Orange, when they were ranked 17th. And they're playing a much better team than Syracuse.
But they are looking better than they have at any point since finishing 11-1 three years ago. One of the keys to their resurgence has been Clark, who has thrown nine touchdown passes and only one interception and has been the Big Ten's pass-efficiency leader for the past three weeks. As a team, the Lions are ranked fourth nationally in scoring (49.8 points a game) and ninth in total offense (515.2 yards a game).
Clark said the key for Penn State is to stay composed should the Boilermakers build some momentum Saturday. Illinois built some momentum in sprinting to leads of 7-0 and 14-7 last week in Beaver Stadium and the Lions responded each time, eventually taking a 21-14 halftime lead that they would not relinquish.
But that game was in Beaver Stadium, where the crowd was behind them every step of the way. It won't be like that in Ross-Ade Stadium this Saturday.
It gets loud on the road, Clark said. You get into sort of a panic mode when things aren't going right. You have to stay relaxed and carry out the game plan as much as possible. ... You have to weather the storm, and you have to match their intensity in order to compete. If we do that this year, we'll be fine. We're capable of winning any game we play on the road.
Clark had to leave the Lions' game against Illinois when his knee was injured, but he said he didn't expect to miss any practice this week and believes he will be fine on Saturday. He's been wearing a sleeve on his knee as the swelling goes down.
The Lions haven't been fazed by their quick rise to the top 10, Clark said. They may have benefited from losses by Southern Cal, Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin, but players insist they aren't going to allow themselves to be distracted.
We can't worry about what's going on outside of our team and our schedule, Clark said. We're sixth in the nation, and I didn't know that until [Monday]. We've still got a long season to go. We've got to win and let everything else take care of itself.