EVANSTON, Ill. — 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.
via Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Northwestern Wildcats – Recap – October 22, 2011 – ESPN.