Penn State 34,
Michael Robinson saw the defense closing in on him. He also saw an open receiver on the left side.
Robinson released the ball just in time to connect with freshman Derrick Williams on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left to lift Penn State to a 34-29 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.
The lead changed three times in the closing minutes, and the Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) overcame four turnovers and a 16-point deficit in continuing their best start since 1999.
"That drive was all about heart," said Robinson, who passed for three touchdowns and ran for another. "Derrick was kind of upset at halftime because he felt like he could do some things on the outside, but we weren't getting him the ball. I told him to be patient."
And for Williams, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, the first touchdown of his career couldn't have come at a better time.
"That's something that everybody dreams for -- especially when it's my first touchdown," Williams said.
Penn State took its first lead, 27-26, with 8 minutes 52 seconds left in the game on Robinson's eight-yard touchdown run. But the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1), who benefited from a personal foul against Penn State on a late hit against quarterback Brett Basanez, regained the lead on Joel Howells's 25-yard field goal with 2:10 left.
"I thought we'd be okay if we didn't panic," Coach Joe Paterno said. "You have to give Robinson most of the credit."
On the final drive, Robinson converted a fourth and 15 from the Penn State 15 with a 20-yard pass to tight end Isaac Smolko with 1:33 left. Then, on third and six from the Northwestern 36, Robinson was hit as he threw, but his pass found an open Williams at about the 10. Williams shook away from safety Reggie McPherson and raced into the end zone.
"It looked like [the pass] was taking forever to get to me, but I just concentrated on the ball," Williams said. "I knew he was going to try to tackle me high, so I just ducked under him."
Anwar Phillips (Northwest High) then intercepted a pass by Basanez near midfield to seal the win and snap Northwestern's two-game winning streak against Penn State.
Outside linebacker Paul Posluszny had 22 tackles -- the most by a Penn State player since Ron Crosby had 22 against Ohio in 1974.
Howells, a junior, set a Northwestern record with five field goals, including a 46-yarder that tied his career best. Tyrell Sutton rushed for 112 yards on 32 carries, and set a Northwestern freshman record with his seventh and eighth rushing touchdowns. Basanez was 20 of 38 with 229 yards and one interception.
"Our defense played great," Basanez said. "They got a lot of turnovers and the offense needed to respond and score touchdowns."
After committing a total of nine turnovers in wins at home over South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan, Penn State continued to cough it up against a Northwestern defense that allowed a school-record 773 yards in last week's 52-21 loss at Arizona State.
"With the turnovers and penalties [five for 50 yards], we're at a point now where we're having some adversity," Paterno said. "But we're overcoming it."
The Wildcats drove 80 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening drive, and Penn State's problems mounted.
The Nittany Lions' first possession ended with Eddie Simpson intercepting Robinson at the Northwestern 36. After a 20-yard field goal by Howells made it 10-0 with 2:06 left in the first quarter, Northwestern recovered a pooch kickoff at the Nittany Lions 26. That led to a 25-yard field goal by Howells.
Robinson hit freshman Justin King for a 37-yard touchdown pass on Penn State's next possession to make it 13-7, and the Nittany Lions recovered a fumbled kickoff at the Wildcats 26. But an interception by Adam Kadela on the first play set up a 71-yard scoring drive that ended with Sutton carrying it in from the 1 to make it 20-7.
"It's tough to lose a game like that," Northwestern Coach Randy Walker said.