The Penn State Nittany Lions improved to 4-2 on the year with a 39-28 comeback victory against No. 24 Northwestern. The Lions scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to secure their fourth straight victory.
Down 28-17 entering the fourth quarter, the Lions scored on a Matt McGloin touchdown pass to Allen Robinson and a Matt McGloin touchdown run. Michael Zordich later added a short touchdown run to seal the victory.
The previously unbeaten Wildcats, who were averaging 466.6 total yards per game, were held to just 247 total yards.
As in all victories, there were positives and negatives in the Week 6 game for the Nittany Lions. This is a report card for all of the Penn State starters against Northwestern.
Matt McGloin: B
McGloin put up solid numbers against the Wildcats, but looked uncomfortable at times and was not as sharp as he had been in previous weeks. McGloin finished the contest against Northwestern completing 35 of 51 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
He also electrified the crowd with a game-winning, five-yard touchdown scramble with just 2:37 remaining on the clock. The run marked the third straight game in which McGloin scored a rushing touchdown.
McGloin earns a B for his performance against Northwestern for the fact that he did not look as solid as usual. He held onto the ball entirely too long and looked indecisive or several throws.
Though he avoided turnovers, there were several occasions in which McGloin missed an open wide receiver. In fairness to the quarterback, Penn State had several drops, including one by tight end Kyle Carter on the goal line.
The bottom line is that the senior quarterback did exactly what is expected from a leader. He did what was needed to win and led his team to victory.
Zach Zwinak: A+
Bill Belton: C-
Michael Zordich: B+
After only gaining 54 yards in the first half, the Penn State running attack finally got on track in the second half. The Lions finished the game with 161 yards on the ground.
Starter Bill Belton finished the game with just four carries for 12 yards. Belton was a non-factor in Week 6 and seemed to still be bothered by an ankle injury. Belton may deserve a lower grade, but the reality is, he just didn't seem to be a part of the Penn State game plan.
Sophomore Zach Zwinak continued his hot streak by rushing for a career-high 121 yards and a touchdown. Zwinak also caught six passes for 52 yards. Zwinak's hard running helped keep several drives alive, especially in the second half.
Zwinak was an important weapon in the passing attack, as he served as the check-down option for McGloin and ending up as the second-leading receiver on the team in Week 6.
Michael Zordich, who has had a good year since being used more as a runner, had another solid performance against the Wildcats. Zordich wasn't a big part of the Penn State rushing game in Week 6, but finished with 33 yards on just seven carries. He also tossed in 31 receiving yards.
Zordich did have an important 25-yard run down to the three yard line and then scored on the next play with just over a minute remaining. That touchdown sealed the Wildcats' fate.
Allen Robinson: A
Brandon Moseby-Felder: B-
The NFL-style passing attack of head coach Bill O'Brien continued to work well for Penn State in Week 6. In a game that saw tight ends and running backs get most of the targets, the Penn State wide receivers stepped up in big moments when called upon.
Allen Robinson continued his breakout season with his second multi-touchdown game. Robinson led the team with nine catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Held in check with only one catch for much of the first half, Robinson broke out with two second-half touchdowns, including a six-yard catch in the end zone on a crucial 4th-and-4.
That score brought the Lions to within three points of the lead after a successful two-point conversion.
Moseby-Felder hauled in five catches for 34 yards. The junior receiver seemed to be the recipient of a few errant McGloin passes, though there was a crossing pattern in the third quarter that an open Meseby-Felder seemed to stop running as the pass fell just out of his reach.
Perhaps the biggest contribution from Moseby-Felder in Week 6 was a 13-yard catch on a 4th-and-2 from the Northwestern 19-yard line. Penn State was down by three, but chose to go for it instead of attempting a field goal to tie the game.
That huge play set up the winning score, a five-yard run by McGloin.
Gary Gilliam: C-
Jesse James: C-
Kyle Carter: B-
Matt Lehman: C
To be fair to tight ends Gary Gilliam and Jesse James, they both started, but were not really involved in the offense. Gilliam caught a pass on the first play of the game, a 15-yard gain, but that was it for him. James caught just one pass for no gain.
Kyle Carter and Matt Lehman have been the main tight ends for Penn State so far in 2012, and Week 6 was no different. Carter led all tight ends with four catches for 44 yards. Carter's grade wold be higher, but he had two big drops, including one on the goal line that looked like it was going to be a first-quarter touchdown.
Lehman, another big reliable tight end, caught only three passes for just 15 yards.
Quarterback Matt McGloin has become very comfortable throwing to his tight ends. Expect that trend to continue under the new Bill O'Brien offense.
LT Donovan Smith: B
LG Miles Dieffenbach: B
C Matt Stankiewitch: B
RG John Urshel: B
RT Mike Farrell: B
The Penn State offensive line played well for the most part in Week 6. During the first half, however, they struggled to open holes for the running backs. The second half saw the line begin to push Northwestern at the point of attack start to open bigger holes for Zwinak and Zordich.
The line struggled at times to provide solid protection for quarterback Matt McGloin. McGloin was under duress for many of his passes, having to scramble out of the pocket to try to make a play. However, with all of the pressure that McGloin saw, he was only sacked twice for 15 yards.
