Penn State's nonconference slate is in the books. Following a 56-0 victory over Georgia State Saturday night – its second shutout in three games – coaches and players alike are sensing the momentum start to build and their off-season goals come into clearer focus.
Outscoring opponents 141-14, out-gaining them by more than 800 yards, owning a turnover margin of plus-6, the 2017 Nittany Lions are beginning to realize their potential.
"We knew we were dangerous," said senior safety Marcus Allen, who snagged his first career interception against the Panthers. "But I think we see that we can be at an elite status, that we can really be that elite team, so I think that's what we've just seen."
It's only the start.
Penn State opened its season with a 52-0 shellacking of Akron. It then followed that up with a 33-14 win over Pitt, avenging one of the few losses from last season, and on Saturday night in Beaver Stadium, the train kept chugging along as eight different players scored touchdowns against Georgia State.
In all, however, the early-season opponents haven't exactly been juggernauts. Combining their records from last year, they were 16-21, and through the first few weeks of the 2017 season, they're just 2-6. More difficult opposition most certainly awaits.
Next week, PSU travels to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes for a 7:30 p.m. (ET) kickoff. All-time in Kinnick Stadium PSU is 8-5, but sneaking out of Iowa City with a W is rarely an easy feat.
While morale is high after a 3-0 start to the season, done so in largely dominating fashion, the hard part is just beginning.
"Nothing is going to be given to you," said quarterback Trace McSorley, who finished with 309 passing yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for one more. "You've got to earn everything in the Big Ten, so that's probably the biggest thing that I realized (from last season). You have to earn everything. It doesn't matter who you're playing they're not just going to (lay down) because of who you are or who they are. It's going to be tough and we know that and we're ready for it."
Before focus is completely turned to conference opponents, PSU will review the film of the Georgia State game and make the needed corrections Sunday. Head coach James Franklin, while overwhelmingly pleased with his team's complete effort in all three phases of the game, sees plenty of room for improvement.
He's loving what he's seen in the turnover battle, but on defense he'd like to see a more stout effort against the run, a higher rate of three-and-outs and the creation of more pressure on the QB. On offense, he'd like a more consistent effort in the run game. Take away Saquon Barkley's 33-yard rush in the second quarter, and the Heisman hopeful finished with just 14 yards on the ground.
"I think we need to consistently be able to run the ball a little bit better," Franklin said. "We need to sustain our blocks a little longer. On special teams I think we need to continue to refine what we're already doing. Overall, the experience that we gained today, the depth that we're creating, is going to be helpful for us long term."
In addition to eight different players finding pay dirt, seven different players had at least one carry and nine had at least one reception. On defense, 35 different people recorded at least one tackle, or in Tariq Castro-Fields' case, an interception. At one point in the fourth quarter, six of the 11 defenders are in their freshman year of eligibility.
The intention is to gradually ease them into playing time now so they're more prepared if called upon against a league opponent.
That process – like the team's overall ambition to continue improving in spite of posting gaudy statistics in the first three games of the season – is ongoing.
"We still have a lot to work on," Allen added. "We're not going to stop. We're going to keep going. Tomorrow well watch what we did wrong, correct everything and move on to Iowa."