EVANSTON, Ill. - The legend Joe Paterno won another milestone game, and now, surprisingly, Penn State is alone in first place in the Leaders Division.
The Nittany Lions still may not be getting the kind of respect they want as a 7-1 team, but after Saturday's 34-24 win over Northwestern, they are still undefeated in the Big Ten. Wisconsin can't say that any longer after a stunning 37-31 loss to Michigan State on a Hail Mary pass late Saturday night.
Things are suddenly very interesting in the division standings, and whether it's getting much respect or not, Penn State now has at least a conceivable path to the Big Ten championship game (see notebook on Page C2 for more on that).
Joe Paterno won his 408th game, tying the late Eddie Robinson for the most in Division I history. Robinson won his games at the I-AA level at Grambling.
JoePa sarcastically joked afterward that all he was thinking about was the record.
"I went to bed last night, and I said, 'Jeez, we win tomorrow I'm going to be tied with Eddie Robinson,'" Paterno said with a laugh.
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Penn State’s Curtis Drake (7) celebrates with Devon Smith after Smith scored a touchdown in the first quarter against Northwestern on Saturday night.
The Lions' offense finally figured some things out against Northwestern, but as has been the case all season, they won thanks to their defense.
That's strange to say after the defense gave up 24 points in the first half. For the second straight year, however, the PSU defense made all the necessary adjustments at halftime and pitched a shutout over the final two quarters.
"We were all telling each other, 'This isn't our defense playing right now. We're giving up too many points,'" linebacker Gerald Hodges said of the halftime talk. "We just said we've got to play hard-nosed ball like Penn State does, and we did."
Northwestern 7, Penn State 0: Chaz Powell fumbled the opening kickoff for PSU, and Northwestern's Jeravin Matthews recovered at the Lions' 34. Dan Persa hit Kain Colter for 13 yards and Jacob Schmidt for 15 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 6. Colter ran a QB keeper to the 2, then PSU stuffed Treyvon Green twice to bring up fourth-and-goal from a foot away. The Wildcats went for it, and Persa, usually in the shotgun, lined up under center and snuck in for the TD with 12:17 left in the quarter.
Penn State 7, Northwestern 7: Powell made up for his mistake by returning the ensuing kickoff 54 yards to the Northwestern 44. Silas Redd broke loose for 13 yards on the first play, then Matt McGloin hit Brandon Moseby-Felder for 9 yards and Devon Smith for 6. On fourth-and-1 at the 6, McGloin kept it for 2 yards. McGloin then found Justin Brown for a 4-yard TD on third down to tie it with 8:44 to go in the quarter.
Penn State 14, Northwestern 7: McGloin delivered a 45-yard strike to Devon Smith on the first play the series with 5:51 left in the quarter.
Penn State 14, Northwestern 14: The Wildcats came right back with an 87-yard drive in 10 plays as Persa and Colter did most of the damage. Colter began the drive at QB and got the offense going, then Persa came in and found Demetrius Fields for 26 yards to the PSU 18. Colter went from quarterback to receiver and caught a 13-yard TD pass from Persa with 1:54 to go in the quarter.
Penn State 17, Northwestern 14: Silas Redd had a 25-yard carry to the Northwestern 26, setting up a scoring opportunity. The drive stalled there, however, and Anthony Fera kicked a 37-yard field goal with 12:26 left in the half.
Northwestern 21, Penn State 17: The Wildcats put together another impressive long drive, going 75 yards in seven plays, highlighted by Colter taking a snap and darting up the middle for 46 yards to the PSU 7. Colter scored from 4 yards out two plays later with 8:43 remaining in the half.
Northwestern 21, Penn State 20: A key holding penalty negated a PSU touchdown as McGloin hit Stephon Green on a screen for a 15-yard score, but it was called back for a hold on center Matt Stankiewitch. The Lions had marched down the field behind McGloin's arm as he hit four passes of more than 10 yards, including a 20-yard gainer to Devon Smith. The holding penalty killed the drive, and Fera had to come on for a 34-yard field goal with 4:01 to go in the half.
