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September 4, 2011

TODD GOLDEN: And now on to the normal part of the schedule

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Steve Miller Band would’ve appreciated Indiana State’s trip to Penn State.

Perhaps the Space Cowboy even saw into the future and had the Sycamores in mind when he penned the lyrics to his popular 1970s hit “Take The Money And Run.”

“They got the money, hey, you know they got away …

… they headed down south and they’re still running today ...”

Change “down south” to “out west” and it fits the Sycamores perfectly. Penn State handed ISU a check for $450,000 to open the 2011 season. Then the Nittany Lions handed it to the Sycamores in an entirely different and unpleasant way.

There was very little in the game that was memorable about ISU’s sojourn to Beaver Stadium, which ended in an easy 41-7 victory for the Nittany Lions. From the opening kickoff onward, there was only one set of blue-clad fans who were happy in this valley.

The highlights for ISU? Punter Santino Davis did well and had plenty of practice (eight punts, 40.8 average) in which to ply his trade. Larry Carter got a sack on a third-down cornerback blitz in the second quarter. Quarterback Ronnie Fouch briefly gave ISU hope with a 29-yard connection to Alex Jones in the first half when it was still 14-0.

With the game well in hand, ISU put together its lone sustained drive of the game, ending in a 20-yard Fouch-to-Justin Hilton touchdown connection with 2:16 left against Penn State’s reserves.

That’s about it. Such was Penn State’s physical domination of the Sycamores. The Nittany Lions thoroughly dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Because of Penn State’s impregnable front four, ISU had no running game to speak of, gaining six yards on the ground through three quarters on its way to a 2.2 average overall. When ISU tried to pass, Fouch was under pressure and had no time to pass. It was a lethal combination.

But no less lethal than the similar potency Penn State’s offensive line had in driving the Sycamores out of the way to the tune of 245 rushing yards and all five of its touchdowns on the ground.

Injury-wise, it could have been worse. Defensive tackle Lawrence Young was lost early to an ankle injury. Young and offensive tackle Paul Patrick both left the field with a boot on, but ISU came out unscathed otherwise.

So was the $450,000 worth it?

“It’s worth it. The opportunity to allow guys to come in and play at this level? It’s a wonderful experience for them,” ISU coach Trent Miles said. “They got to play in front of a huge crowd [96,461, largest ever to witness an ISU game] in one of the all-time greatest programs in college football against the all-time winningest coach in college football. They’ll have that the rest of their lives. And we get paid to do it too? That’s a win-win.”

Miles accentuated the positive in the aftermath of the loss. He reserved special praise for the defense, which was left on the field for long stretches in humid mid-day sun.

“In the grand scheme of things, we battled, especially defensively. We gave up a special teams touchdown, we had a fumble deep in our territory after stopping them and an interception deep in our territory. That’s 21 points the defense wasn’t responsible for,” Miles said.

In his comments, Miles also put the game into perspective without conceding that he didn’t expect to win. The truth is that little can be culled in terms of long-term trends for either of these teams from this money game (or others like it). For Penn State, it was a glorified scrimmage. For ISU, it will not see another team like this again on its 2011 schedule.

“I told [the team] a story after the game. Stanford went to play Texas at Texas in the [1999] opener and got beat [69-17]. [Then-Stanford coach] Tyrone Willingham told his team in the locker room that he had a championship football team. They went on to play in the Rose Bowl and won the Pac-10,” Miles said.

“I believe we’ll still have that opportunity. I’m not going to judge our season by this one game. I don’t have any doubt in my football team,” Miles added.

Well put. On this day, and on nearly any day, Penn State is the better football team.

But in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. ISU can take its money and run … away from (un)Happy Valley to the Missouri Valley Football Conference part of its schedule that matters most to them come late-September.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at todd.golden@tribstar.com or at (812) 231-4272. Please read his blog at http://blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley and check out his Twitter feed @TribStarTodd.

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