3 takeaways from Penn State's slow but steady win at Northwestern
No. 6 Penn State faced adversity for the first time this season, but the Nittany Lions finally woke up to answer the bell for a deceptively easy 41-13 win at Northwestern.
It was an inauspicious start for the Nittany Lions, who found themselves trailing for the first time all season when Northwestern recovered Nicholas Singleton’s fumble on the opening kickoff and turned it into an eventual field goal.
Penn State didn’t take its first lead until Drew Allar’s fourth-and-goal quarterback sneak put the Nittany Lions up 17-10 with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
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From there, it was fairly smooth sailing for Penn State. Despite the sluggish start, the Nittany Lions have hit 30 points in every game since last year’s loss to Michigan.
Here are 3 takeaways from Penn State’s win.
James Franklin was right
Penn State’s coach raised some eyebrows when he admitted to keeping the atmosphere as dull as possible at practice this week in anticipation of an 11 a.m. kick at Ryan Field. Coaches typically pump up the volume to help their teams prepare for a road atmosphere, but Franklin kept it real.
“Just being transparent and honest,” Franklin said of his reasoning. “Are we internally motivated or are we externally motivated? But for me to act like it’s not a factor, it is.”
Sure enough, the Nittany Lions looked like they were sleepwalking through the first half, and the teams went into halftime tied 10-10.
Penn State’s defense is a force
The Nittany Lions limited Iowa to 76 yards last week, marking the 3rd-best performance by a Penn State defense since 1950.
But that’s Iowa.
Could the Nittany Lions take the act on the road?
Penn State’s defensive front completely overwhelmed Northwestern, finishing with 12 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. The Wildcats finished with 175 total yards and 45 rushing yards on 32 attempts.
Where it went wrong for Northwestern
The game was still in the balance when the Wildcats made the curious decision to attempt a fourth down quarterback sneak at their own 31-yard line against a defensive front that was absolutely dominating them.
The decision failed, giving Penn State a short field that set up a field goal to make it 20-10.
On the next possession, the Cats did it again, this time trying a fake punt from their own 34. This also failed, and Penn State closed the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Allar to Singleton to pull away.
Poor play calling also squelched Northwestern’s last gasp.
With a chance to cut the margin to 10 early in the fourth quarter, Northwestern called a slow-developing play-action pass on third-and-goal from the Penn State 1. Quarterback Ben Bryant was crushed for a 9-yard loss on the sack and did not return. The Wildcats settled for a field goal and never had a chance with backup quarterback Brendan Sullivan against a fierce Penn State defense.