A year ago, when Loren Howard and Tim McGarigle were true freshmen, Penn State racked up 49 points against the young Northwestern defense.
What a difference a year makes.
After the game NU coach Randy Walker couldn’t say enough about the Wildcats’ defense, but the way defensive end Howard and outside linebacker McGarigle played made its own statement.
Howard sacked Penn State quarterback Zack Mills twice in the first half for a loss of 12 yards. Howard had 4.5 tackles for loss in the last thee games. On Saturday he had 3.5 tackles for a loss of 20 yards, bringing his career total to 26.
McGarigle had 11 tackles and a quarterback hurry. With those tackles McGarigle raised his total for the year to 93, the second most on the team after linebacker Pat Durr’s 96 tackles.
But Walker said he always knew the two sophomores were good.
“A year ago they got their tails dropped a couple of times and maybe didn’t have enough lead in their pencil,” Walker said. “We thought, ‘These are a couple of young pups who’re really good players.'”
Goin’ Bowling: The Cats have been talking about going somewhere warm for Christmas ever since they beat Wisconsin on Oct. 25, but with Saturday’s win, they’re one step closer to a bowl game.
The top seven bowl-eligible teams in the Big Ten are guaranteed a game and NU is currently tied for sixth place with Iowa and Wisconsin.
The bowls Big Ten schools are affiliated with are the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, the music city bowl in Nashville, Tenn., and the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.
The Cats need one more win to be bowl eligible with six wins. While they try to concentrate on winning each game, it’s difficult to avoid talk of postseason games.
“Hell yeah there’s bowl talk going on,” Howard said. “We’re excited.”
Nittany Lions … or kittens: Saturday’s loss to NU makes this the first season Penn State has lost eight games since 1931.
If the Nittany Lions lose either of their last two games against Indiana or Michigan State, that will be the worst record Penn State has ever had in the school’s 116 year football history.
“I feel bad — for everyone,” Penn State quarterback Zach Mills said. “We are letting the coach down, the fans down and ourselves down. It is very frustrating.”
This is also the worst season Joe Paterno has ever had at Penn State.
“We have to do a better job,” Paterno said. “We have a bunch of kids who are trying hard, but who could still do a better job.”
Safety Shelved: Senior safety Louis Ayeni had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. Ayeni suffered a stinger earlier in the season that held him out of six games. Coach Walker said he didn’t know about the severity of the injury.