McGloin leads Penn State past Northwestern
EVANSTON, Ill. — Penn State sprung some surprises on Northwestern on Saturday night on a pleasant evening by the shores of Lake Michigan.
The first one came right away when Matt McGloin started at quarterback for the first time this season. The second was how smoothly and consistently the Nittany Lions played on offense for much of the game for the first time this season against an opponent not named Indiana State or Eastern Michigan.
McGloin, who went the distance (another surprise), threw a pair of touchdown passes and Silas Redd rushed for a career-high 164 yards and a score to lift the Lions to a 34-24 victory over the Wildcats before a crowd of 40,004 at Ryan Field.
The win improved the Nittany Lions to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten, good for solo first place in the Leaders Division. It may be enough to give the Lions, ranked No. 21 last week by the BCS, into the Associated Press Top 25. The Wildcats fell to 2-5, 0-4.
McGloin, who had played the majority of snaps in Penn State’s previous four games, completed 17 of 26 passes for 192 yards. His two touchdown passes — four yards to Justin Brown, 45 yards to Devon Smith — came on the Nittany Lions’ first two possessions.
The Lions would score on their next three drives in the first half. Stephfon Green scored his first touchdown of the season with seven seconds remaining in the half to give them the lead for good at 27-24.
Penn State managed just one touchdown in the second half — Redd’s 19-yard run, which came one play after linebacker Gerald Hodges intercepted a pass from Dan Persa and returned it 63 yards. Redd carried the ball 18 times.
The Nittany Lions didn’t score the final 26-plus minutes of the game. So they had to rely on their defense which, despite allowing a season-high 406 yards to the Wildcats, picked up seven sacks and shut out its opponent in the second half.
Hodges had an outstanding game, with the interception, 14 tackles and a sack.
Persa, who attended high school at Bethlehem (Pa.) Liberty, completed 26 of 34 passes for 294 yards, but suffered an apparent left foot or ankle injury when tackled early in the fourth quarter by Jack Crawford and did not return.
Northwestern gained 281 yards of total offense in the first half, or 17 yards above the average of the Penn State defense for an entire game, and matched its opponent practically point for point.
It didn’t look good for Penn State at the start when Chaz Powell fumbled away the opening kickoff to Northwestern’s Jeravin Matthews at the Lions 34, and the Wildcats scored in seven plays, capped by a 1-foot sneak by Persa on fourth-and-goal.
However, the Nittany Lions scored on their next five first-half possessions. McGloin threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Justin Brown to cap a 10-play drive, then unloaded a 45-yard deep ball to Smith for a score on the opening snap the second time they had the ball.
The Lions then got field goals of 37 and 33 yards by Anthony Fera, the second one happening after a critical mistake — a holding penalty that nullified a 15-yard touchdown off a screen pass from McGloin to Green.
The Wildcats, who scored on four of their five first-half possessions not counting a kneel-down in the final second of the second quarter, took a 24-20 lead on a 25-yard field goal by Jeff Budzien. The Lions then drove from their own 37 with 41 seconds to play, and all their timeouts in hand, and scored in seven plays.
The key play came courtesy of Redd, who took a handoff up the middle on third and one and dashed 42 yards to the Northwestern 12. An 11-yard strike from McGloin to Smith got the ball to the 1, and Green burrowed over left guard for the touchdown with 7 seconds left and the Lions regained the lead.
Redd rushed 11 times for 119 yards in what turned out to be a truly offensive show in the first half.
Penn State held a 293-281 advantage in total yards. McGloin went 14 of 19 for 160 yards and the two scores, while Persa, who attended high school in Bethlehem, about 70 miles down the turnpike from McGloin’s hometown of Scranton, completed 13 of 16 for 180.
Joe gets milestone win
Joe Paterno tied Eddie Robinson’s Division I record with his 408th win Saturday night.
Paterno will try to move ahead of Robinson, the Grambling State legend, next week when the Nittany Lions (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) host Illinois.
That starts a tough stretch that also includes a home game against Nebraska before trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Paterno still has a long way to go to catch John Gagliardi of Division III St. John’s, Minn. (481 and counting), the only other coach with more wins.
But this was another big notch for an icon in his 46th season leading the Nittany Lions.