Sunday, October 7, 2012
3 up, 3 down: PSU 39, Northwestern 28
By Josh Moyer
The good and the bad from Penn State's 39-28 win over Northwestern on Saturday:
1. Conservative passing game. Matt McGloin didn't air the ball out, but Bill O'Brien's conservative play-calling paid off. McGloin completed 69 percent of his passes -- none of which went farther than 19 yards -- as the passing game adopted a slow-but-steady philosophy. Allen Robinson came on strong in the second half, and McGloin found 10 different targets. Northwestern was unable to key on one receiver, and McGloin never lost his composure.
2. Emergence of Zach Zwinak. Against the best run defense in the Big Ten and the 13th-best in the country, the Nittany Lions managed to run for 161 yards -- and a big reason was because of Zwinak. The redshirt sophomore carried the ball 28 times and rumbled for 121 yards. Bill Belton was supposed to get a lot of carries early, but he was pulled in favor of the hot-handed Zwinak, who once appeared to be Penn State's last option, and now just might be its top tailback.
3. Rush defense. Northwestern isn't used to getting stopped when Venric Mark or Kain Colter get the ball in the backfield. But, on Saturday, Penn State's front seven made sure the Wildcats would struggle. Gerald Hodges was often in the backfield and the 'Cats managed just 112 yards -- less than half of what they averaged coming into the game.
Bill Belton didn't seem to be at 100 percent against Northwestern.
1. Special teams. It's always something with this unit. Sam Ficken didn't miss a kick Saturday, but special teams nearly lost this game for Penn State. Jesse Della Valle fumbled a punt on his own 17; Northwestern recovered and scored a touchdown. In the third quarter, Alex Butterworth punted a nice ball 54 yards -- only to watch Mark return it 75 yards for a touchdown. Angelo Mangiro froze on the return, and PSU's special teams was again the weak point this week.
2. Bill Belton. O'Brien said the sophomore tailback's ankle wasn't bothering him, but he seemed to lack quickness Saturday. During an open Wednesday practice, O'Brien even yelled at him, "Need to see some juice, Billy!" He had a 10-yard run, but he ran east-west with a lot space in front of him. It seemed as if that opening could have been a home run. Instead, Belton settled for a first down and four rushes for 12 yards.
3. Fundamental mistakes on offense. Maybe it was the three dropped passes, the few slip-ups in pass protection or some isolated penalties. But those mistakes ended Penn State drives, and it showed PSU will have to again focus on the fundamentals the next two weeks. A penalty on fourth-and-9 on the first drive forced Penn State to punt, and several quarterback pressures nearly led to a McGloin sack or interception. McGloin was sacked on his game-winning drive and fumbled, but recovered it. If not for an error-free final quarter, those few mistakes could have cost PSU a shot at the win.