November 10, 2010

Review: Penn State 35, Northwestern 21

The highlights, and lowlights, from Penn State's 35-21 over Northwestern.

Evan Royster hurdle
Evan Royster rumbled for 134 yards
against the Wildcats. (Photo: Mike/LBU)
My sincere apologies for not posting this sooner. I had a run-in with some of Pennsylvania's bountiful wildlife on the way up for the game. So my entire Monday was shot dealing with insurance and the collision shop. Everything is fine, so I'm happy. But posting things like this so late bugs the hell out of me.

It was one of the more memorable games I've witnessed in person. From the lowest point in the first half, to the wild second half, there was no shortage of excitement for both sides. So, what was there to like, or dislike, about the game? This...

Tip of the Hat

Matt McGloin - The guy is on the hottest of hot streaks. In three games this season (the last three played), McGloin has hit on 58.6 percent of his passes, for 551 yards, 7 touchdowns, and only one interception. His four TD passes last week tied for second all-time in a single-game. McGloin isn't the most physically gifted quarterback on the roster--he's probably the fourth-most talented, actually. But what he brings to the game is the intangible gift of leadership and competative fire. This team, without established leadership, needs a guy like McGloin right now.

Offensive Line - The improvement over the last three games--even though the opposition has been lower--has been noticeable, if not spectacular for this offensive line that was arguably the biggest, weakest link in the offense not long ago. Against Northwestern, the right side of Stefen Wisniewski and Chima Okoli was unstoppable in the running game. Throw in a pulling block by Johnnie Troutman, and you've got one hell of a push on the defense. Northwestern had no answer for Penn State's ground game after halftime.

Joe Suhey - What a baller this guy has become. Joe Paterno mentioned specifically--three or four times--how big Suhey's catch was out of the backfield before halftime. He made several of those fantastic grabs this season, but that one on what probably was the most imortant drive to-date this season, possibly helped save the game for Penn State. I've said this before, but Penn State hasn't had a set of fullbacks this good (Suhey and Mike Zordich) since 1995.

Derek Moye - Moye had some issues with two poorly thrown balls, but his other catches well made up for any other inconsistencies. Moye should have no problem next season becoming Penn State's first 1000-yard receiver since Bobby Engram.

Evan Royster & Silas Redd - Wow. Just... Wow! Lost in the debacle that was the first half, was that Royster and Redd were running well from the start of the game. But their combined second half performance was thrilling, to say the very least. They were the first pair of Penn State running backs with least 130 rushing yards in a game since Lydell Mitchell (211) and Franco Harris (145) did it at Iowa in 1971. If only the offensive line gelled earlier in the season...

3rd Down Stop
Stopping Northwestern on 3rd and short
was a key turning point for the Penn State defense.
(Photo: Mike/LBU)
 2nd Half Defense - NW QB Dan Persa gained only 16 rushing and 98 passing yards after halftime. He also went 4-for-12 passing after the break. In the entire second half, Northwestern gained a paltry 130 yards of total offense. The second half pressure on Persa--which was non-existent against most opponents this season--slammed the door on any Northwestern comback bid, as the Lions' defense logged four sacks.

Michael Mauti - There is a new, unquestioned leader of this defense. Michael Mauti became Penn State's first Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week since Navorro Bowman did it last season, as the Ragin' Cajun racked up 11 tackles, three for loss, and a huge sack late in the game. His enthusiasm on the field is saturating the defense as a whole. If Mauti can stay healthy, his late-season surge could earn him all-Big Ten post season honors.

Devon Still/Ollie Ogbu - These two are destined for all-Big Ten honors this post-season. Ogbu especially should be in the running for the first-team. Ogbu and Still have become unblockable the last few games. And even when they aren't directly destroying a play, they have the ability to keep opposing offenses way from the middle of the defensive line, allowing the ends and linebacker to clean up on the outside. We saw that this week, highlighted by the huge stop on third and one during the comeback stage of the game.

