Penn State continued to forge its new identity Saturday, weathering a nasty downpour from the remnants of Ian that posed more challenges than visiting Northwestern until late in the day.

The Lions held the Wildcats to 3-and-outs on their first 5 drives and overcame 5 turnovers to survive 17-7 in front of a sparse, sopping wet crowd at Beaver Stadium.

It took until a fourth-quarter goal-line stand before those home team fans who braved the elements could exhale. A failed Northwestern QB sneak from the 1-yard line kept Penn State ahead 17-7. A few inches saved the Nittany Lions from really sweating the final 12 minutes of the game.

Penn State stuck to its keys of committing to the run, getting its tight ends involved, punting effectively and playing aggressive defense under first-year coordinator Manny Diaz.

The approach worked well enough in a sloppy game caused by slick footballs that were impossible to keep dry.

Penn State committed 3 first-half turnovers, 3 times its total from its first 4 games. But Northwestern also coughed it up 3 times, a couple of them while in scoring range.

Unlike Northwestern, Penn State was able to move the ball in the first half when it wasn’t giving it away.

Diaz’s defense limited the Wildcats to 78 yards and 4 first downs at the break. QB Ryan Hilinski was 3-of-11 for 38 yards after not connecting a single time in the first quarter. Even Hull had 42 yards rushing, all but 13 of them on 1 well-blocked carry.

With the win, No. 11 Penn State improved to 5-0 for the third time in 4 seasons. The Lions have a bye next week, then travel to Michigan for a B1G East showdown with the No. 4 Wolverines (5-0 after winning at Iowa early Saturday).

Continuing to employ a much more run-based offense than a year ago, Penn State gave freshman Nick Singleton 17 carries in the first 2 quarters. The 5-star phenom converted them into 76 yards and a touchdown, but also lost 2 fumbles. Veteran Keyvone Lee added 9 sure-handed carries for 40 yards, while freshman Kaytron Allen didn’t play in the first 30 minutes after topping 100 yards against Central Michigan the week before. He did enter to start the second half, and carried 8 times for 37 yards on the first possession after the break.

By late in the fourth quarter, both freshman had reached 20 carries and better than 80 yards, and the team had hit 225 rushing yards.

Tight end Brenton Strange provided several strong blocks early in the game to spring the backs, then cashed in a 20-yard reception for PSU’s first score. He hurdled the last defender, a move he’s shown off more than once this season. Fellow tight end Theo Johnson also reeled in 1 of Sean Clifford’s 7 completions in the half.

Clifford, who is throwing less often in Mike Yurcich’s revamped offense, was 7-of-10 for 81 yards, the TD and 1 interception. He threw another poor pass that should have been picked as well, so Penn State is not without things to worry about heading into a much tougher stretch of the schedule.

Barney Amor stuck punts at the Northwestern 4 and 8-yard lines in the first half, continuing his amazing ball-control punting to set up the defense with great field position. He put another one at the 7 in the fourth quarter.

Diaz continued to deliver, with his pressure forcing a strip-sack turnover (Nick Tarburton, Curtis Jacbos) and a Ji’Ayir Brown interception among the Lions’ 3 first-half takeaways. Tarburton, a veteran defensive end, also had a fumble recovery during an active first half. Freshman linebacker Abdul Carter delivered a couple more big sticks, and sophomore DE Chop Robinson did as well.

Penn State took a little longer to build its 14-0 lead than a week earlier vs. the Chippewas, but this time didn’t give all of it away. The deteriorating conditions stymied both teams during the third quarter.

Taking the Wildcats plus the 25.5 points and the under (50.5) would have been good bets for those who anticipated the ugly weather.

A third-quarter fumble by Lee kept Penn State from putting the game away.

Northwestern kept getting the ball to the versatile Hull, who entered the game as the nation’s leader in yards from scrimmage. With Hull drawing attention, Hilinski found Jacob Gill for a 47-yard touchdown that pulled the Wildcats to within 14-7 late in the third quarter.

Suddenly, Penn State was in a tight contest against a major underdog for the second time in as many weeks.

This time, though, the Lions responded immediately, going 54 yards in 7 plays for a field goal. The drive included an on-the-money 43-yard pass from Clifford to Parker Washington and a 13-yard run by Allen.

Jake Pinegar nailed the field goal from 38 yards in the miserable conditions — a good sign given that he entered the game 3-for-5 on FG attempts and had also missed 2 extra-points through the first 4 games.

But Penn State did not close strong and never could get backup quarterback Drew Allar into the game. It was the first time this season that Allar, a 5-star freshman, didn’t see action. And Clifford delivered a mix a good throws and maddeningly off-target ones.

Meanwhile, Diaz’s defense sprung some leaks before making fourth-down stops on 3 of 4 possessions. Defensive tackles PJ Mustipher and Hakeem Beamon contributed majorly to the first 2 stops, with Beamon batting down a pass on the second one.

With the win, Penn State improved to 15-5-0 all-time against the Wildcats and James Franklin evened his mark at 2-2. Northwestern’s 17th-year coach Pat Fitzgerald fell to 2-7 vs. the Lions.

Up next for PSU

The Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0) have a bye prior to their trip to Ann Arbor for a B1G East showdown with Michigan. Assuming the Wolverines remain unbeaten by beating Indiana next Saturday, it’ll be the teams’ most significant matchup since the 1990s.

Up next for Northwestern

The Wildcats (1-4, 1-1) return home to take on B1G West rival Wisconsin (2-3, 0-2) next Saturday.