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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Claw Back against Cats to Secure Homecoming Victory

by on October 06, 2012 12:35 PM

Fourth Quarter Update: Final: Penn State 39, Northwestern 28

The evolution of this Penn State team continued Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.

Double-digit fourth quarter deficit? No problem. Penn State, trailing by 11 entering the final frame, executed two really good drives back-to-back en route to a 39-28 victory against Northwestern. It was the Nittany Lions first victory against a top 25 opponent at home since knocking off Michigan State in 2008.

The go-ahead drive lasted 15 plays, went 85 yards and ended with a third-down touchdown that saw quarterback Matt McGloin swoop around the right end and over the pylon.

To get there, Penn State started the fourth quarter with an 18-play beauty that saw it convert four times on third down and once on fourth down, a six-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson. For its two-point conversion, PSU set up on the right hash and ran a draw to Mike Zordich out of the shotgun formation, bringing the deficit down to three.

Progress was made on this day. Penn State watched second-half leads evaporate the first two weeks of the season against Ohio and Virginia. Two critical special teams plays resulted in 14 points for Northwestern. But unlike previous weeks, it would not be the storyline on this day. Resilience won over.

More later.

Third Quarter Update: Northwestern 28, Penn State 17

A boxing match started breaking out at Beaver Stadium, with Penn State and Northwestern exchanging punches in the third quarter.

That was until Venric Mark took a 54-yard punt back 75 yards for a touchdown to grab a 28-17 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Northwestern scored 14 unanswered points to counter Penn State’s scoring drive, first marching 71 yards in 11 plays before Mark’s return, the first punt return taken back for a score against PSU since the Orange Bowl in 2006.

Penn State, meanwhile, went back to basics to start the second half, turning to Zach Zwinak on six straight plays to gain 41 yards.

Zwinak has 18 rush attempts for 75 yards through three quarters and has been the go-to back on this day. Bill Belton, who started the game at tailback does not look healthy right now. He’s missed most of the season with a sprained ankle and hasn’t done much since being pushed into the trainer’s table on the Northwestern sideline on a late hit in the first quarter.

O’Brien wants to divvy up carries, but Derek Day has not been a factor at all in the offensive gameplan, and Belton has been limited. Zwinak, again, is left to establish a ground game and is doing so for the third straight week.

Reverting to a more balanced playsheet sparked the Nits early in the second half. After converting just 1-of-10 on third down in the first half, PSU hit a key 14-yard pass to Kyle Carter on 3rd-and-6 from the Northwestern 39 to extend its scoring drive. Matt McGloin topped the drive off with an 8-yard slant to Allen Robinson to push PSU back in front, 17-14, albeit briefly.

Second Quarter Update: Northwestern 14, Penn State 10

All was well in Beaver Stadium until a couple of special teams blunders brought Northwestern back into Saturday’s contest.

Throw in a key defensive pass interference call on Penn State, and Northwestern actually flipped the game around with a 14-10 halftime lead.

Jesse Della Valle muffed a punt and set up the Wildcats inside the PSU 20. A Venric Mark two-yard touchdown run three plays later closed Penn State’s lead to three

Following a three-and-out for the Nits’ offense, punter Alex Butterworth let loose a 22-yarder to set up Northwestern at its own 43.

Oy vey.

PSU was on cruise control until Della Valle’s mistake. Hard running by Zach Zwinak led to a 10-0 lead. Zwinak carried four times or 22 yards and broke off an 11-yarder on the scoring drive, as he continues to evolve into a key piece for the running game.

Still, Penn State has been less than crisp offensively. Matt McGloin fired a pass to Allen Robinson that probably should’ve have been intercepted, at least swatted down. Dropped passes by Kyle Carter and Brandon Moseby-Felder hurt as well.

Northwestern took over at its own 34-yard line following a failed fourth down conversion, and extended the drive after a third-down pass interference call on Stephon Morris down the west sideline.

Trevor Siemian is primarily quarterbacking the Cats and did so admirably on this scoring drive, completing three passes for more than 10 yards, including the 11-yard touchdown strike to Tony Jones with 30 seconds left in the half.

First Quarter Update: Penn State 3, Northwestern 0

Sure doesn’t look like a shootout early at Beaver Stadium. Penn State’s blueprint for taking down Northwestern came into focus in the first quarter, and it’s predicated on time possession.

Take the 13-play, 33-yard drive that put Penn State ahead, 3-0. Twice Penn State converted on fourth down before settling for a 21-yard field goal by Sam Ficken. It chewed up almost six minutes of game time before Northwestern started its second drive with less than four minutes remaining in the quarter.

Northwestern had two three-and-outs and has 12 yards of total offense, or, only 692 shy of last week’s 704-yard output against Indiana.

Nine of Matt McGloin’s 10 completions have gone to nine different receivers.

Penn State has outscored its opponents, 52-0, in the first quarter this season.


Bill O’Brien had some extra pep in his voice during practice this week. There was more yelling than usual during the brief weekly glimpse of practice open to the media, and patience was at a premium at times, with up-downs a common means of corrective measure.

Penn State (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) faces its first top 25 opponent of the season Saturday afternoon against Northwestern (5-0, 1-0). It hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent at home since knocking off Michigan State in the 2008 regular season finale, which sent PSU to the Rose Bowl. It also kickstarts a critical stretch of the season that includes a road date at Iowa on Oct. 20 for an 8 p.m. kick and a matchup with Urban Meyer and Ohio State on Oct. 27.

It starts Saturday, and Penn State, riding a three-game winning streak, must acknowledge the opponent is unlike any of the previous three. The Wildcats can move the ball, as seen during their 704-yard output last week against Indiana. They deploy Kain Colter at quarterback, scat back and wide receiver if they so choose, and it’s vital Penn State’s defense ID’s him pre-snap. Moreover, Northwestern’s offense is predicated on one-on-one matchups in space and challenging the defensive backs and linebackers to tackle in space.

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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