Penn State Beats No. 24 Northwestern in Big Homecoming Win

Story posted October 7, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Tom Zulewski

Matt McGloin and the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) handed the 24th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) their first loss of the season in a 39-28 game on homecoming weekend at Penn State.  

After starting the fourth quarter down 11 points, McGloin would lead the Nittany Lions to 22 unanswered points, including a game-winning 5-yard touchdown run with 2:37 remaining in the game. Coming into the game, the redshirt senior quarterback was leading the Big Ten in passing, averaging 243 yards per game passing. On Saturday, McGloin was 35-51 for 283 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien spoke highly of McGloin's play.

“Matt has done a really nice job of coming in at half and staying relax and calm,” O’Brien said.  “I can’t say enough about Matt McGloin. He's gotten the job done at this point this year.”

After going three-and-out on their first drive, Penn State converted two fourth downs on their second drive of the first quarter setting up a 21-yard field goal by Sam Ficken for the 3-0 lead.

Northwestern is coming off a school-record setting performance last week against Indiana when it racked up 704 total yards of offense including 394 rushing and 308 passing yards. However, the Wildcats came out flat in the first quarter going three-and-out twice and gaining only 12 yards on six plays. The Nittany Lions have now outscored their opponents 52-0 in the first quarter. Northwestern didn’t get a single first down until the 9:19 mark of the second quarter.

In total, Penn State out-gained Northwestern 443-227 in the game, a 30-14 edge in first downs and 39:17 in time of possession to 20:43 for the Wildcats.

Once again, junior running back Zach Zwinak emerged as a threat throughout the game. Zwinak, had 28 carries for 128 yards and 1 TD on the day, capped off an 8 play 40 yard drive early in the second quarter to increase Penn State’s lead to 10-0.

O’Brien talked about after the game why Zwinak saw the majority of the carries Saturday.

"Zach, we felt, was running the ball downhill," O'Brien said. "We just felt his physical presence in this type of game is something we wanted to go with."

The Wildcats are known for their spread passing attack, but Northwestern has dictated games this year by dominating the running game. Running back Venric Mark, quarterback Kain Colter and running back Mike Trumpy spearhead the Wildcat running game. Northwestern has averaged 255.8 rushing yards per game in 2012.

After being dominated for the majority of the first half Venric Mark capped off a 3 play 17 yard drive with 2 yard touchdown run, after a Jesse Della Valle muffed punt set up the Wildcats with great field position cutting the Penn State lead to 10-7.  That was the first touchdown the Penn State defense has given up in the first half all season long.

Northwestern would take a 14-10 lead into halftime after Tony Jones caught an 11 yard touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian in the closing seconds of the first half after a questionable pass interference call on Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris. The Nittany Lions have now outscored its opponents 86-23 in the first half.

After a Northwestern three-and-out to open the second half, Penn State drove 80 yards over 12 plays, ending with Matt McGloin throwing his 11th TD pass of the season to Allen Robinson to regain the lead at 17-14.

On the 80-yard drive, Zwinak accounted for 43 total yards, including 37 rushing yards and 6 receiving yards.

Allen Robinson talked about his chemistry with Matt McGloin this season.

“I think it’s definitely good,” Robinson said.  “Matt worked a lot in the spring and offseason and he’s always out there working.”

Quarterback Kain Colter and the Wildcats would take the 21-17 lead, answering right away on their next possession driving 71 yards over 11 plays, finishing the drive with a 10-yard touchdown by Colter. Northwestern would increase its lead to 28-17, when Venric Mark returned a punt 75 yards in final minute of the 3rd quarter.  

McGloin responded by throwing his second touchdown pass of the day to Allen Robinson on fourth down, capping of an 18 play, 82-yard drive. O’Brien elected to go for the two point conversion and Michael Zordich converted cutting the Northwestern lead to 28-25. The Nittany Lions were 5-for- 6 on 4th down conversions in the game.

Penn State is off next weekend, but the Nittany Lions return to action in two weeks, when they travel to Iowa City with a matchup against the Hawkeyes. That game will be broadcast live on ComRadio at 8 p.m. on Saturday October 20th.

Tom Zulewski is a senior majoring in Journalism. You can contact him at