By: C.J. Doon
With :50 seconds left to play in the third quarter, Penn State’s drive stalled at its own 21-yard line, trailing Northwestern 21-17. Confident that Penn State’s stifling defense would get the ball back, Alex Butterworth came onto the field and booted a 54-yard punt to Northwestern’s playmaker, Venric Mark.
Apparently, Mark didn’t get the memo. The speedy running back fielded the punt at the Penn State 25-yard line, danced around a few would-be tacklers, and raced into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 28-17 lead with only seconds remaining in the third quarter. After scratching and clawing its way to a 17-14 lead, Penn State surrendered 14 unanswered points, leaving the Homecoming crowd of 95,769 in a stunned silence.
But this was Homecoming Week, and Penn State fans refused to give up on their team. At the start of the fourth quarter, students dressed in a sea of white raised four fingers to the sky to signal Penn State’s last chance at victory. The Lions responded with 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, capping a thrilling 39-28 come-from-behind victory at Beaver Stadium.
Matt McGloin, the Big Ten’s leading passer, completed 35 of 51 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for a another score on a 5-yard scramble that proved to be the game-winning touchdown. “We just told the guys in the huddle, ‘We have to do something. We have to make a play and keep fighting,’” McGloin said. “The crowd was still into it, and we were still into it, so we knew we had to make something happen.”
That “something” happened early in the fourth quarter. Facing 4th and 4 at the Northwestern six-yard line, Matt McGloin dropped back to pass and fired a strike over the middle to sophomore receiver Allen Robinson, who made a brilliant diving catch that brought the home crowd to its feet. After fullback Michael Zordich barreled his way into the end zone for the two point conversion, Penn State trailed 28-25 with 9:49 left to play.
Penn State’s defense forced a three-and-out, leaving Matt McGloin and Co. to take over at their own 15-yard line with 8:15 left to play. What followed was a 15-play, 85-yard drive highlighted by McGloin’s 5-yard touchdown run that sealed the victory for the home team. McGloin did his best Aaron Rodgers “Discount Double-Check” impression after the touchdown, sending the home crowd into a frenzy as Penn State erased an 11-point fourth quarter deficit.
Now, after four consecutive wins, Penn State looks like a team capable of beating some of the best teams in the Big Ten. Northwestern, ranked #24, suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday, marking Penn State’s first win against a Top-25 opponent in their last six attempts.
Bill O’Brien, who is now receiving serious consideration for Big Ten Coach of the Year, has changed the entire philosophy of Penn State football. For years, Penn State was notorious for having a conservative offense that often ran the ball up the middle on third and short, and almost never went for it on fourth downs. Saturday was a completely different story, as Penn State converted 5-of-6 fourth downs, and even went for it on 4th and 2 from the Northwestern 19-yard line late in the fourth quarter when a field goal would have tied the game. Instead, McGloin found junior receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder for a thirteen-yard gain, and three plays later, McGloin was in the end zone celebrating another Penn State victory.
When asked about how the team responds to fourth down situations, Michael Zordich said, “We love it. It is an attitude kind of play. We want touchdowns. That is what this offense is about. If we need to go for it, if we are in the right field position, that is what we are going to do. We love it because it gets your mind right.”
Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) can now breathe a little easier as it heads into the bye week, before traveling to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes. Come back next week to read the complete breakdown of their matchup against Big Ten rival Iowa!