WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Ascribing the real reason for Penn State's motivation this season has been an ordeal, as this has never been a conventional season. At least not since July, when the traditional goals of championships were taken away by the NCAA. But it might've become a little clearer in Penn State's 34-9 victory against Purdue on a gray November Saturday at a quiet stadium in Indiana.
Isolate November from that sentence. It is November, which means that Penn State's season will end this month, no exceptions. While other teams are starting to see their destinies take shape, what remains of Penn State's season is shrinking rapidly, and this knowledge of the end has translated into an unwavering intensity to thrive in the finite present. Even -- and perhaps especially -- for a game in a staid environment that followed a devastating loss.
"We don't have, 'we don't need to play as hard this week because we're already bowl eligible or we're in the conference championship,'" quarterback Matt McGloin said. "We don't have that luxury."
Saturday was especially a test of this theory because, really, who should have had more energy, more to play for?
Penn State (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten) was a week removed from losing its version of a BCS game. Purdue (3-6, 0-5) was concluding a week that began with its athletic director releasing a statement raising issues about coach Danny Hope's job security.
Yet, in every aspect, Penn State excelled. The Nittany Lions gained 506 yards on offense. The front seven applied constant pressure. The secondary broke up passes.
Purdue ran just 12 plays in the first half that went for 4 yards or more. To compare, Penn State running backs Mike Zordich and Zach Zwinak had 10 plays of 4 yards or more.
In short, Purdue played with a hangover, whereas Penn State should have been the team feeling beaten down after its loss to Ohio State in what is sure to be its "biggest" game of the season.
But since the summer, Penn State has preached resiliency. Since the summer, it has lived up to that ideal.
One belief the team has often repeated, and it's definitely not an original belief, gets to the heart of the reason why it can stay motivated -- every week or every game is its own season.
It's hard to believe Penn State could go nine games without playing one devoid of energy, but it hasn't. Penn State's three losses can't be blamed on flatness.
This week started out as a problem for the one-game season mindset. Monday's practice was no good. Coach Bill O'Brien, McGloin and cornerback Stephon Morris said as much.
"We didn't take the steps that we needed," Morris said. "It looked like the type of day where we hung our heads."
Afterward, O'Brien spoke with the team, as did the seniors. McGloin told everyone that the Ohio State loss was in the past. Like many of the obstacles presented to this team, they couldn't do anything about it.
McGloin and center Matt Stankiewitch made a point to energize the offense on Tuesday, knowing the defense would need to match their fervor. It worked. O'Brien called it one of the best practices of the year and, overall, one of the best practice weeks of the year.
They'll only have three of them left -- weeks and games, that is. Three more chances to play with as much intensity as they can. Because there's no other way they'd want to play, knowing nothing awaits them at the end.
"I can't believe," Stankiewitch said, "it went that fast."
NOTES -- Defensive tackle Jordan Hill said that his knee was sprained and no ligaments were torn. ... O'Brien said running back Curtis Dukes likely sustained a concussion on the opening kickoff.
Mark Dent: email@example.com, Twitter @mdent05 First Published November 4, 2012 4:00 AM