UNIVERSITY PARK - Nothing cures the ailing football team like ... a road game?
Strange as this sounds, it may be just what the doctor ordered for Penn State. Let's face it, the locals - including myself - are growing restless after four straight weeks of seeing their Nittany Lions underwhelm against bad teams and collapse epically against the only quality squad they've faced.
Another game in front of what is an increasingly impatient Nittany Nation could turn into disaster for a reeling team such as Joe Paterno's.
"It may be a good time to take them on the road," Paterno said at his Tuesday press conference. "We get all of us by ourselves and get a chance to do it. It might be something. ... We may need to just get away. Get in a good, tough football game before a hostile crowd and go at it. I don't know for sure."
No one does, but it may be good for Penn State to get away from the pressures of State College. Illinois - after getting steamrolled by Ohio State last week - isn't exactly coming into this game with a head of steam either, meaning that the Illini are ripe for the picking. Or so it appears.
But Paterno isn't buying that the Illini are down this year - especially not senior starting quarterback Juice Williams.
"I think everything is relative," Paterno said. "I thought Ohio State did a great job taking away his best target. The kid from Washington (Arrelious Benn) that we tried really hard to get ended up going to Illinois. He and Williams have been a great combination. Ohio State did a great job taking him out of the game. ... He's been banged up, and considering all the bumps and bruises that he's had, for him to go in there play that football game he played against Ohio State...I think it shows just what kind of an athlete and competitor he is. He'll be tough this week. There is no question about that."
There is a bit of history of Illinois being a thorn in the Nittany Lions' paws.
Just remember that the last time Penn State lost consecutive games was 2007, which also was the last time the Nittany Lions began 0-2 in the Big Ten, losing to Michigan and ... Illinois. Not only did PSU fall in its last trip to Champaign in 2007, it also lost in 2001 - and most remember the small miracle it took for the Nits to pull it out in 1994. Yes, Penn State also has a 63-10 win to its credit there, but that Illinois team was atrocious.
The key to what type of trip this will be rests with the coaches. Penn State has a history of being infamously conservative on the road, avoiding a quick death by opting for what seems like a slow, agonizing one instead. Paterno's philosophy long has been based on avoiding the big negative play, but all too often at the expense of making the offense predictable and stagnant - something this year's bunch has proven it needs no help doing.
The team needs to play aggressively on offense, mainly because Penn State is slated to get a taste of its own medicine. Illinois has called for an "Orange-out" at Saturday's game, meaning the team wants its fans to show up in orange one week after the Nittany Lions played in front of a wet, mostly white-wearing crowd at home and one year after Illinois was blown out at Beaver Stadium under the same conditions.
The presence of the color orange seems fitting, though, for a Penn State team that seems to still be under construction.
So Saturday is a crossroads of the season of Penn State. If the Lions play to their potential, they will be right in the race for a return trip to the Rose Bowl. If they play like they did against Iowa, this once-promising season could become a long, disappointing ride.
Either way, after Saturday, we'll know which road Penn State has chosen.
Brian Cox is a Sentinel sports reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.