Comeback Kids Give JoePa No. 400

Penn State may have looked down while trailing 21-0 to NU. But the Lions were not out, storming back to win in impressive fashion.

Things looked bleak. Penn State players sat on the sideline dejected and unenthused. There was a feeling that the Nittany Lions had hit rock bottom and there was no way up.

No, that's not a description of the Penn State sideline following its loss to Illinois Oct. 9. Instead it was what the Nittany Lion sideline looked like after Northwestern took a 21-0 lead with 56 seconds left to play in the first half of Saturday's matinee affair at Beaver Stadium.

In both instances though, Penn State responded with the resiliency and determination that has come to characterize each of Joe Paterno's 400 wins at Penn State.

On this day, Nov. 6, 2010, before a crowd of 104,147 college football fans in University Park, Pa., the 2010 Penn State Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-2) had their finest hour of the season, responding from a three-touchdown deficit to earn a 35-21 win over Northwestern (6-3, 2-3).

The victory was not only symbolic of how the team reflects its head coach, but also spoke to the way the squad has overcome adversity all season long.

“We've gotten very close since that loss to Illinois,” running back Michael Zordich said. “Some people say it takes failure to succeed -- I think we've shown it absolutely does.”

Trailing by 21 points with less than a minute to play in the first half, quarterback Matt McGloin led his offense onto the field to begin a drive at the team's own 9-yard line.

Although conventional wisdom said to run out the clock and get the game to halftime, McGloin and his teammates had other plans.

A nine-yard completion to wide receiver Derek Moye. A seven-yard screen pass to running back Evan Royster. A crucial 21-yard scamper by running back Stephfon Green on third down. A bullet throw to wide receiver Graham Zug for 20 yards. Another 20-yard completion to running back Joe Suhey.

Just like that, a Penn State offense that had struggled all day found itself at the Northwestern 7-yard line with seven seconds to play in the half.

On first-and-goal McGloin dropped back to pass, surveyed his receivers, and found team captain Brett Brackett in the back of the end zone for Penn State's first score of the day.

McGloin knew at that moment it was Penn State's game to lose.

“Things were just clicking for us,” McGloin said. “We knew we needed a score and once we got it -- watch out. That's what our offense is capable of doing and we certainly showed it.”

McGloin, who replaced starting quarterback Rob Bolden after the freshman signal-caller fumbled on Penn State's second series of the game, started off slowly but played as well as a quarterback can play in the game's final 31 minutes.

Beginning with Penn State's game-changing drive at the end of the half, McGloin threw for 180 of his 225 total yards, completing 14 of 18 passes for four touchdowns.

It was a virtuoso performance from a player who embraces the big moment.

“If you don't want the ball, man, you're not a player,” McGloin said. “We actually felt like we were winning the game going into halftime. We were so pumped up.”

While the offense's turnaround was brilliant, the defense's about-face was equally impressive.

As Moye noted, “When you score 35 unanswered points, it takes everybody -- you must be doing something right.”

The Nittany Lion defense held the Northwestern running game to only 26 total yards in the second half after the Wildcat ground attack torched Penn State for 142 yards in the game's first 30 minutes.

Although it did not force a turnover, the defense's second-half shutout was “as good as this unit has ever played,” said linebacker Michael Mauti, who had his best game of the season with 11 tackles, three for a loss, and a key fourth-quarter sack.

“We just stepped it up in the second half and followed our responsibilities,” Mauti said. “Once we got that settled, we started playing like we knew we could.”

With both players and coaches “yelling and fired up” inside the locker room at halftime, cornerback D'Anton Lynn said the defense came together and examined what went wrong in the game's opening half-hour.

“We were drawing up the plays that hurt us and it was stuff we were doing wrong, not that they were doing well,” Lynn said. “So coming out there and getting a three-and-out to start the second half, that showed us we could stop them.

“From that point on our defense was amazing,” Lynn added. “We were lights out. It was the most fun I've ever had playing here.”

Following halftime, the Penn State offense resumed its hot play, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions.

And it wasn't just McGloin and the passing game that raised its level of play, but the team's running backs as well. Royster and freshman running back Silas Redd each rushed for over 100 yards, with Redd's first career touchdown giving Penn State a third-quarter lead it would not relinquish.

“Being in that huddle, that was a lot of fun,” Zordich said. “We were so confident and you could see it the way we were moving the ball. They couldn't stop us.”

Although a comeback victory wasn't Paterno's ideal way to earn his 400th career win, the manner in which the team persevered made him very proud.

“I was particularly pleased that the kids got down as (much as) they did and they came together,” Paterno said. “I think this will be a great lesson for them and I know it sounds phony, but (the way they came back) was more important to me than what number win it was.”

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