Game Recap: Northwestern Loses First Game of Season, 39-28, to Penn State

Photo Courtesy: Evan Habeeb, US PRESSWIRE

By Benjamin Goren

The inability to close games that so plagued the Wildcats in their 2011 campaign struck again in Happy Valley today as Northwestern was beaten by the Nittany Lions of Penn State 39-28. Northwestern walked in to a blustery Happy Valley hoping to go 6-0 for the first time since 1962, but Penn State had other ideas, outscoring Northwestern 22-0 in the 4th quarter to erase an 11 point Wildcat lead.

The Wildcats got off to a slow start, gaining sixteen yards and zero first downs on their first four drives. It would take Northwestern until nearly halfway through the second quarter before they crossed midfield. Penn State took advantage, using screens, play actions, and a couple of big fourth down conversions to go up 10-0 with 9:34 left in the second quarter.

The tide began to turn for the Wildcats when a Brandon Williams punt was muffed by Jesse Della Velle at the Penn State 17 yard line where Nick VanHoose recovered. It would take only three rushing plays until Venric Mark gave Northwestern it’s first score of the day on a 2 yard option pitch from Kain Colter.

After a 4th down hold by the Northwestern defense on their own 34 yard line, Trevor Siemian took over with 2:20 left in the half. Thanks to a dubious pass interference call and a couple check down completions to Mike Trumpy, Siemian and the Wildcats drove the ball down to the Penn State 11 with 40 seconds left. Siemian unleashed a bullet through three Nittany Lion defenders to a flying Tony Jones in the back of the endzone on a skinny post to give the ‘Cats a 14-10 edge at the break.

Penn State came out in the third quarter rededicated themselves to the run as Zach Zwinak rushed 6 times for 37 yards out of his 121 on the day as Penn State drove 80 yards, capped by a Matt McGloin touchdown pass to Allen Robinson. Northwestern responded with a touchdown drive of their own as Kain Colter took a read option off left tackle for a 10 yard td scamper. The Northwestern defense stood for a three and out, and the special teams responded. Alex Butterworth’s 54-yard punt was taken by Venric Mark for a 75-yard touchdown, and when Jeff Budzien knocked in the extra point to put the Wildcats 28-17, the victory looked all but a certainty.

But Penn State came out firing in the fourth quarter. McGloin and Zwinak sliced the Northwestern defense for a 18 play, 82 yard drive that took 6 minutes off the clock, finished by Allen Robinson’s second touchdown catch of the game. Siemian and the Northwestern offense sputtered for another 3 and out, but a 63 yard Brandon Williams punt pinned the Nittany Lions at their own 15 yard line.

The Northwestern defense failed to step up, allowing Penn State to convert 4 third downs and a crucial 4th and 2 from the Northwestern 19 on what was the most crucial drive of the game. Matt McGloin proved himself as a senior leader, passing for 49 yards and rushing for 10 more, including what would be the game winning touchdown on a 5-yard scramble with just under 3 minutes left to put Penn State up 32-28. McGloin set a career high in completions, going 35/51 for 282 yards and 2 touchdown passes.

The Wildcats still had ample time to mount yet another, patented comeback win with 2:37 to go from their own 25 with all of their timeouts. Yet Siemian, who only managed to go 21/36 for 135 yards passing on the day, was unable to get the drive out of the starting blocks. A dangerous pass to Demetrius Fields was batted down and nearly intercepted, a drag route to Tony Jones which was dropped, an ill-advised 2 yard scramble, and a third incompletion to Kain Colter turned the ball back over to Penn State, who marched in for another score to salt the game away at 39-28.

A game of ups, downs, and even a torn quadriceps tendon from a line judge injuries eventually resulted in Northwestern’s first loss of the 2012 campaign and gave Penn State it’s fourth straight victory.

Northwestern will be back in conference action next Saturday at 11:00 AM CST in Minneapolis to square off against a 4-1 Minnesota team coming off of a bye week.

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