Eric McCoo needed a lucky bounce to get his second touchdown and second 100-yard rushing game.
The freshman tailback ran for 127 yards and turned his own fumble into a 57-yard touchdown as No. 19 Penn State defeated Northwestern 41-10 Saturday.
On the bizarre TD run, he broke one tackle and cut outside, then fumbled up the sideline. But he kept running, caught the bouncing ball in stride 15 yards downfield and sprinted in to put the Lions up 24-3.
"The first thing that happened on that run was that my life flashed before my eyes," McCoo said. "I didn't have time to think about anything else but `Get the ball back."
Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno didn't really know what to say after the game to coach Gary Barnett, whose Wildcats (2-9) finished their Big Ten schedule 0-8.
"I said, 'Gary, back's running down the middle of the field, a grass field and the ball bounces right back at him ... It's really not your season,"' Paterno recounted.
There were few bright spots this season for Northwestern, three years removed from a Big Ten title.
"I knew we were really fragile," Barnett said. "You can talk about it in August, but when you swallow it, it's different. Right now it's hard to swallow."
The Lions (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) bounced back from a 27-0 loss to Michigan last week and ar5-0 at home, but bring their 1-2 record against Top 25 teams into Madison next week against Wisconsin, ranked No. 8 coming into Saturday's 27-10 loss at Michigan.
| Penn State's Joe Natsi and Floyd Wedderburn (69) celebrate Natasi's first-quarter touchdown against Northwestern. (AP) |
"Last week -- we just forgot about it. We didn't talk about it at all," said kicker Travis Forney, who made field goals from 22 and 34 yards. "We knew we had to redirect our focus. Having put a lot of hard work and focus and then playing successfully, it's a confidence builder."
Kevin Thompson was 8-of-20 passing for 170 yards and a touchdown for the Lions. He also ran in a touchdown, but threw two interceptions for the second consecutive game.
"I thought Kevin was sound in there, solid. I think he ran the club well. Missed on a couple of passes that were thrown deep," Paterno said. "Overall, it was an improved effort. I'm not going overboard, but ..."
Thompson hit Cuncho Brown on a 43-yard pass in the first quarter to set up Mike Cerimele's 1-yard TD. After David Macklin picked off his fifth pass on the Wildcats' next series, Thompson found Joe Nastasi for an 18-yard TD to give Penn State a 14-3 lead. It was Nastasi's first score since breaking his wrist a month ago.
Thompson also scored from the 1 after Askari Adams' second interception of the year as Penn State went ahead 34-3 in the fourth quarter.
Penn State's defense held the Wildcats to 21 rushing yards and another five sacks, led by Courtney Brown's two. The Lions have 39 sacks and are nearing the team record of 47.
Northwestern's biggest play came when D'Wayne Bates took a screen pass 81 yards to set up Brian Gowins' 28-yard field goal on the Wildcats' first series.
"Everybody knew it was coming," Paterno said. "Everybody on the sideline was yelling `Rocket! Rocket! Rocket!' He just made a great play. I think he's a great athlete."
With the catch, Bates, Northwestern's most prolific receiver moved past ex- Nittany Lion Bobby Engram and into second place in the Big Ten with 3,224 career receiving yards. He finished with four catches for 127 yards.
Northwestern's Sam Simmons scored on a 20-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
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