No. 4 Penn State Moves to 6-0 With Decisive Victory At Northwestern
EVANSTON, Ill. – The Penn State Nittany Lions were 0-2 against the Northwestern Wildcats in their last two matchups. Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin was 0-3 against the Wildcats, dating back to his time at Vanderbilt.
Penn State made a statement Saturday and changed those stats. The Blue and White won handily 31-7 and remained undefeated. Northwestern moved to 2-3 with the loss and now have an 0-2 conference record and sit near the bottom of the Big Ten West standings.
Penn State was coming off a 45-14 win at home against the Indiana Hoosiers last weekend. Northwestern lost a close matchup on the road at Wisconsin 33-24 last Saturday.
The first quarter was a struggle for both teams. Three and outs were plenty and Penn State had great trouble establishing the run game. The offensive line all day was bullied by the Northwestern defensive unit and one of the biggest stories all game was the lack of time quarterback Trace McSorley and Heisman hopeful running back Saquon Barkley had to work with.
Some blame went squarely on McSorley. In the first quarter, he frequently overthrew open receivers and showed he still has problems with down the field accuracy. Barkley, however quick and elusive he was, could not muster any movement behind the line of scrimmage because he frequently had multiple Wildcats in his face. He leaped over the pile for a one-yard touchdown but remained significantly in check.
The defense bailed out the Nittany Lion offense. They forced two turnovers in the first quarter, a jump ball interception by cornerback Amani Oruwariye and a forced fumble by lineman Kevin Givens recovered by the defense. In the end, Penn State only came away with three points on a field goal and led 3-0 after one.
The second quarter was much of the same, but a little better for Penn State. McSorley was rolling with 133 passing yards and a touchdown, completing passes to eight different receivers and not throwing an incompletion (after the first drive of the game, he didn’t throw one until after halftime). Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead mixed up the play calling and caught Northwestern off guard with a touchdown pass to backup quarterback Tommy Stevens on the goal line.
Even with the success of the passing game and the defense, the running game was nonexistent. As a team, they finished with -2 rushing yards in the first half and Barkley was completely bottled up. At one point, his longest run of the day was eight yards.
That changed quickly in the second half. In the third quarter, Barkley broke free on a run to the right side and busted it down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown scamper. It raised his total to 54 rushing yards after he went into the half with a single rushing yard on the game.
The Penn State defense did not let up all game, holding Northwestern to 265 yards of offense, less than 200 passing yards and forced three turnovers (and led the turnover margin +3). Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson struggled all day, throwing for just 142 yards, two interceptions and a 3.9 yard per average clip.
The defense continued to make plays into the fourth quarter and helped the Penn State offense figure out their problems and wake up. The offense scored three second half touchdowns, capped off by a McSorley short touchdown run.
As the second half progressed, the Northwestern team began imploding. Two defensive players, including their top linebacker Paddy Fisher, were ejected for targeting. It’s not very often that a team gets multiple players ejected for targeting in the same game. This may have been the last straw for the Wildcats, who looked to put up no fight whatsoever until their final drive of the game with backups on both sides of the ball where their backup quarterback ran in a score.
It was sheer domination by Penn State today on the road, especially by their defense. Constant pressure from the front seven put pressure on Thorson and wreaked havoc and disruption all over.
“Our defense has been playing unbelievable, really well,” said Franklin on his defense’s performance. “I would shut out football.”
Even through the offensive struggles throughout the game and stunted running game through Barkley for the longest time, Franklin explained fear doesn’t set it on the Penn State sideline.
“We have an offense that doesn’t panic, we have coaches that don’t panic,” Franklin said. “It’s not like we start getting frustrated when things aren’t working as well as we would like and we just kind stick with the gameplan.”
After the dust had settled, Penn State finished with 381 yards of total offense and controlled the ball for 34:04 compared to Northwestern’s 25:56. Barkley finished with 75 rushing yards on 16 attempts for a respectable 4.7 yards per rush average. McSorley passed for 245 yards and had two total touchdowns.
The Nittany Lions have their bye week next weekend. They will return to Beaver Stadium on Oct. 21 to take on the Michigan Wolverines in Penn State’s White Out game. Penn State will look for revenge after losing 49-10 to Michigan in 2016.
Matthew Harvey is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.