The Penn State Nittany Lions roared back in the fourth quarter to shock the undefeated Northwestern Wildcats with a 39-28 victory.
After losing their first two games to Ohio and Virginia, Penn State has rattled off four consecutive convincing wins.
Saturday’s win over 24th-ranked Northwestern wasn’t as convincing as much as it was a statement by the Nittany Lions. They relied on their stringent defense to keep the game close and scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to secure the big win.
Sure, they’re literally playing for nothing thanks to the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Despite the sanctions that resulted from that situation, the team has come together and failed to collapse as many around the nation expected them to.
If kicker Sam Ficken didn’t miss three field goals and then a 42-yard attempt as time expired, the team would be 5-1.
Even a 4-2 start is a considerable achievement and a testament to the will and character of the locker room in Happy Valley.
Is that enough?
The Lions are led by former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. O’Brien had no previous experience at the school and started things over with a clean slate. Well, clean after the sanctions have passed.
But there’s something different about the Nittany Lions under O’Brien’s watch. The team’s defense is still the same hard-nosed unit it’s known to be. On offense, though, there seems to be something different.
Perhaps it’s the maturity of senior quarterback Matt McGloin. The QB has really taken a huge step forward this season and acted as the glue to keep this Nittany Lions team together with his excellent play.
How good has he been so far?
He’s thrown for 1,217 yards with a 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and been relatively efficient by completing nearly 60 percent of his passes. Those numbers are good enough for a total 136.6 quarterback rating on the year.
With McGloin playing his best football and the team’s defense playing tough as well, there’s nothing these surprise Nittany Lions can’t accomplish in the Big 10 this year.
Couple their “nothing to lose” mindset with the current perceived struggles of the Big 10 conference, and Penn State could end up playing shocker to teams like the Ohio State Buckeyes and Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Will they win out the season and shock the Big 10? Not likely. It doesn’t really matter either because they can’t win the conference championship or go to a bowl game.
They’re playing strictly for pride, and that’s a dangerous motivator that their opponents need to keep in mind.
The Nittany Lions have the defense, coaching and competent quarterback in place to make things interesting down the stretch in the Big 10.
Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site.