Northwestern Game Preview
After a solid 45-14 win over Indiana, the No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) set their sights on defeating the Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 0-2 Big Ten) this Saturday.
Penn State got off to a hot start scoring 14 points in the first three minutes of the game. Junior running back Saquon Barkley scored two touchdowns, one throwing through the air and one off a kick return. Despite the two scores, Barkley had the worst statistical performance on the ground this season with only 56 yards on 20 carries. The Nittany Lions have to make a concerted effort to improve the offensive line. In the past two games, Penn State has struggled with junior quarterback Trace McSorley’s passes getting blocked and getting the running game going. This Saturday, they are playing a Northwestern team that has a similar playing style led by senior running back Justin Jackson, who is tied for second in the Big Ten with four touchdowns already this season. It's imperative the Nittany Lion’s defense keep up the level of play they are showcasing in order to give the Penn State offense enough time to get going. Penn State’s defense has only allowed around 9 points per game which is a testament to how much this defense has grown under defensive coordinator Brent Pry. The key for the Nittany Lions to put another win in the win column is going to be that defense sustaining their level of play.
As for Penn State’s offense, their needs to be significant improvement in order to be ready for teams like Michigan and Ohio State. Barkley cannot only have 56 yards rushing. With the offensive line struggles continuing, the Penn State offense is going to be in huge trouble. Also, McSorley has to get better at throwing through the middle of the field. The more he struggles with making the simple throws, the more defenses will continue to stack the box. This brings a dynamic Penn State offense to a screeching halt. However, if McSorley is on his game on Saturday, senior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and junior wide receiver Juwan Johnson could have huge games. Hamilton, now Penn State’s all-time leader in receptions with 180, can add more to his total come this weekend. As for Johnson, he is averaging 14 yards a reception, which shows he has become a reliable target for McSorley. The status of senior tight end Mike Gesicki is still unknown since he was helped off the field late in the first half. This could lead to more opportunities for Hamilton, Johnson and senior backup tight end Tom Pancoast to break the game open.
In order for the Wildcats to win this game, they are going to have to slow down Barkley as much as possible. They need to put the game in McSorley’s hands and if he continues to struggle or has another slow start, Northwestern could make this a ball game. To shut down an offense as dynamic as Penn State’s is a tall order. However, if they can follow Iowa’s game plan which was to hang around as long as possible and really grind out this game, it could put the Nittany Lions in trouble. Penn State is 13-5 in all-time matchups against Northwestern, but the Wildcats have won the last two meetings dating back to the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The Nittany Lions however, are just going to be too much to handle. With a team this talented, it's going to take a herculean effort for Northwestern to walk away with a win. Penn State will leave Ryan Field with a 41-7 victory.
Carlos Flores is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Gross, Ben Jenkins, Matt Freiler and Cristian Flores break down the Nittany Lions' matchup against the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston.