The past, present and future of Penn State football blended together perfectly at Beaver Stadium to create one memorable night.
Lost in the hype over Joe Paterno's 400th career victory were standout performances by younger Nittany Lions on both sides of the ball that could bode well for the rest of 2010 — and beyond.
"Well, if I had my choice it would have been a little easier," Paterno said about the rally from a three-touchdown deficit in the first half to beat Northwestern, 35-21 on Saturday night. "I just think some of these kids now know what it takes to get it done and to me, that was the important thing."
Winners of three straight, Penn State (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) has turned around its season a month after a demoralizing two-game slide left many fans wondering if they would ever win again. Lethargy has been replaced by energy — and the dramatic half-to-half mood swing vs. the Wildcats was the perfect example of Penn State's season to date.
Redshirt sophomore Matt McGloin replaced freshman starter Rob Bolden after two series and finished with 225 yards and four touchdowns, including a 7-yarder to Brett Brackett with three seconds left in the first that provided a team-wide emotional lift.
Bolden started for the first time since getting knocked out two weeks ago with a concussion, and Paterno said afterward he was healthy.
Suddenly, quarterback is a question mark again at Penn State — though it's a good dilemma. Between McGloin, the former walk-on, and the touted freshman Bolden, the Nittany Lions have two young signal-callers who have won games, though McGloin has mainly guided the offense on its win streak.
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, Joe's son, said it was too early to name the starter against Ohio State next week. Coaches stressed Bolden wasn't pulled because of ineffective play or injury, but to see what McGloin could do.
"We're back in the race right now. Anything can happen," said McGloin, referring to the Nittany Lions being one loss behind the quartet of one-loss teams atop the Big Ten. They visit Columbus to play the Buckeyes (8-1, 4-1) on Saturday.
"Hopefully the momentum we've built up these past couple weeks will carry over to practice this week and we'll be ready for the challenge," McGloin said.
His penchant for throwing the deep ball is part of the reason the running game has taken off, along with much-improved play from the offensive line.
Senior Evan Royster — the school's career rushing leader — was vintage in shifting through the trenches to get to holes and fighting for extra yards in his 25-carry, 134-yard outing. But it was freshman Silas Redd's performance — 11 carries for 131 yards — that should have fans at ease about the rushing attack's future.
Boasting nifty spin moves and on-a-dime cutting ability, Redd also scored from four yards to put Penn State up for good in the third quarter. He sidestepped a Wildcat on that play who had fallen just in front of Redd's feet before dashing into the end zone untouched.
"I thought he had great burst and great vision," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I'm not surprised that he had success from the standpoint when he got in the open field. But I was surprised that he had so much success against us."
After dangerous dual-threat quarterback Dan Persa accounted for all three Northwestern touchdowns in the first half, Penn State's defense adjusted to the speed and tricky offense led by inspired play by third-year sophomore linebacker Michael Mauti.
Thought to be Happy Valley's next star linebacker in the recent tradition of Paul Posluszny, Sean Lee and Dan Connor, Mauti played the second half as if ready to assume the role. He finished with 11 tackles, including three for losses and one sack, and did an effective job shadowing Persa.
"We are definitely going to try to go to Columbus with the attitude we had in the second half," said defensive tackle Devon Still, who had four tackles and a sack. "We are going to try to shock the world and beat Ohio State."
Just like in 2001, when the Nittany Lions rebounded from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter to beat the Buckeyes and secure another milestone for Paterno, win No. 324 to pass Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant for most victories by an FBS coach.
It was the biggest come-from-behind win for Penn State at home in the 45-year Paterno era ... until Saturday's stirring victory over Northwestern.