Saturday, October 22, 2011
Final: Penn State 34, Northwestern 24
By Brian Bennett
Penn State was involved in a very un-Penn State like shootout in the first half. But in the second half, the Nittany Lions turned it into more of their kind of game, and it was good enough for them win 34-24 and to improve to 7-1.
After a wild first half ended with Penn State leading 27-24, there was only one score in the final 30 minutes, and it came early. Gerald Hodges, who had a monster game at linebacker, returned a tipped pass for an interception 60 yards on Northwestern's first drive after intermission, setting up a Silas Redd touchdown run on the next play. (And speaking of monster games, Redd continued his sensational stretch of performances with 164 yards on just 18 carries).
Penn State's defense responded after an uncharacteristic first half. The Lions finished with seven sacks and kept a high-powered Northwestern offense off bay. The Wildcats helped out with a couple of bad dropped passes. Quarterback Dan Persa went out midway through the fourth quarter with what was called a turf toe issue on his left foot, and a promising drive then stalled when Kain Colter was sacked on back-to-back plays.
For Northwestern, this was just a copy-and-paste repeat of the season. Once again, the Wildcats couldn't get nearly enough stops on defense. And once again, they imploded in the second half. If you would have told Pat Fitzgerald at halftime that Penn State would only score seven more points, he might have started celebrating. But then the offense misfired. The Wildcats are now 0-4 in the Big Ten and have lost five-straight games. At 2-5, they will need a huge finish to get back to a bowl game.
Penn State, meanwhile, just continues to win despite the doubters. Matt McGloin played the entire game at quarterback, and while he wasn't nearly as good in the second half as he was in the first, the mere decision of potentially settling on him could help this offense. The Lions have matched their win total from last season, and they have to be considered a threat in the Leaders Division.