Joe Paterno/The Coaching Staff - The call of the game was not kneeling or running the clock out before halftime. You know Joe had to sign off on trying for points with less than a minute to go, but I wonder who was able to convince him to do it. Or was it Joe himself? It was very aggressive, and paid off with a win. But after that, what did they say at halftime? Whatever it was, it worked. This team, and its coaches, performed what could be argued the best intragame turnaround in recent history. Northwestern was completely owning the Lions--on both sides of the ball--through the first 29 minutes. The late first half touchdown drive may have sparked the offense, but it was up to the coaches to keep that fire going, while somehow reworking the defense to slow down the Wildcats and Persa. It worked. Everything this staff did worked. There are so many reasons Joe Paterno has been able to win so many games. We just saw reason No. 400.

Wag of the Finger

1st Half Defense - Paterno admitted after the game that they were so focused on stopping Persa's throwing (came into the game as a 74 percent passer), they didn't cover his running enough. We saw that from the get-go, as Northwestern marched right down the field over and over. The defense played timid, sitting back and reacting to, not attacking, the Northwestern offense. Penn State won't be able to get away with 29 minutes of that kind of defense going up against Ohio State this week.

Rob Bolden's leash - Bolden had a bad play (the fumble) when he didn't recognize the blitz and didn't get rid of the ball when it came roaring towards him. But outside of that, he played well, probably as well as McGloin did in his first three drives. I completely agree with the staff that winning games is the most important thing to do right now (more on that later), but you can't say for sure that Bolden wouldn't have had similar success against Northwestern, once the running game and defense took over.

Attendance - Seriously? These are supposedly some of the best fans in college football? 104,147 was the official count. When it was announced in the stadium, PA announcer Dean DeVore had almost a snark in his tone, and very rightfully so. I was utterly embarrassed by the shameful display of laziness and apathy by more than 3000 Penn State ticketholders who failed to show up for Joe Paterno's 400th career win. You want something to blame for poor recruiting? Start looking at the stands. Disgusting.

Misc. Observations

-How bad were the refs early in the game? I swear, if they had missed one more call right after the no-call facemask on Evan Royster, there would have been missles flying from the stands. Just before that missed facemask, Michael Mauti was blatantly held on the outside, but again no call. The refs shaped up after that. But I haven't heard booing (on more than one play) that loud in a long time.

-Jack Crawford and Andrew Dailey both played.

-Nate Cadogan--Gerald's brother--caught his first touchdown pass. He was an offensive tackle only a few weeks ago.

-The two-minute drill run by Galen Hall and Jay Paterno continues to impress me. For years now, if there is one thing fans can agree on, it's that Penn State knows how to get down the field quickly with little time to work with.

-Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments.


It never really felt like Penn State was going to allow the game to remain a blowout through the end, but the doubt about getting the win was definitely there late in the first half. This win was huge, not only for Joe Paterno, but the program's future. Had Penn State lost this game, a winning season would have been in serious jeopardy, as would have been a decent bowl game. Now, the Nittany Lions are virtually guaranteed to finish above .500, with the Gator Bowl a very real possibility for January 1.

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  1. I agree the leash was too short on Bolden. I wonder if it will be that short this week on McGloin if he struggles against one of the best defenses in the country.

  2. @Chris - Great point. Bolden has faced all the really strong defenses on Penn State's schedule to this point. I'm very curious to see how McGloin handles Ohio State IN COLUMBUS. If McGloin has a poor start, will the coaches pull him? Of course, I'm rooting for McGloin to do well. I want to see Penn State win the game. But I hope there's no hypocrisy from the staff this week.

  3. I am so tired of the pity for Bolden, and not giving McGloin proper props. I blame the coaching staff, they put him in before he was ready, he has the same problem that Morelli had, an inability to read the blitz and finish drives. McGloin has shown both of that. Now, I do feel some for Bolden, and I realize he played against the tougher defenses and had some horrible playcalling, and this may all turn around in the OSU game, but it was the right call to pull him and put McGloin in, I don't think we would have come back with Bolden, I really don't.