Most importantly for the bigs on the front line, there were no holding calls or false starts committed by any of them.
Penn State will have to continue to effectively run the ball in Big Ten play. The offensive line still has room for improvement, but the group seems to be heading in the right direction.
DE Deion Barnes: B+
DT Jordan Hill: A+
DT DaQuan Jones: B
DE Sean Stanley: B+
The defensive line is anchored on the ends by two seniors, Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley. Although they only got the quarterback for one sack on Saturday, the line held up against the Northwestern run game.
The Wildcats were held in check and only managed a 14-yard run as their longest of the day.
Jordan Hill seemed to be involved on almost every play and was putting constant pressure on quarterback Trevor Siemian, forcing some bad throws. Hill was able to record a sack for a five-yard loss and recorded eight tackles.
Stanley controlled the line of scrimmage from the end opposite of Hill. Stanley only recorded two tackles in the game, but did a good job of not allowing the dangerous running back Venric Mark to get outside and break a long run.
Deion Barnes, a freshman from Pennsylvania, recorded one tackle and assisted on a sack in the game. Barnes didn't really have a chance to make any big plays, but he also avoided any big mistakes in the game. Junior tackle DaQuan Jones also only recorded one tackle, but did a good job of not allowing the Northwestern backs to get free.
Moving forward, the Lions will want to see continued improvement from the defensive line. Getting pressure on the quarterback will be essential to Penn State's success the rest of the season.
OLB Michael Mauti: A
OLB: Gerald Hodges: A+
MLB: Glenn Carson: A-
The old moniker "Linebacker U" is clearly alive and well in 2012. The Penn State linebackers, led by seniors Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, make plays all over the field and wreck havoc for opposing offenses.
The defense did an excellent job of stopping the Northwestern rushing attack, who came in averaging 255.8 yards per game. On Saturday, the Wildcats were held to just 112 yards rushing. The Penn State linebackers deserve much of the credit for shutting down the 'Cats.
As per the norm this season, Michael Mauti was all over the field making plays. Mauti, the emotional leader on defense, finished the game with nine tackles. That was good enough to make him the second-highest on the team.
Senior Gerald Hodges, who has quietly had a good season, really stood out on Saturday. Hodges made a team-high 11 tackles, forced a fumble and was involved in several critical third down stops. He showed why he has the potential to be an early-round draft pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Glen Carson, who can easily be overshadowed by the two stars, continued his solid season on Saturday. The junior linebacker made five tackles against the Wildcats and played a large role in plugging up the center of the field and not allowing playmakers Venric Mark and Kain Colter to get going.
This Penn State team is going to rely on its defense once it gets into the meat of its Big Ten schedule. The linebackers provide an experienced core that can anchor the entire defense.
LCB Adrian Amos: B-
RCB Stephon Morris: A-
S Malcolm Willis: A
S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong: B
The Penn State defense held Northwestern to just 135 yards passing. The secondary was blanketed over the Northwestern receivers all game, never allowing quarterback Trevor Siemian to make a big play down the field. The longest Wildcats completion went for just 16 yards.
While the secondary is yet to record an interception this year, the group has improved its coverage each week, allowing the defensive line time to pressure the opposing quarterback.
Against the Wildcats, cornerback Adrian Amos and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong didn't really show up on the state sheet, only recording one tackle between them. Amos fumbled on a kick return, but was bailed out when the ball bounced out of bounds.
Cornerback Stephon Morris had a solid game against the Wildcats, blanketing his receiver for much of the game. Morris recorded four tackles in the game.
The only blemish against Morris was a first-half pass interference call on third down that set the Wildcats up for a touchdown. Morris made a great play on the ball, but was whistled for the penalty. However, reviews of the play show that Morris did not interfere with the receiver's ability to catch the ball and was a victim of a bad call.
Safety Malcolm Willis led the secondary with five tackles against the Wildcats. Willis seemed to be all over the field and kept the Northwestern receivers from getting behind him and making a big play.
The secondary has been a weakness all year for the Lions, but a solid performance like the one in Week 6 should give them confidence moving forward.
PK Sam Ficken: A
P Alex Butterworth: A-
While the return game and the coverage team struggled, the actual kicking game of Penn State was very solid in Week 6.
Punt returner Jesse Della Valle muffed a punt in the second quarter which gave the Wildcats a short field. Northwestern returner Venric Mark broke a 75-yard punt return in the third quarter that took the air out of the stadium at that time.
As far as kicking, things were a lot more consistent than they had been in weeks past.
The much-maligned Sam Ficken came through on all of his kicks. Ficken hit a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter and finished the game 4-for-4 on extra points.
He even showed off his leg by putting a kickoff through the uprights.
Butterworth, who has also struggled this year, had a good day punting the football. Though he only averaged 36.8 yards per punt, he did a great job of pinning the Wildcats deep in their own territory with three punts inside of the 20-yard line.
There's no doubt that special teams has been an issue for Penn State in 2012. Bill O'Brien and his coaching staff will certainly take time over the bye week to fix those issues.