Football: Northwestern squanders 4th-quarter lead against Penn State
October 6, 2012
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – No. 24 Northwestern should be able to handle Saturday’s loss well, considering all its experience from past seasons.
The Wildcats (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) squandered a fourth-quarter lead, losing to Penn State (4-2, 2-0) 39-28 after allowing 22 straight points in the final period.
The Cats took a 28-17 lead late in the third quarter after junior running back Venric Mark returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.
In front of a crowd of more than 95,000 at Beaver Stadium, the Cats blew an opportunity to start 6-0 for the first time in school history since 1962.
“(Penn State) had a great plan, really stymieing our offense,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “This one’s on us as coaches, we did not do the things that champions and winners do.”
NU started slow, falling behind 10-0 midway through the second quarter, losing the field position battle early in the game.
After Penn State’s second score, the Cats embarked on a 28-7 run ignited by Mark’s first touchdown, a two-yard run with six minutes and 23 second left in the first half. NU entered the second half with a 14-10 lead after redshirt sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian threw a six-yard strike with 30 seconds to go in the second quarter.
But the Nittany Lions wore down the Cats throughout the game. Penn State easily won the time-of-possession battle, controlling the ball for 39 minutes and 17 seconds, compared to only 20 minutes and 43 seconds for the Cats.
“It was tough. We just got to find a way to make a play,” redshirt sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell said. “Guys were out there for awhile, but the offense was out there the same as us, so we just got to focus in and make a play and get off the field.”
As a result, the Nittany Lions ran 99 plays as opposed to NU’s 61, consistently opening up holes for their running backs as the game went on. Penn State out-rushed NU 161 yards to 112.
Quarterback Matt McGloin played another great game against the Cats, closing them out after fighting through inaccuracy problems for most of the game.
McGloin finished the contest 35 of 51, with 282 yards passing and two touchdowns, as well as a rushing touchdown that put Penn State ahead 32-28 with two minutes and 37 seconds left in the game.
NU’s inability to convert on third down compounded the problems for their defense. After playing conservatively on their first few drives when backed up near their own endzone, the Cats never found a proper rhythm on offense.
“I felt like we beat ourselves today,” junior quarterback Kain Colter said. “We didn't make plays when we were able to. I kind of feel like we kind of handed it to them, but we could've played a lot better on offense.”
NU converted only four of 13 third downs, while allowing Penn State to convert 10 of 22 opportunities.
The Nittany Lions also took advantage of the Cats on fourth down. With Penn State lacking a legitimate field goal game, they attempted fourth down conversions nearly every time they made it inside opponent territory, finishing five of six on fourth-down conversions.
NU’s two big playmakers, Mark and Colter, never found their stride.
Aside from Mark’s punt return, the junior running back failed to pick up big gains on the ground consistently, in part possibly due to playcalling.
“We did not start off by running the ball in between the tackles, which I thought we should have,” Mark said. “As the game went along we did start running the ball between the tackles, and you could clearly see our production when we did do that.”
Colter’s struggles came from limited touches. After starting the first four games of the season at quarterback, the junior did not attempt a single pass against Penn State.
Colter, who went over 100 yards receiving and rushing last week against Indiana, caught three passes for 17 yards, and more surprisingly only ran the ball five times for 24 yards. He did manage to score on an option keeper in the third quarter.
“I don't make those calls,” a visibly upset Colter said during NU’s post-game news conference. “I'm just going to play where the coaches tell me to play and do what they tell me to do. I'm kind of indifferent about it.”