Penn State - Northwestern preview: 3 storylines to watch
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From analyzing turnover statistics to preparing in the film room, No.11 Penn State and coach James Franklin look to start Big Ten play on the right foot.
Penn State remains undefeated overall and in conference play, while the Northwestern Wildcats roll into Happy Valley, shaking off three consecutive home game losses. With a 1-3 overall and 1-0 conference record, Northwestern has ground to make up for in turnovers.
Northwestern junior quarterback Ryan Hilinski accumulated three interceptions since the beginning of the season. However, his completion percentage averages only 2.5% completion behind Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford after four games.
Franklin addressed in multiple press conferences the importance of Penn State forcing turnovers and eliminating options for quarterbacks to utilize.
Here are three predictions to keep in mind as the Nittany Lions battle the Northwestern Wildcats in Beaver Stadium at 3:30 p.m.
The run and passing games will be split against the Northwestern secondary.
The Nittany Lions’ offense struck gold with freshman running back Nicholas Singleton opening up on the field. After a fairly conservative performance from Singleton against Central Michigan (42 yards, 0 touchdowns), expect offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to look to balance the run and passing game to keep the Wildcats' defense on its toes.
Franklin emphasized that four games into the season are “enough of a sample size to say ‘okay, they have a legitimate tendency’” when analyzing game film. While tendencies are not always a negative aspect of play, Franklin stated it was essential to identify them and make the necessary adjustments.
Expect a battle for carries between Singleton and fellow freshman running back Kaytron Allen, who recorded 100+ yards and a touchdown against Central Michigan for the run game.
When Clifford wants to air it out, his options are wide open, with Mitchell Tinsley and Parker Washington leading the wide receiver effort.
Franklin mentioned that practice gives multiple positions the room to battle for the ball.
“Iron sharpens iron when we talk about our development of our wide receivers as well as our defensive backs and tight ends,” said Franklin.
When it comes to balancing both offensive strategies, Northwestern has an ace up its sleeve with running back Evan Hull. Franklin named Hull among seven other Wildcats to keep on the Nittany Lion’s radar as impressive talent.
Penn State’s special teams will play a major role against the Wildcats.
When it comes to opponent field position, punter Barney Amor is a major name to know for Penn State.
After transferring from Colgate, Amor took up the mantle left behind by Baltimore Ravens punter Jordan Stout. In four games, Amor has placed 50 percent of his punts inside the 10-yard line.
“He’s been a tremendous mentor and leader that brings a different lens, which I also think is important, '' said Franklin about the redshirt senior+.
If the Penn State offense comes out swinging against the Wildcats, kicker Jake Pinegar needs to minimize field goal struggles. Both Pinegar and Northwestern kicker Adam Stage have made three field goals out of five attempts on the season.
While Northwestern shares the same struggle at the uprights, the Nittany Lions need field goals to maintain a steady lead against the Wildcats or risk a close call if Northwestern gains late momentum.
Joey Porter Jr. and the Penn State secondary will be impact players.
You probably saw this prediction coming. Penn State’s defense shares a raw physicality that continues to impress as the weeks go by.
Redshirt junior cornerback Joey Porter Jr. specifically attacks with advanced knowledge of quarterback reads.
His most recent performance against Central Michigan with three pass breakups and five tackles (two solo) only showcase a fraction of his physicality on the field.
Expect the Nittany Lions' defense to be starving for the ball when they take the field. Against a Northwestern offense struggling to gain ground in non-conference matchups, the Blue and White secondary will feast.
Score Prediction: Penn State – 28, Northwestern – 10
Emma Holtz is a junior majoring in public relations. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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