Penn State’s defense clamped down after Northwestern lost starting quarterback Mike Kafka. And then in the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions’ offense kicked in.
Evan Royster bolted 69 yards for a TD to cap a three-score spurt in the final period and No. 12 Penn State pulled away to a 34-13 victory Saturday night.
“You got to understand that a kid like that quarterback (Kafka) is out of there, it’s a big loss,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “Kafka’s a heck of a football player. We played them more aggressively in the second half and did a better job with the pass rush, regardless of whether Kafka was in there or some other kid.”
Daryll Clark threw a 53-yard TD pass to Derek Moye before Royster broke loose for the third of three Penn State touchdowns during a span 3 minutes, 40 seconds of the fourth quarter that turned a tight game into a rout.
“I was just praying Daryll was going to hand the ball off, because it was one of those ones where he could throw it out or hand it off,” said Royster, who ran for 118 yards on 15 carries. “I knew it was going to open up. After that I just had to run as fast as I could.”
Penn State (8-1 4-1 in the Big Ten) trailed 10-3 in the second quarter when Kafka was forced out with a left leg injury. And the Nittany Lions were still behind 13-10 at the half. But they shut out the Wildcats and backup QB Dan Persa in the final two quarters and gave Paterno his 391st win.
“I think that affected them. I think the kid came in and did a good job. Kafka was really playing well in the first half. He had us on our heels,” Penn State linebacker Sean Lee said.
Behind the strong running of Royster, Penn State moved in for the go-ahead touchdown early in the final quarter on a 2-yard run by Brandon Beachum that made it 20-13.
When the Nittany Lions got the ball back, Clark rolled right and found Moye behind Northwestern’s secondary for the 53-yard TD pass, making it 27-13 with 10:16 to go. After Penn State forced another punt, Royster broke through the Northwestern defense on first down and sprinted to the end zone.
Northwestern (5-4, 2-3) finished with 371 yards total offense after having 246 in the first half.
Kafka injured his leg midway through the second quarter. He’d been sacked and then completed a pass before he was replaced by Persa. When he left, he’d completed 14 of 18 passes for 128 yards and carried eight times for 42 more.
“When Mike was in there I don’t think they stopped us. I think we stopped ourselves a couple of times,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Persa, whose mother and sister attended Penn State, completed 14 of 23 passes and rushed for 42 yards on 14 carries, but couldn’t get the Wildcats to the end zone. He was sacked four times.
“No excuses. I made some mistakes. … I didn’t get it done,” Persa said.