The Lions held Northwestern to zero first downs on its two possessions after the Wildcats took a 28-17 lead, getting the ball back for the offense.
"We had guys that were making plays," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "We really didn't do anything a lot different. Initially we had some problems getting off blocks, and we talked about going back to fundamentals. I thought they did a better job."
Hanging in there
Defensive end Pete Massaro, a senior from Marple Newtown High, returned to action after missing three games with a shoulder injury and a sore knee. He admitted it was difficult to keep his spirits up when not playing.
"It's really tough," he said. "You've just got to keep moving forward. If you're going through hell, keep going. That's what I keep telling myself. I just do whatever I can to stay positive. My friends and family have helped."
Massaro suffered a right shoulder injury, ligament damage, and "a pretty nasty bone bruise" four weeks earlier against Virginia.
"I basically live in the training room," he said. "I'm in there twice a day pretty much every day, just a lot of ice, a lot of rehab. But they did some good work to get me ready for this game. I'm thankful for that, and I think I'm on the right path as far as my health is concerned at this point."
The Nittany Lions converted 5 of 6 fourth-down plays, improving their season mark to 13 of 20.
Two of the more interesting fourth-down plays were a 6-yard touchdown pass from Matt McGloin to Allen Robinson when the Lions were down two scores, and a 13-yard pass from McGloin to Brandon Moseby-Felder after the team went to the line of scrimmage without a huddle.
"A lot of times . . . it's worked out this year where it's been about field position," coach Bill O'Brien said. "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. If we have the right play, and we're out of Sam's [Ficken] range, it might be better to have a good play if it's a manageable fourth down."
McGloin is fine with the idea.
"That's the way we play," he said. "I'm a firm believer that you get four downs for a reason, as does Coach O'Brien. That's one of the reasons we won the game today, going for it on fourth down."
Fun with numbers
Penn State defeated a ranked team for the first time since its 19-17 win over No. 13 Louisiana State in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2010. . . . In three career games against Northwestern, all victories, McGloin has completed 66 percent of his passes for 699 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions. . . . Penn State's 99 offensive plays tied the school record set in 1966 vs. West Virginia. . . . The Lions' 39 points marked their most against an FBS team since they scored 41 against Indiana in November 2010.