Penn State over Northwestern
By BILL ALBRIGHT
EasternPAFootball.com Senior Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK – Any way you look at it, the Penn State football team put a big exclamation point on Nittany Lion Homecoming 2012.
After leading for much of the afternoon, the Lions saw their lead evaporate into a deficit in the third period.
But not to let things get away from them, the Lions came on strong down the stretch in the fourth quarter to upend Northwestern 39-28 Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
“It’s Big Ten football, we need to come back,” said Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. “You can’t say enough about these kids. With what they’ve been through, they’re smart, they’re tough, they’re committed to Penn State. They come to practice every single week. The practices aren’t always pretty, but there’s a lot of effort. There’s great chemistry in that locker room. We’re 4-2, who knows where it’s going to end up. These guys are playing hard and it’s really fun to see the smiles on their faces.”
With the Lions already trailing 21-17, the Wildcats poked another thorn in the side of the ‘Nits when Venric Mark returned a punt 75 yards for a score to give Northwestern a 28-17 lead, setting the stage for the comeback effort by the Lions.
“I did sense a little (letdown) for a few seconds there after the punt return,” O’Brien said. “That was an excellent job by Northwestern. This is a really, really good Northwestern team. I have a lot of respect for Pat [Fitzgerald] and what he’s done there. I did sense that a little bit. My staff and myself talked to the players and tried to get them going. We knew at that time there were 50 seconds left in the third quarter and the whole fourth quarter to go. We felt like we could move the ball. It’s Big Ten football, we need to come back.”
Facing the 11-point deficit, the Lions rallied to score the final 22 points of the game for the win.
McGloin hit Allen Robinson with a 6-yard scoring pass, McGloin leaped into the end zone to complete a 5-yard rush for the score and Zordich put the nail in the Wildcat coffin when he bulled in from three yards out for his six-pointer.
The Robinson pass reception capped an 18-play, 82-yard drive that consumed more than six minutes while the McGloin run to paydirt finished off a 15-play, 85-yard jaunt to the end zone. It only took the Lions three plays for Zordich to get into the end zone for the game’s final score, the burly fullback carrying the ball all three plays for the 28 yards and the score after the Lion defense held Northwestern offense following the Wildcat’s desperation attempt on fourth down.
Depending on field position and the situation in a game, going for it on fourth down is many times the exception rather than the rule. That was until Saturday for the Nittany Lions.
“We went for it six times today on fourth down,” said O’Brien. Again, a lot of times it’s worked out this year, where it’s been about field position. I don’t think you see me going for it on fourth down backed up inside our own 20 or really on our side of the 50. I might have done it a few times, but not too often. Usually, if we have the right field position and we’re out of Sam’s [Ficken] range, it might be better to have a good play, especially if it’s a manageable fourth down. It’s not that hard on a play caller, because your third down call is like a second down call, when you know you’re going to go for it. It’s not like all of a sudden you say, ‘we’re going to go for it’. It’s a thought-out deal and hopefully we continue to execute on fourth down. I think we’ve done a decent job on it this year. I know at times we need to do better.”
Fullback Michael Zordich also likes the challenge of moving the chains when faced with a fourth-down situation.
“We love it because it is an attitude kind of play,” said Zordich. “We want touchdowns. That is what this offense is about. If we need to go for it, if we are in the right field position, that is what we are going to do. We love it because it gets your mind right.”
With Bill Belton on the shelf and Derek Day still nursing an injury, that meant that O’Brien gave Zack Zwinak the call and Zwinak responded to the Nascar-type offense employed by the PSU coaching staff.
“I think we’re getting pretty comfortable with it,” Zwinak said. “You can see we’re moving the ball down the field – it’s tiring. It’s not my favorite pace but it gets the job done. Coach [O’Brien] thinks we do a good job communicating and Matt [McGloin] does a good job getting the receivers.”
When asked about the role of Zwinak and Michael Zordich in the Lions offensive scheme, O’Brien offered his usual honest and up front view of the situation.
“I don’t think his ankle’s bothering him,” said O’Brien of Belton. “You would have to ask him. Billy went in there and did some decent things. We felt Zach was running the ball downhill and felt his physical presence in the game. This type of a game, it was something we wanted to go with, same thing with Michael Zordich. It’s nothing against Bill Belton, he’s a very good football player. There’s only one ball, we’re a one-back team primarily. Sometimes, we lineup in two back, but Billy’s not a fullback, so there’s only one tailback in at a time.”
Then there is the job that was done by Matt McGloin to help the Lions take control of the game in the second half.
“Matt’s done a really nice job of coming in at halftime and staying relaxed and calm and taking the coaching from Charlie [Fisher] and myself,” said O’Brien. “He understands the things we talk about at halftime, we have to do this better or that better. He understands it’s a 60-minute game. He’s grown up a lot. When you’re a senior and playing your last few games here at Penn State, that means a lot to him. Again, I can’t say enough about Matt McGloin. He’s got the job done to this point this year.”
As he has said numerous times thus far, O’Brien likes the involvement by the fans in the game and the excitement about Penn State football they show.
“All of that is about a lot more than football,” said O’Brien. “Football is just a sport, where we have a bunch of great kids here that love to go to school here and take pride in playing football for Penn State. They have a little part in the community and helping the community. We do the same thing as a coaching staff; we try to get out in the community. We enjoy living here; there are some great people here. Those things that happened over the summer and in the past are a lot bigger than football. These kids are just having fun playing football right now.”
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