STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – and some harrowing moments in between.
Luckily for coach Joe Paterno, the defense smothered Kent State and gave freshman quarterback Rob Bolden time to regroup.
Bolden ran for his first career touchdown and threw for another, tailback Evan Royster also ran for a score and Stephfon Green settled the shaky offense with tough second-half runs in the 22nd-ranked Nittany Lions 24-0 win Saturday over the Golden Flashes.
Penn State (2-1) regained some confidence after last week's 21-point loss to Alabama, but it often wasn't pretty.
"We gained in some spots and went a little backwards in other spots," Paterno said. "They keep working on it, we'll end up being decent football team, but we got a ways to go yet."
It was Penn State's 500th win since Paterno joined the coaching staff as an assistant in 1950, and the 396th victory since Paterno was promoted in 1966 — the most wins for a major college head coach.
The defense regained some swagger after getting roughed by the Crimson Tide, getting its first two interceptions of the year and improving the pass rush against Spencer Keith. He was 20 of 36 for 170 yards, hitting short passes but otherwise looking lost against Penn State's pressure.
The Nittany Lions, though, gave the Golden Flashes plenty of chances to get back into the game.
After scoring on its first two drives for a 14-0 lead, Penn State's offense played uninspiring stretches. Bolden threw for 217 yards and a touchdown but had two interceptions, and Royster fumbled on the first play of the second half.
Kent State (1-2) couldn't capitalize. Keith often looked shaky, with some wobbly passes and the Golden Flashes were mired in mistakes when they drove into Penn State territory.
"They were getting a lot of pressure on him, there's not a lot of space out there with the speed they have in the secondary," Kent State coach Doug Martin said. "But Spencer can certainly play better than that."
Missed tackles hampered Penn State last week against Alabama. After a tough week at practice, the Nittany Lions defense played better against their Mid-American Conference foe, getting sacks from defensive linemen Devon Still and Jack Crawford and 10 tackles for a loss.
"If you can get there with four (rushers), that's the best thing of all. We did a good job getting heat on him," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
The day started out promising enough for the blue- and white-clad fans on a sunny afternoon, when Bolden tumbled into the end zone from a yard out on a drive set up by D'Anton Lynn's interception.
Bolden looked good again on the next drive after connecting with Derek Moye on a pretty pass down the right seam for a 55-yard completion. Royster followed with an easy 3-yard TD run for a 14-0 lead with 4:06 in the first. They frolicked in the stands thinking Penn State was well on their way to a blowout.
But the offense stalled and the 18-year-old Bolden making his third career start looked uneven at times. His first-down pass with 29 seconds left in the second quarter was intercepted by Norman Wolfe, the first of two for the junior cornerback.
The defense got used to Penn State's speed, Martin said
"They've got some fast guys. Early on we were trying to get acclimated to the speed difference," he said. "I thought our defense really settled down well. We didn't make adjustments on either side of the ball."
Bolden regrouped in the fourth quarter after connecting with Devon Smith on a 48-yard touchdown pass for a 24-point lead to put the Penn State faithful at ease. Quarterback coach Jay Paterno was impressed with how Bolden shook off his mid-game mistakes.
"As a quarterback, as a freshman, you're going to make mistakes," receiver Graham Zug said. "Rob's doing a great job. He's stepping in and taking a leadership role with the offense and he's going to continue to improve."
There might be legitimate questions about Royster's effectiveness, too, despite his touchdown, after he finished for 38 yards on 11 carries — his third straight game of 40 or less. The senior did become the sixth Penn State player to rush for more than 3,000 yards in his career.
It was backup tailback Green who took over on a third-quarter drive to the Golden Flashes 10, but Penn State settled for a field goal. Green finished with 59 yards on 11 carries.