Whatever Saturday brought, Penn State was going to have to live with it for two weeks.
The Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) are idle next Saturday and after coming back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Northwestern, 39-28, they enter their bye week on a high note.
“It’s definitely a lot better because you don’t want to go into a bye week with two weeks knowing you just lost a game,” senior center Matt Stankiewitch said. “You want to go in there with a great win like we did today, learn from what we did right and what we did wrong and we have time to do this.”
Penn State’s fourth-straight victory improved the team to 2-0 in conference play, and it sits atop the Big Ten Leaders division along with No. 8 Ohio State.
“On a four-game win streak right now, it gives you some momentum, some positive vibes, positive energy,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “I think it says a lot about our kids and their resiliency.”
In a game that featured four lead changes, Penn State came from behind to knock off previously 24th-ranked and undefeated Northwestern (5-1, 1-1). The final lead change of the game wasn’t exactly pretty as quarterback Matt McGloin awkwardly dove into the endzone on a five-yard run, but the play electrified most of the 95,769 fans on hand at Beaver Stadium.
“My knee brace unfortunately got caught in the ground, so I looked like a complete fool,” McGloin said with a laugh after the game about his clumsy landing.
In addition to his go-ahead rush, McGloin threw for 282 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. McGloin received help from wideout Allen Robinson and running back Zach Zwinak.
Robinson rebounded from an underwhelming performance against Illinois with nine catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. Zwinak accumulated 173 total yards — 121 rushing yards on 28 attempts and six receptions for 52 yards — and leaped over the pile in the second quarter for a one-yard touchdown.
Bill Belton started the game at running back, but ran for 12 yards on just four handoffs, the last one coming early in the second quarter. Belton did suffer an ankle injury on Sept. 1 against Ohio, but coach Bill O’Brien said he thought the sophomore was healthy against the Wildcats, he just wanted to use Zwinak.
“Billy went in there and did some decent things,” O’Brien said. “We felt Zach was running the ball downhill and felt his physical presence in the game. This type of a game, it was something we wanted to go with.”
The Lions controlled the first and fourth quarters in the back-and-forth affair, while Northwestern scored all of its 28 points in the middle 30 minutes. Penn State jumped out to a 10-point lead, however, Northwestern went on a 28-7 run in the middle of the game, which was keyed by two plays on special teams.
Jesse Della Valle had a punt bounce off his fingertips in the second quarter, which Northwestern recovered and turned into seven points. After halftime, Northwestern return man Venric Mark took a 75-yard return to the house to give the Wildcats their 11-point advantage.
Though Penn State had some poor special teams play, the team’s defense showed up. Northwestern, which gained 704 yards the week before against Indiana, was held to 247 yards, and Gerald Hodges made a team-high 11 tackles.
After the game, O’Brien said he wasn’t exactly sure what protocol for the off week would be, but he noted practices this week won’t be “blood baths.”
Penn State is at the halfway point in its season, and its next game will be on the road at Iowa on Oct. 20. Though the team has rattled off four wins in a row, Robinson said the upcoming free Saturday is well-timed.
“Going into Iowa, getting another week to prepare, heal up some little injuries, I think it’s definitely a good time for the bye,” Robinson said.