Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

75° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Treat start turns trick without Kafka

Northwestern gave No. 12 Penn State a scare for 45 minutes on Saturday, but Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions’ offense rose from the dead in the fourth quarter to doom the Wildcats. NU surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points on three consecutive plays, and Penn State ran away with a 34-13 win.

“We lost our attitude,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “And when you lose your attitude, you lose your stinger and you lose your physicality.”

The Cats’ out-of-the-gate gaffes haunted them once again on Halloween. Senior quarterback Mike Kafka fumbled on a playaction fake on NU’s second play from scrimmage, and Penn State recovered on NU’s 23-yard line. But the Cats’ defense held strong and forced the Nittany Lions to settle for a field goal.

NU notched a field goal of its own before finding the end zone for the first time in the second quarter. Kafka led the Cats on an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in which he was 3-for-3 for 44 yards through the air while also rushing twice for 21 yards. The Cats’ 10-3 lead marked the first time the Nittany Lions had trailed before halftime all season. The strong start surprised Penn State coach Joe Paterno.

“I don’t think we had quite realized how good they are offensively,” he said. “And it took us some time to speed up the tempo.”

The Cats were threatening again on their next drive, and on the fifth play of the series Kafka saw a hole in the line of scrimmage and took off. But Kafka’s foot got caught in the grass, and he fell in what seemed like slow motion at NU’s 33-yard line. The senior gunslinger clutched his left leg, and one play later he left the game with an apparent hamstring injury. He did not return.

The drive stalled five plays later, and the Cats were forced to punt.

NU controlled Penn State’s powerful defense in the first half, racking up 246 yards of offense and 13 points. Coming into the game, the Nittany Lions were holding opponents to 240 yards of offense and nine points per game.

“When (Kafka) was in there, I don’t think they stopped us once,” Fitzgerald said. “We stopped ourselves a couple times. We had a good plan and were executing it pretty well.”But NU’s offense couldn’t carry the momentum into the second half. In the third quarter, the Cats totaled two yards of offense. Their only first down came on a Penn State penalty. Still, NU held the Nittany Lions to a field goal and the teams went into the fourth quarter tied at 13.

That was when the Nittany Lions put the nail in the Cats’ coffin. Penn State scored three touchdowns in four minutes at the beginning of the final quarter. In that same span, the Cats compiled 35 yards of offense on seven plays.

“We didn’t do our job in the fourth quarter,” senior safety Brad Phillips said. “Penn State took advantage of it when we didn’t do our job, and they made plays.”

Part of NU’s problem in the second half was its offense’s inability to spread the field. Backup quarterback Dan Persa, a sophomore, threw for 86 yards in the third and fourth quarters combined. Kafka’s injury was all the change the Nittany Lions needed, Paterno said.

“The adjustment we made is their quarterback got hurt,” he said.

The Nittany Lions altered their game plan once they saw Kafka go down, going with a more aggressive style of defense. The move paid off, and they recorded four quarterback hurries and four sacks on Persa.

“I have to throw the ball away and not take big sacks,” Persa said. “A lot of times, on first and second down, normal downs, I would take a big sack and put us behind the chains. It’s hard to convert third-and-15, third-and-10 plus.”

NU showed a reluctance to go to the air with Persa, who hadn’t thrown a pass since the first game of the season. In his first 18 minutes, Persa attempted nine passes while running seven times. After the Cats went down two scores with a little more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Persa threw 14 times and ran on three occasions.

While Fitzgerald was disappointed with the team’s second half play, it wasn’t the first time NU lost a late lead. Of their four losses, the Cats have only trailed once entering the fourth quarter.

“I feel like a broken record because that is what has been happening to us in games,” Phillips said. “We’ve been close, and teams have taken advantage of us when we haven’t done our jobs properly.”[email protected]

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Treat start turns trick without Kafka