EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — True to form, Joe Paterno wasn’t ready to wax nostalgic. Even so, taking a spot alongside Eddie Robinson was special, and the next time Penn State wins, JoePa will be all alone atop the Division I wins list.
Already the leader among major college coaches, Paterno tied Robinson with his 408th career victory Saturday night as Penn State beat Northwestern 34-24.
Silas Redd ran for a career-high 164 yards and a touchdown, Matt McGloin threw for 192 yards and two scores, and the Nittany Lions clamped down in the second half to give their storied coach another milestone victory as he watched from the coaches’ box.
“Eddie Robinson was one of the greatest guys we’ve ever had in college football,” Paterno said.
He will try to move ahead of Robinson, the late Grambling State legend, when the Nittany Lions (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) host Illinois next Saturday. That starts a tough stretch that also includes a home game against Nebraska before trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Paterno still has a long way to go to catch John Gagliardi of Division III St. John’s, Minn. (481 and counting), the only other coach with more wins, but this was another big notch for an icon in his 46th season leading the Nittany Lions.
“Joe’s always talked about Eddie with a great deal of respect, nothing but admiration for him,” said quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, his son. “When you’re in that kind of company, that’s pretty elite company.”
That he got it against Northwestern (2-5, 0-4) was fitting, too.
After all, when he tied Bear Bryant with 323 wins, he did it against the Wildcats. No. 400 came at their expense, too, last season in Happy Valley when Penn State rallied from 21 down to win 35-21.
Jay Paterno said his dad rarely discusses milestones and that his mom wasn’t planning to have her family members at that game a year ago.
“I said something to her the week before — 400 is kind of a big deal,” Jay Paterno said.
“Joe’s the kind of person that during the season — it’s the seventh win, we’re 7-1, we’re still in first place in the conference, and we’ve got to work on staying there. Joe will be on the plane asking us about Illinois. He doesn’t pay a lot of attention to that stuff. In the offseason, he might talk about it here and there.”
On Saturday, Joe Paterno deadpanned: “I went to bed last night and I said ‘Jeez, if we win tomorrow, I’m going to be tied with Eddie Robinson.”‘
His players were thrilled for him, though.
“I’m proud of coach, but it’s a thrill for us to take this game and win,” Devon Smith said.
This one wasn’t quite as dramatic as last year’s win over Northwestern, although it was wild in the early going.
Penn State led 27-24 at halftime after Stephfon Green scored on a 1-yard run in the closing seconds, and Redd made it a 10-point game early in the third when he ran it in from the 19 after Gerald Hodges returned an interception 63 yards. A defense that got picked apart in the first half took over from there, sending Northwestern to its fifth straight loss in a miserable season.
That had to make Paterno feel a little better being away from the sideline, still recovering from right shoulder and pelvis injuries suffered after a receiver ran into him in practice August 7.
The Wildcats simply couldn’t stop Redd, who has four straight games with 100 or more yards. He also had a 44-yard run late in the second quarter that set up Green’s TD.
McGloin wasn’t bad either, starting over Rob Bolden and completing 17 of 26 passes. So does that mean the job is his?
“No, no,” Joe Paterno said. “Every day is between Bolden and McGloin.”
Smith had six catches for 110 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown, and once the defense got going, Northwestern had no chance.
Gerald Hodges had a career-high 14 tackles. Jordan Hill had two of Penn State’s seven sacks, and a defense that ranked among the nation’s stingiest, shut down the Wildcats after getting picked apart early on.
The Nittany Lions allowed 406 yards, but just 125 in the second half, and two big sacks on Kain Colter stopped a fourth-quarter drive, helping preserve the win.
That happened right after Dan Persa hobbled off the field.
Still limited by a surgically repaired right Achilles tendon, he came up grabbing his left ankle and limped off the field after a 4-yard run that put the ball on the Penn State 13. He missed the rest of the game, although coach Pat Fitzgerald said he “possibly” could have gone back in.
A 17-yard sack by Hill on Colter and an 11-yarder by Sean Stanley drove the Wildcats all the way back to the 41 and forced them to punt, helping preserve the win.
Persa threw for 294 yards, completing 26 of 34 passes, but he got sacked four times and was largely a non-factor in the second half.
The same goes for Colter.
He ran for 51 yards, including a 46-yarder in the second quarter that led to his own 4-yard TD run. He also caught a 12-yard touchdown pass, his first scoring reception, but got shut down in the second half — just like the rest of the Wildcats.
“I just feel that this whole season, the offense is playing good and the defense is playing bad. Defense is playing good and the offense is playing bad,” Colter said.
It all added up to this — another milestone win for Penn State’s legendary coach.
“It’s special to play for a guy like that,” Redd said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)