Football: Defensive front seven essential in Wildcats’ win


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Redshirt freshman linebacker Anthony Walker dashes to the end zone with a game-sealing interception return in Northwestern’s 29-6 victory over Penn State on Saturday. Making his first career start, Walker led the team with eight tackles, in addition to the pivotal pick-six.

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — As Anthony Walker cruised to the end zone with Northwestern’s third touchdown of the afternoon, more than 100,000 Penn State partisans at Beaver Stadium stopped in their tracks.

“(The play) was great,” the redshirt freshman linebacker said after Saturday’s game, smiling ear-to-ear. “The fact that the crowd just went silent was the best moment.”

Making his first collegiate start in place of the injured Collin Ellis, Walker was the star of the Wildcats’ impressive defensive showing Saturday. The middle linebacker recorded a team-high eight tackles, penetrated the Penn State defensive line several times and returned that interception 46 yards for the touchdown that gave NU an insurmountable 20-6 lead.

Overall, NU’s defense — especially the team’s front seven — was stout all afternoon, leading the team to a 29-6 walloping of Penn State.

The Cats limited the Nittany Lions to 266 total yards, neutralizing the Penn State rushing attack and holding much-hyped quarterback Christian Hackenberg to 216 yards passing on 45 attempts.

NU forced Penn State to punt on the Nittany Lions’ first five possessions, then blocked a field goal late in the second quarter before finally ceding three points right before halftime.

The second half was nearly as good, as the Cats forced two turnovers and held Penn State to only three more points.

“I really think we dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “To hold Penn State to 2.0 yards per rushing (in the game), I know that’s skewed because of the sacks, but that’s pretty darn good.”

The pass rush was key to the Cats’ performance. NU’s linebackers and defensive linemen applied pressure all afternoon, sacking Hackenberg four times. The biggest defensive play outside of the pick-six, came from true freshman defensive end Xavier Washington, who forced a fumble in the fourth quarter on a loud sack in Penn State territory. The Cats recovered and followed up the turnover with a field goal to push their lead to three scores.

“Young guys like Xavier Washington, Anthony Walker, they played great,” said junior defensive end Dean Lowry, who also had a sack Saturday. “They stepped up and put pressure on Hackenberg, which was the difference in the game in my opinion.”

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