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October 21, 2012IOWA CITY, Iowa - This is what a vendetta looks like.
The Penn State players that emerged to speak to reporters in the bowels of Kinnick Stadium Saturday night were all gracious in victory. Phrases like "hard fought game" and "need to improve" were spoken blandly with such consistency it was almost as though they'd conspired about what they'd say when reporters asked whether or not the 38-14 shellacking against the Hawkeyes was a "statement game".
Forget statements, and forget satisfying:
What happened Saturday night was simply the continuation of the Nittany Lions' version of Sherman's March, a complete and utter destruction of every and any thing that has stood in their way.
"Is this a statement? That's for you guys to decide," senior linebacker Michael Mauti said. "We just go out and try to play our best and win the game.
"We don't really care about the scoreboard. We're all out there playing for each other and playing hungry."
Since July, the young men wearing navy and white uniforms with names on the backs of their jerseys have been an angry group of football players.
They're angry at Jerry Sandusky, angry at Penn State's leadership and its failings throughout, angry at Mark Emmert and an NCAA that doled out a ridiculous set of sanctions, angry at Jim Delaney and the Big Ten for piling on, and maybe most important, angry at every conference foe that licked its lips as the Nittany Lions were systematically torn apart.
These are the thoughts that fill their heads each afternoon at practice.
Saturdays, well, they are simply the actualization of a fate that was settled upon months ago:
Win each game, dominate the opponent mercilessly, make the negative national narrative seem laughable, save Penn State football, and make no apologies for anything along the way.
"To get a win like that, it gives us a lot of confidence," Mauti said. "We knew what we had to do.
"I think we did our job. Now we have to move on to our next challenge, it's going to be Ohio State next week."
Mauti, Penn State's living, breathing embodiment of a warrior, is lying through his teeth.
This team doesn't get confidence from torching an Iowa team whose fans showed up wearing prison jumpsuits with the name "Sandusky" scrawled across their backs on duct tape.
This team doesn't need confidence.
What it needs, and actively thirsts for, is retribution. Payback for all of the perceived ills that have unfairly befallen them, their friends, and their families for misdeeds they did not commit.
Being able to spend a few weeks in Florida for a pathetic bowl game is not what they're talking about.
Nobody really cares about that.
They care about being put in a position where questioning their personal commitment to the program became standard in the immediate aftermath of the NCAA's sanctions.
They care about the actions that turned teammate against teammate this summer, and incredibly, still leaves open the possibility for more transfers.
Some of the players that chose to leave were integral parts of the team's success this season, but further, they were friends and fellow warriors that chose personal interests over the bonds that had been formed in the span of years.
It will continue to hurt.
The last player almost certainly has not transferred. The opportunity to prove themselves for the Big Ten Championship is still off the table. Recruiting will continue to face challenges other programs couldn't conceive overcoming.
These are the reasons the Nittany Lions' "meaningless" season is anything but to this group.
"I believe when you play football at Penn State, you have a hell of a lot to play for," rookie head coach Bill O'Brien said. "I believe you have a thousand lettermen to play for, you have a tradition to play for, you have a student body to play for, you have each other to play for, and I believe that these kids have really good chemistry.
"Football is a sport that you have to show up to play every single day and every single week. If you don't, you're going to be in trouble, and so hopefully they continue to do that."
They have so far, and will continue to do so.
Matt McGloin, Penn State's fifth-year senior who has managed to make confidence - sometimes arguably to the point of arrogance - an endearing quality, talked late Saturday night about the feeling of coming together, realizing their potential as the season has progressed.
"I think guys are starting to realize what type of team we are and what type of team we can be and what we can do in the next couple of games," he said. "With that being said, we still have a ton of work to do.
"I think we understand that we can do something special here. We only have five games left now and guys understand that. We're done at the end of November instead of playing for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. I have five games left to wear a Penn State helmet. I understand that and everybody else does."
The reality is that, like Mauti, McGloin and the rest of the Nittany Lions have known this since July.
They're playing with energy and enthusiasm, and, come Saturday night against Ohio State, will play with the same ruthless vigor they have played with all season.
"If we're proving anything, it's the fact that Penn State is not going anywhere," Mauti said. "You can do what you want to us, you can take away things from us, you can try to split us apart... it's not going to happen. Guys are here that care about the program, care about the university and care about each other.
"We just want to represent our university as best we can. I think we really just have a lot of guys that bought into what we're doing and our goals."
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