NU GAME: Breakdown

EVANSTON, Ill. — The good, the bad and the ugly from Penn State's narrow escape against Northwestern.

MAN OF THE HOUR: Michael Robinson. Yes, he fumbled on the goal line. Yes, he threw three interceptions and was lucky that linebacker Tim McGarigle dropped his first pass of the game. But he also was 5 for 7 on Penn State's winning drive. Shades of Wally Richardson, who was always at his best in the last two minutes.

TURNING POINT: Had the Lions failed on fourth-and-15, it could have turned their entire season into a flaming wreck. But Isaac Smolko caught a 20-yard pass to keep the drive going and help end a streak of five consecutive losses in Big Ten openers.

NUMBERS GAME: The Wildcats ran an astounding 95 plays Saturday — 32 more than Penn State — but finished with 53 fewer yards.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Northwestern had Penn State's kicking game well scouted. The Wildcats placed their first-half onside kick perfectly, and later caught the Lions flat-footed on an option pitch to Ryan Pederson.

WHAT'S UP WITH: Joe Paterno? The 78-year-old coach spent much of the game doubled over with his hands on his knees. Turns out he was fighting off a flu bug.

HEADS-UP: The Lions didn't exactly distinguish themselves with their heady play. So this one goes to Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez, who amassed 283 yards of total offense and displayed the calm assurance of a four-year starter, at least until the final minute when he tossed his final pass right to Penn State cornerback Anwar Phillips.

HIDDEN HERO: Derrick Williams wasn't exactly unsung after scoring the winning touchdown. But he also made a number of key downfield blocks, one of which sprung Tony Hunt for a 16-yard gain in Penn State's first go-ahead drive early in the fourth quarter.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: Paul Posluszny made 22 tackles, the most by a Penn State player since Bill Banks made 24 against North Carolina State in 1977. It was the fourth-highest single-game total in school history.

DID YOU NOTICE:

  • That center E.Z. Smith and linebacker Dan Connor played for the first time this season? Smith opened at center on the Lions' second possession while Connor helped bolster a defense that needed all the manpower at its disposal.

  • That three weeks after starting the season opener, guard Robert Price is no longer on the two-deep?

  • That defensive tackle Jim Shaw came on in relief of Scott Paxson on Northwestern's opening possession, playing for the first time since his knee was injured Penn State's opener?

    UNANSWERED QUESTION: Will Penn State win any more Big Ten games if it doesn't take better care of the football than it did against Northwestern? While the Lions overcame Robinson's four fumbles and three interceptions, they'll need to be more careful starting this week against Minnesota.

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