Lions upset Wildcats, 39-28|
Monday, October 8, 2012
By Andy Stine Sports Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - It has became clear over the first six weeks of the college football season that the word "quit" doesn't exist in the vocabulary of the Penn State football team.
Being down 28-17 with just under a minute to play in the third quarter after a punt return for a touchdown, the Nittany Lions showed why so many have been praising the resiliency of the team.
Penn State scored 22 points in the final 10 minutes of the contest in front of an energetic homecoming crowd of 95,767 at Beaver Stadium to beat No. 24 ranked Northwestern, 39-28.
"I didn't sense they were down, I just felt there was a lull," said Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien. "Any time there's a special teams touchdown on any team I'm associated with, whether it was the New England Patriots or any team, there's always a big momentum change when the other team makes a big play on special teams. There's a little bit of quietness on your sideline. Nobody is down. There's no quit in that locker room.
"I don't know what's going to happen the rest of the year, but there will be no quit with those kids that are sitting in the locker room. What you have to do as a coach and as a coaching staff, you have to bring them together. You have to point at the clock and say ‘look, guys, it's an 11-point lead with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. There's a huge amount of time to play football with, what was at that time, a back-and-forth game against a very good team.'
"You know, that's just what we pointed out. These kids are a bunch of mentally tough and resilient kids. They did a nice job over the last quarter."
Penn State punter Alex Butterworth boomed a 54-yard punt to the Wildcat 25, but punt returner Venric Mark found a hole and outraced everyone to the end zone to put Northwestern up 28-17.
The Nittany Lions answered with an 18-play, 82-yard drive that was capped on a Matt McGloin pass to Allen Robinson from six yards for a touchdown on fourth down. Penn State was 5-of-6 on fourth down conversions in the game.
"I felt good about the play call we had there," said O'Brien. "I have a lot of confidence even though we haven't shown it. I have a lot of confidence. Our team does and our staff does in the red-area package. We feel like Matt really understands what we're trying to do. I just felt good about what it was there. I didn't think twice about it and made the play call."
After the Penn State defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession, the offense came back on the field and put together an 85-yard drive on 15 plays. On third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, McGloin dropped back and found nobody open.
Finally, he found running room on the right side, scrambled and dove for the pylon successfully to put the Lions ahead. McGloin went 35-of-51 for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
"We just told the guys in the huddle, ‘We have to do something. We have to make a play and keep fighting,'" said McGloin. "What got everyone going is what the crowd was doing. They were still into it, which we just fed off of.
"And if we can continue to have that, which I know we will throughout the rest of the season at Beaver Stadium, we're going to be pretty successful."
The Nittany Lion defense shut down the Wildcat offense on the next possession, and then fullback Michael Zordich sealed the game on three rushes for 28 yards for the game's final score.
Despite Penn State having the ball for 12 minutes in the first quarter, they could only put up three points in the stanza on a Sam Ficken 21-yard field goal. But the offense finally scored its first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge from Zach Zwinak to put Penn State up 10-0 early in the second quarter.
But Northwestern took control for the rest of the second quarter. Mark scored from two yards out and Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian hit Tony Jones for an 11-yard touchdown in the quarter to put Northwestern up 14-10 at the half.
Penn State went back to work in the second half as McGloin hit Robinson for his first touchdown of the day to put Penn State up by three. But the Wildcats answered on the ensuing possession on a 11-play, 71-yard drive capped by Wildcat running back Kain Colter.
With the win, the Nittany Lions improved to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten. Penn State has a bye scheduled for next week and will return to action for a primetime game on Oct. 20 at Iowa.
Kickoff from Kinnick Stadium is scheduled for 8 p.m.
"You can't say enough about these kids," said O'Brien. "With what they've been through, they're smart, they're tough and they're committed to Penn State. They come to practice every single week. The practices aren't always pretty, but there's a lot of effort.
"There's great chemistry in that locker room. We're 4-2, who knows where it's going to end up. These guys are playing hard and it's really fun to see the smiles on their faces."