Sure it was just Eastern Michigan - a team happy to come to Beaver Stadium and take a beating to return home with a nice-sized check - but the Nittany Lions were finally starting to look and play like a Penn State football team should. Even JoePa made a first-half appearance on the field.
But then the pesky injury bug took a big bite out of the Penn State defense, cutting down a leader when this team needs him most. Linebacker Michael Mauti exited the game in the first half with what Joe Paterno later confirmed as a season-ending ACL tear. Nate Stupar did an admirable job stepping up in Mauti's absence, but against Eastern Michigan, it's hard to notice the difference.
Things went from bad to worse in the second half when cornerback D'Anton Lynn was taken off the field on a stretcher. Lynn will be out this week at Indiana, but Paterno said Tuesday that Lynn's injury is not as bad as originally feared and he may even be able to return to practice by the end of this week.
The injuries to Mauti and Lynn mean Stupar and true freshman Adrian Amos will now see much-increased playing time. That could possibly be problematic once the Nittany Lions get into the meat of the Big Ten schedule, but a trip to Indiana will be a good game for the new starters to get their feet wet.
Amos has made some exciting plays in his limited opportunities this season on defense and special teams, and will be an intriguing athlete to watch. Paterno said the injury to Lynn is unfortunate, but feels confident Amos can come in and step up.
"We've played three corners. We've played (Derrick) Thomas and (Stephon) Morris and we have played Lynn," he said. "We will not have the luxury of that kind of a round robin arrangement, but then the freshman kid Amos has done well when he's been in there.
"So we'll have three kids ready. Obviously, you'd like to have Lynn, because Lynn's been in a lot of big games and Lynn's got the experience as opposed to sticking a freshman in there as we start to come down to Big Ten games. But that's where we are. I think we're fortunate that we have a couple of these younger kids that can step in."
As for the injury to Mauti, Paterno said Stupar and Gerald Hodges will have a big task ahead of them.
"Mauti has been the leader of the group," Paterno said. "Stupar has played well when he's been in there, and he has to rise to the occasion as will the other kids. Hodges has been a kid that's played well at times. Other times he's been a little bit, just hasn't been as intense as you'd like."
Pressure is now going to be increased on Devon Still and Drew Astorino to lead what is quickly turning into a patchwork defense. I'm sure all the players on the defensive side of the ball are ready to step up to the challenge, but let's not forget the Temple game. Mauti's play, especially his diving interception, inspired the entire team to wake up and beat the Owls. Mauti was the only Nittany Lion who actually looked like he cared in the first three quarters at Lincoln Financial Field.
Now is the time for the defense to rise up and show what it's made of. Can the Nittany Lions replace Mauti and Lynn? I don't know, but it won't be easy. Only time will tell.
A freshman like Amos could rise to the occasion and show us why he was a highly-touted recruit. But there's a reason why Stupar's playing time had decrease this season until now.
If the defense can recover and continue to play well throughout the Big Ten schedule, this season that started out shaky could turn out pretty well for the Lions. If the defense - or the offense - struggles, or the if the injury bug strikes again, things could get ugly real fast.
Quote of the week: "I've coached 700 games? Well, I've done my penance. I've had 700 press conferences. I've done my penance. I'm on my way." - Joe Paterno on Saturday's game, his 700th as a member of the Penn State coaching staff.
Chris McFarland is the news editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org