EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- 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 and lift Penn State to a wild 34-29 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.
The lead changed three times in the closing minutes and the Nittany Lions overcame four turnovers and a 16-point deficit to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1999.
"That drive was all about heart," said Robinson, who passed for three TDs 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, 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 8:52 left in the game on Robinson's 8-yard touchdown run. But the Wildcats (2-2), who benefited from a personal foul against Penn State on a late hit against quarterback Brett Basanez, regained the lead on Joel
Howells' 25-yard field goal with 2:10 left.
"I thought we'd be OK if we didn't panic," coach Joe Paterno said. "You have to give Robinson most of the credit."
The Nittany Lions stayed composed.
On fourth-and-15 from his own 15, Robinson completed a 20-yard pass over the middle to tight end Isaac Smolko with 1:33 left. Then, on third-and-6 from the Northwestern 36, Robinson was hit as he threw, but his pass found an open Williams on the left side 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 then intercepted a pass by Basanez near midfield to seal the win and snap Northwestern's two-game winning streak against Penn State.
Robinson completed 17-of-36 passes for 271 yards and three interceptions. He also rushed for 60 yards. With his TD run, he became the first Penn State player to reach 1,000 yards rushing and passing in a career.
Outside linebacker Paul Posluszny had 22 tackles -- the most by a Penn State player since Ron Crosby's 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 TD 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 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 Sutton carrying it in from the 1 to make it 20-7.
On the next play from scrimmage, Robinson threw another interception -- to Marquice Cole at the Penn State 38 -- that led to a 42-yarder by Howells midway through the quarter.
Despite the turnovers, the Nittany Lions trailed only 23-14 at the half.
"It's tough to lose a game like that," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said.
Nike Men's Penn State Nittany Lions Blue/Grey Team Issue Performance PoloShop
Despite battling the flu all week, Will Grier will start at quarterback for No. 25 Florida on Saturday when the Gators host No. 3 Ole Miss.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook exited in the first quarter of the Seminoles' 24-16 win over Wake Forest with what coach Jimbo Fisher called a left hamstring injury.
Trevone Boykin threw five touchdown passes, including four to freshman KaVontae Turpin, and No. 4 TCU rode a 30-point first quarter to a 50-7 rout of Texas on Saturday.
As if things weren't going bad enough at Texas, the Longhorns appear to have players on Twitter during lopsided losses and jabs at their coach accidentally being sent from other nearby teams.
Tulane long-snapper Aaron Golub became the first legally blind person to play in a Division I football game Saturday, according to the school.
LJ Scott ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 2 Michigan State held on through a lackluster second half to beat Purdue 24-21 on Saturday.