NU’s loss to Penn State follows all-too-familiar script
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Northwestern had an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and its sixth consecutive victory in its sights Saturday. But the
opponent was Penn State, and no lead has seemed safe against the Nittany Lions in recent years.
The Wildcats can add another disappointing second half to an
ever-growing list against Penn State after they were outscored 22-0 in the fourth quarter of a 39-28 loss before an announced homecoming crowd of 95,769 at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions have outscored NU 125-20 in the second
halves of the last six games
between the teams.
‘‘It’s a complete role reversal of our blueprint for success,’’ Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ‘‘Obviously, this one is on us as coaches. We did not do the things that champions and winners do. If we don’t execute and tackle, it’s our fault.”
Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) dominated time of possession and ran 38 more plays, wearing down NU’s defense late in the game. The Nittany Lions converted 10 of 22 third downs and five of six fourth downs and ran for 161 yards.
A week after racking up a school-record 704 yards against Indiana, the Wildcats (5-1, 1-1) managed only 247 against Penn State. Quarterback/receiver Kain Colter caught nine passes for 131 yards and ran for 164 yards and four touchdowns against the Hoosiers, but the Nittany Lions limited him to three catches for 17 yards and five carries for 24 yards.
‘‘I felt like [the coaches] thought they were going to try to limit me and my touches, that the defense was going to double-cover me because of what happened last week,’’ Colter said when asked about his lack of opportunities. ‘‘I don’t know if that went into the play-calling or what happened.’’
Venric Mark gave NU a 28-17 lead with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. He also scored on a two-yard run in the second quarter that helped the Wildcats open a 14-10 lead at half.
It was the fourth time in NU’s last six games against Penn State that it has led at halftime.
‘‘We did not start [the game] running the ball between the tackles, which I thought we should have,’’ Mark said. ‘‘As the game went along, we did start running the ball between the tackles, and you could see what the production was when we did do that.’’
Quarterback Matt McGloin ran into the end zone untouched on third-and-goal from the 5 to give the Nittany Lions a 32-28 lead with 2:37 left. Earlier, he completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson on fourth-and-goal after coach Bill O’Brien opted to go for it rather than kick a field goal that would have cut the Wildcats’ lead to 28-20. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken was only
3-for-9 on field goals this season, but he did make a 21-yarder earlier in the game.
After Robinson’s touchdown catch, Michael Zordich ran in the two-point conversion to pull the Nittany Lions to 28-25.
‘‘Guys were out there for a while, but their offense was out there as long as us,’’ NU safety Ibraheim Campbell said when asked if defenders were gassed. ‘‘We just had to make a play.’’
Penn State controlled the ball for 39 minutes, 17 seconds compared with the Wildcats’ 20:43. NU threw for only 135 yards.
‘‘I feel like we kind of handed it to them,’’ Colter said.