IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When the game was already over in a convincing de facto sense and the hometown fans had verbally expressed displeasure at their own team, Penn State decided it would score in two plays.
Just after halftime Saturday night, quarterback Matt McGloin threw a 42-yard pass to wide receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder, then running back Bill Belton scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. It was like the offense could make up its mind and have its goal become reality, and quickly. The defense, of course, stopped everything Iowa's offense imagined it could do in a 38-14 blowout in a Big Ten Conference game at Kinnick Stadium.
In short, Iowa received a bitter taste from a group that has turned around what was sure to be a disappointing season, as Penn State (5-2, 3-0) completed its best victory yet.
"I think guys are starting to realize the type of team we are," McGloin said, "the type of team we can become."
Penn State players responded to many questions this week about a budding rivalry with Iowa. Before Saturday, Iowa had beaten Penn State 9 of 12 times since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993. Penn State previously won at Iowa when N'Sync was selling a million albums, the world was hoarding an absurd amount of bottled water to prepare for the "Y2K virus" and as defensive tackle Jordan Hill said, when he was in "like second grade." Yeah, 1999.
Those records obscured the truth about the matchup that unfolded under a dark, clear sky and bright lights and a synchronized sea of black and gold at Kinnick Stadium. Despite the obvious indications of a heated competition brewing with the same ingredients over the past two decades, the teams that played Saturday night are opposites now with coach Bill O'Brien in charge.
A fresh breath of Penn State air came real quick. On its second drive of the game, Penn State ran its no-huddle offense, something Iowa probably had not seen from the Nittany Lions much, if at all, in 19 years. It scored on a 31-yard pass from McGloin to tight end Jesse James. He avoided a tackle and scrambled before the connection.
On the next drive, tight end Kyle Carter caught a pass above his defender's helmet for 34 yards. A couple of plays later, wide receiver Allen Robinson scored on an 8-yard touchdown reception. Just like that it was 14-0.
Almost everything was different from those past Iowa games. Penn State was even handing the ball off in an unfamiliar way to Iowa. McGloin, in one play in the second quarter, did a half statue of liberty before giving it to Belton, who finished with a career-best 103 yards and three touchdowns.
The no-huddle offense had been a tool of Penn State's this season. O'Brien said his team came into this game knowing they couldn't huddle and huddle and huddle if it wanted to seize the early momentum in a rowdy environment.
Anything resembling a letdown came when the game was no longer in doubt. Two second-half fumbles by running back Zach Zwinak and two second-half Iowa touchdowns kept the game from getting really out of hand. Otherwise, Penn State displayed the same energy they have all season, and O'Brien sees no reason for it to fade.
"They know at the end of the day there are only five games left," he said.
The Iowa crowd was full, color-coordinated and begging to be hostile, and it booed Penn State when it took the field after a touchdown that made it 24-0. When that series ended, with a sack by Hill, they started booing their own team.
They stayed loud until the end. In the final minutes of the game, a few fans were shouting at the Penn State bench that this victory meant nothing, to wait until they played a real opponent.
The comment was in good timing. Penn State's for real opponent yet, Ohio State comes to Beaver Stadium next week.
The two best teams in the Leaders Division, the two teams that cannot play in the postseason, will meet. They technically are playing for nothing, but "nothing" has never sounded like such an awesome time.
It's going to be Halloween weekend. It's an evening game. A white-out is planned. A big-game matchup that felt impossible for Penn State a month ago feels likes the reality that it is now.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @mdent05