UNIVERSITY PARK, PA.; October 6, 2012 -- After watching No. 24/22 Northwestern grab the momentum with a long punt return near the end of the third quarter, the Nittany Lion offense roared back with 22-straight points and the defense blanked the high-powered Wildcat attack over the final 16 minutes to close out the Penn State football team's come-from-behind victory, 39-28, Saturday at Beaver Stadium. The winning streak sits at four games for PSU and they handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
The Homecoming crowd of 95,769 felt the momentum swing when Venric Mark took a punt 75 yards for a touchdown with just 50 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 28-17 in favor of Northwestern (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten), but the crowd became progressively louder as Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) started, and eventually completed, the comeback. Matt McGloin (Scranton, Pa.) completed a Penn State school record 35 passes to ten different receivers and threw the ball a career-high 51 times. The signal caller threw for 282 total yards for his fourth straight 200-plus yard passing game. Junior Zach Zwinak (Frederick, Md.) saw his workload continue as he boasted his second straight 100-yard rushing game. He toted the ball 28 times for 121 yards and caught a career-high six passes for 52 yards.
The Wildcats scored on two of their first three possessions of the second half, but it was the Blue and White that converted when it mattered most. The Nittany Lions put the ball in the end zone on four of their five drives in the final half, including a pair of passing throws and a rushing score from McGloin and a three-yard plunge from Michael Zordich (Youngstown, Ohio) in the fourth quarter. Linebackers Gerald Hodges (Paulsboro, N.J.) and Michael Mauti (Mandeville, La.) led the defensive charge with 11 and nine tackles, respectively. Jordan Hill (Steelton, Pa.) applied the pressure upfront with eight tackles - including a half sack - and Malcolm Willis (Marbury, Md.) roamed the secondary to the tune of five stops.
Coach Bill O'Brien talked all week about playing complementary football and that is how Penn State was able to rally back from an 11-point deficit with less than 16 minutes to play in the game. The defense held the fast-paced Wildcat attack to just 247 total yards of offense - 219 yards under their season average - while the Penn State offense was able to rack up 443 yards in the victory. The PSU offense sustained drives and the defense forced six three-and-outs. After not being proficient on third down in the first half, Penn State converted on 9-of-12 third downs in the second half and was two-for-two on fourth down.
The Penn State offense tied 47-year old school record by running 99 offensive plays (vs. West Virginia, 1966) and their 22 four quarter points were the most in a single quarter since putting up 28 points against Michigan State in the third quarter of a 42-14 win in 2009. The team's 30 first downs were the most in a single game since 2005. Allen Robinson (Southfield, Mich.) had another nice afternoon with nine catches, his third straight game with nine or more grabs, for a total of 85 yards and two scores.
The afternoon started under cloudy skies, but the Penn State offense didn't seem to mind as they drove 33 yards on 13 plays, capped by a Sam Ficken (Valparaiso, Ind.) 21-yard field goal to open the scoring and Zwinak made it 10-0 in favor of the home team with a 1-yard leap into the south end zone midway through the second quarter.
The Wildcats put together a pair of touchdown drives late in the second quarter to send them into the locker room leading 14-10, the first team to lead at the half versus PSU all season. Mark capped off a three-play, 17-yard drive after a muffed punt by the Nittany Lions with a two-yard scoring run and Trevor Siemian hooked up with Tony Jones from 11 yards out with 30 seconds left in the half to make it a four-point NU lead.
McGloin capped an impressive 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive with his first touchdown pass of the afternoon to Robinson with 5:28 left in the quarter. The 17-14 lead didn't last long for the home team as Northwestern put together their own sustained drive (11 plays, 71 yards) to reclaim the lead on a 10-yard rushing touchdown from Kain Colter and after the Wildcat defense forced a punt on the next PSU offensive trip, Mark returned the punt 75 yards for a score to extend that margin to 28-17.
Colter's touchdown run was the last snap that Northwestern would take in Penn State territory as the defense allowed just 25 yards of total offense over the final 16 minutes. On the other sideline, Penn State racked up 195 total yards over the span and capped each of those drive with touchdowns. Eighteen plays and 82 yards ate up first five minutes of the fourth quarter and McGloin again found Robinson in the end zone and Zordich made a successful two-point conversion run to cut the deficit to three points.
The sun finally came through the clouds in time for Penn State to go 80 yards on 14 plays before finding itself five yards away from another score. After a timeout, McGloin rolled to his right and took it in himself, diving headfirst across the goal line, to push the home team back in front, 32-28. The defense stopped NU on fourth down with 1:48 to play and Zordich carried the load on the team's final scoring drive as he accounted for all 28 yards on three carries for his first scoring run of the season.
After deflecting seven passes in the game, the defense finally came up with its much sought after turnover when Hodges knocked the ball loose from Jones and Da'Quan Davis (Baltimore, Md.) fell on it to stop the Wildcats for the final time.
Penn State will return to the field October 20 when they travel to Iowa City for an 8:00 p.m. kickoff against Iowa.