MADISON, Wis. - Penn State went into Michigan last year with a conservative game plan that blew up the game and ultimately blew up the Nittany Lions' season.
What a difference
a year makes.
In their first big road test Saturday night, the Nittany Lions came into Camp Randall Stadium and immediately quieted Wisconsin's typically raucous home crowd.
Penn State did it with the same kind of aggressiveness it has shown on both sides of the ball almost the entire season and wound up pounding the Badgers, beating them at their own physical game en route to a resounding 48-7 victory that should serve as a statement.
And that statement is this: Oil up the old national championship bandwagon because this team looks like it has the goods to complete its first perfect Big Ten season since 1994.
"We deserve to be considered [for national title contention], but we have some tough games left," Joe Paterno said.
The Lions will be eager to unleash 12 years of frustration against Michigan on Saturday before an Oct. 25 showdown in Columbus that, presuming Penn State can negotiate a November that includes a visit to improving Iowa and a home finale with Michigan State, could possibly punch a Bowl Championship Series title game ticket.
"Everybody's clicking," safety Anthony Scirrotto said.
Their effort - offense, defense, special teams and coaching, even with Joe Paterno, a sad sight with a cane, in the press box - was that complete.
The Lions came out throwing as Daryll Clark continued his sensational development with a terrific performance in his first real signature game.
The stable of receivers - Derrick Williams and Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, Brett Brackett and even James McDonald - once again shined.
The spread-the-field strategy put the Badgers on their heels and made Wisconsin respect the pass enough for Penn State's offensive line -clearly their best since the celebrated '94 unit - to open significant holes for Evan Royster.
Their special teams, with Williams returning a punt 63 yards for a back-breaking touchdown and a 17-0 lead, were also at their best.
Defensively, the Lions were equally impressive. They had created only four turnovers through the first six games, but got four here, including two interceptions.
They jumped into a rare 4-4-3 look, inserting an extra linebacker and daring Wisconsin to pass, and the ploy helped stuff the Badgers'
A Wisconsin team that can't run is a Wisconsin team that can't win.
"They're a very physical team and when you get ahead of them, it changes their whole style of play," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
Penn State arrived confident and wound up delivering its most impressive road win of the decade.
"I thought we'd win," Paterno said, "but not by 41 points."
Now, granted, before getting too carried away, the Badgers are 3-3, and Penn State's dominance raises some questions about an Ohio State team that struggled here last week, wasn't overwhelming against Purdue Saturday and just may find itself as an underdog in its own house when the Lions come calling.
Just as Michigan has beaten Penn State nine straight times, the Lions have lost seven straight in Columbus.
The Nits' 7-0 start is their best since 1999 when they got caught looking past Minnesota and crumbled to end a disappointing season.
To that end, Penn State has a chance to exorcise a lot of demons this year, not to mention deliver the kind of season that - if he so chooses - would allow JoePa to fittingly ride off from the kingdom he built in a chariot.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Neil Rudel can be reached at (814) 946-7527 or email@example.com.