Northwestern 24, Penn State 20: Persa hit Jeremy Ebert for a 54-yard gain to the PSU 15. The Wildcats faced third-and-3 from the 8, and instead of trying to run twice for the first down, Persa threw an incomplete pass and Northwestern settled for a 25-yard field goal from Jeff Budzien with 47 seconds left in the half.
Penn State 27, Northwestern 24: The Lions took over at their own 37 with 41 seconds to go but were able to score a TD. Silas Redd busted free for a 44-yard gain to the Northwestern 12, and McGloin found Devon Smith for 10 yards to the 2. Stephon Green scored from 2 yards out with seven seconds left, giving PSU the lead at the half and giving Green his first TD in 20 games.
Penn State 34, Northwestern 24: Northwestern drove to the Lion 23, then PSU lineman Jordan Hill deflected a pass from Persa. The ball went right to linebacker Gerald Hodges, who returned it 63 yards to the Wildcat 19. Redd broke through the right side on the first play and scored a 19-yard TD with 11:39 left in the quarter.
Hodges and defensive lineman Jordan Hill turned in the play of the game, a momentum-changing highlight that led to the only score of the second half after a shootout in the opening half.
The Lions scored a TD with seven seconds left in the first half to take a 27-24 lead. Matt McGloin, who played the entire game while Rob Bolden sat on the bench, led a 63-yard drive in less than 40 seconds that culminated with a 2-yard TD run by Stephfon Green.
Northwestern got the ball to start the second half and was driving to take the lead. The Wildcats had first down at the PSU 23 when Hill deflected a pass attempt by quarterback Dan Persa.
"Persa was getting the ball off very low a lot of the plays," Hill said. "Coach J [Larry Johnson] had told us, 'Get your hand up when you see them.'"
The deflected pass ricocheted right to Hodges, who intercepted it and broke free for a 63-yard return to the Northwestern 19.
"The interception was the turning point of the game for us," PSU defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
"I was just sitting back, sitting in my coverage waiting to break on the ball," said Hodges, who had 14 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. "I just sat there and focused on catching it and tried to make a play and run it back."
Hodges looked like he would take it to the house for a touchdown, but all of a sudden he ran out of gas and got caught from behind. His teammates had fun poking fun at him for that.
"After the game, we were just like, 'How do you get hawked, man?'" Hill said of Hodges. "He blamed it on the drive. We had a long drive, and that's acceptable. But we definitely got on him."
On the next play, Silas Redd broke free around the right side for a 19-yard touchdown that gave the Lions some breathing room at 34-24 with 11:39 left in the third quarter.
"[The interception] definitely was a game-changer because after that we went into the end zone," Hodges said.
Redd carried 18 times for a career-high 164 yards, topping 100 yards for the fourth straight game.
Redd had tweeted earlier in the day that he was motivated by everyone on ESPN's "College GameDay" picking Northwestern to win the game.
"It hurt because we're ranked and we beat Northwestern the past four years," Redd said. "We wanted to shut those guys up, and we did that today."
Penn State's defense gave up 406 yards of offense, but when it mattered most, the unit shut down the Wildcats.
Persa had his team in position to score with first down at the PSU 17 early in the fourth quarter, but he suffered a right leg injury on a scramble. Backup quarterback Kain Colter, who had been taking a lot of snaps, replaced Persa, and the Lions' defense seized the opportunity to kill the Wildcats' momentum.
"We came with a couple different line stunts just to get five coming so we could clog up the lanes," Bradley said.
Penn State sacked Colter on back-to-back plays for 28 yards, taking Northwestern out of field goal range and essentially ending the Wildcats' chances.
The game marked the second year in a row Penn State shut out Northwestern in the second half after a tough first half. The Wildcats scored 21 points on PSU last year but lost, 35-21.
"We made some adjustments at halftime, we changed a lot of things around," Bradley said. "We put our heads together - Larry, Ron [Vanderlinden], Kermit [Buggs] and I - and we changed up an awful lot going into the second half."