Then the second half rolled around. And right when it looked like it would be more scoring at will, Penn State came up with a key turnover. The Lions quickly turned it into another touchdown. And that was pretty much that.
The main storyline immediately afterward was how Matt McGloin finally earned a start over Rob Bolden at quarterback. The secondary storyline was that Bolden never set foot on the field, as the staff stuck with one QB for the first time all season.
There was also talk of PSU coach Joe Paterno tying the great Eddie Robinson atop the all-time Division I (all levels of it) wins lists with 408.
But the real news hit a while later. When Michigan State upset Wisconsin in East Lansing, it left Penn State, at 4-0, alone atop the Leaders Division of the Big Ten heading into the second half of the conference season.
After a 1-1 start, the Nittany Lions are now 7-1 overall. Northwestern, meanwhile, lost for the fifth straight time, and is now 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the league.
Here is how it shook out at Ryan Field Saturday night.
MAN O' THE HOUR: Penn State LB Gerald Hodges seemed to enjoy the fast pace of the game. He had a career-high 14 tackles to go along with 1.5 sacks. He had a game-changing interception, too. More on that later.
CLOSE SECOND: Nittany Lion TB Silas Redd continued to dominate. He carried 18 times for 164 yards and a score.
HONORABLE MENTION: WR Devon Smith had his best game yet, with six catches for 110 yards and a 45-yard TD. Better still? No end-arounds.
OPPOSING MVP: Your heart goes out to NU QB Dan Persa. Though not at 100 percent, he passed for 294 yards and rushed for 39 more (not counting sacks). But he was knocked from the game in the fourth quarter. He'd be so dangerous if he were on a good team.
TURNING POINT: With the Lions nursing a 27-24 lead early in the third quarter, Persa drove the Wildcats to the PSU 23. When he tried to pass, DT Jordan Hill tipped the ball and Hodges alertly intercepted and took off on a 63-yard return to the NU 19. Redd scored on the next play to make it 34-24, which turned out to be the final.
STRONG STRATEGY: Penn State attacked Persa and backup Kain Colter in waves. The Lions finished with a season-high seven sacks.
BY THE NUMBERS: The two teams accounted for 786 yards of total offense. Yet there were only seven points scored in the second half.
JOE SHOW: Paterno was on the sideline before the game but headed to the press box once the action started. He was a bit chippy in the cramped visiting media room after the game.
ASSISTANT ASSESSMENT: Sure, the defense struggled in the first half. But credit coordinator Tom Bradley and company for making adjustments and pitching a shutout in the second half.
GREAT PLAY: With the score tied 7-7 in the first quarter, McGloin ran a play-action fake and then threw a bomb to Smith, who was wide open behind the Wildcat defense.
NOT-SO-GREAT PLAY: Up 34-24 in the third quarter and driving to put the game away, PSU faced a third-and-2 from the NU 35. More play action, but this time McGloin was sacked, forcing a punt. Redd was averaging nearly 11 yards per carry at the time.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Who else but Anthony Fera, who was good on two more field goals, did a strong job kicking off and averaged 41 yarsd on two punts.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: Hill continues to shine. He had six tackles, two sacks and the one big deflection.
HIT SQUAD: Wildcat safety David Arnold got one of the few clean hits on Redd, leveling the Lion back after a three-yard gain in the first quarter.
HIDDEN HERO: FB Michael Zordich did a strong job blocking and also caught a pass for seven yards.
It was odd to see the Penn State defense struggle so much in the first half. It was as if the Lions didn't realize they'd be facing a spread offense.
PSU senior fullback Joe Suhey, a native of the Chicago area, barely played. It was not clear why. Zordich was the man at fullback all night.
Wideout Curtis Drake made his first road trip of the season. Sidelined of late due to some combination of a sore leg and being in Paterno's doghouse, Drake played for the first time since catching one pass for 17 yards vs. Eastern Michigan. Penn State's official stats suggest Drake played against Indiana, but that was a mistake on the scorekeeper's part. Drake caught one pass for 11 yards Saturday.
Backup cornerback Stephon Morris did not make the trip. Paterno said Morris had some sort of problem but would not be specific.
Don't look now, but the week after losing to Penn State, teams have gone a collective 5-1. They averaged 33.3 points in said games (while allowing 25). Against the Lions, the six teams averaged nine points (while giving up 23.5).
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Is it time to start giving this Penn State team credit yet?
SUGGESTED HASHTAG: #LionsTakeTheLead