UNIVERSITY PARK - No choice words were spoken, and there wasn't much ranting or raving by the defensive coaches at halftime of Penn State's 35-21 win over Northwestern.
Instead, linebacker Chris Colasanti and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said, there was a low-key approach. That approach, as it turned out, worked like a charm.
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa shredded Penn State's defense through the air and on the ground, particularly in the first quarter, but the Wildcats' explosive offense was shut out in the second half.
"We didn't have much choice," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "We had to do it."
Penn State's front seven, which has struggled to apply pressure for most of the season, was a terror in the second half. Linebacker Michael Mauti finished with 11 tackles, including three for a loss, and defensive linemen Sean Stanley and Devon Still each got to Persa repeatedly.
The Nittany Lions also clamped down defensively on third down in the second half as Northwestern converted on only two of its seven opportunities.
It all added up to just 130 yards of offense for Northwestern in the second half after 239 in the first.
"You knew when you looked at the guys at halftime they were ready to go," Colasanti said. "Definitely out on the field [we were] building upon the excitement of every person's play. If they had a great play, we built upon that. It carried on to every series."
The effort against a sophisticated offense left Colasanti hopeful the Lions can sustain that level of play heading into Ohio State.
"The way we went out in the second half and showed people how we can play, that's how we need to play every single half and every single play," Colasanti said.
Wildcats start strong, then collapse
Just like it did against Michigan State in week seven, Northwestern appeared to be in total control before falling apart and losing.
"We lost momentum at the end of the first half when we had a couple plays go against us that we didn't execute very well and they did," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "And then we lost momentum. That's on us. We have to find a way as a coaching staff to get that back."
Many PSU fans believe Fitzgerald could be a good successor to Joe Paterno, but the two come-from-ahead losses this season show to a degree that his coaching philosophies should come into question.
The Wildcats blew a 21-0 lead Saturday, two weeks after squandering 17-0 and 24-14 leads against Michigan State.
"We have a darn good football team, and I'm proud of them," Fitzgerald said. "We just have to find a way to execute and play better in the second half."
Persa, from Liberty High School in Bethlehem, played well in his homecoming. He was 16-of-25 for 201 yards and one TD to go along with 109 yards rushing on 25 carries.
"I think we didn't come out ready to fight," Persa said of the second half. "We stalled out on offense, and we just have to make more plays than we did."
The snowball effect caught up with Northwestern, just as it did against Michigan State.
"Someone has to put an end to it," Persa said, "and that is our job as the offense and my job as a leader."
Northwestern's defense had no answer for Penn State, which piled up 528 yards of total offense.
"They scored their first [four] drives in the second half; that's where even if we give them one and done we have to stop them there," safety Brian Peters said. "They had continuous offensive gains; we have to respond."
Bittersweet reunion for Vanderlinden
Vanderlinden still cherishes his time at Northwestern, which included developing Fitzgerald into the first two-time Bednarik Award winner. In fact, he said he still talks with Fitzgerald every couple of weeks or once a month in addition to texting regularly.
But when Saturday's game started, those feelings were cast aside.
"The part with Pat, I enjoyed talking with him before the game and several friends I have on staff," said Vanderlinden, Northwestern's defensive coordinator from 1992-1996. "But once we say goodbye, he's trying his best to whoop us, and we're trying our best to whoop him."
Suhey enjoys career day
Fullback Joe Suhey, known more for his blocking than his receiving, had the best game of his career Saturday. He caught six balls for 67 yards, and although most of those receptions came on screen passes and other checkdowns, he also was used on a wheel route.
"Joe means a lot to this football team," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "He can run the ball. Obviously, he showed on the wheel route he can get out and catch the ball. He's a good football player, and we're very lucky we have him."
Suhey had six catches for 55 yards coming into the game.
DE Jack Crawford returned after missing three weeks with a foot injury. ... Just as Crawford returned, however, D-lineman Jordan Hill went out with a left leg injury. His status is unclear.
(Compiled by Cory Giger and Josh Langenbacher)