Football: What to Watch For: Northwestern heads to Happy Valley amid depressing three-game skid


Joshua Sukoff/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern football runs onto the field ahead of the Miami (Ohio) game. On a three-game losing streak, the Wildcats look to pull off a magical upset win against No. 11 Penn State Saturday.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor


Northwestern is headed to University Park, Pa. for its first true road game of the 2022 season against No. 11 Penn State on Saturday. The Wildcats and Nittany Lions both enter the game unbeaten in conference play but have had opposite non-conference results.

Hosting Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio), NU has gone winless in front of fans at Ryan Field. Meanwhile, Penn State enjoyed great success at and away from Happy Valley, going 4-0 and routing Auburn, 41-12.

Here are a few things to look out for in the clash between the Cats and Nittany Lions this weekend:

NU rush defense faces formidable Penn State running back room

Miami running back Keyon Mozee entered last weekend’s matchup against NU averaging just 25 rushing yards per game. In 21 carries, Mozee gashed the Cats’ defense for 171 yards, including a 66-yard dash, in the RedHawks’ 17-14 upset win.

NU is currently allowing opposing offenses about 160 yards per game on the ground. Alternatively, Penn State has been wildly successful in the run game. Led by star freshman Nicholas Singleton, the Nittany Lions have averaged 185.8 rushing yards per contest. Singleton, on just 42 carries, has recorded 376 rushing yards and has found the end zone on four occasions.

Another young star, Kaytron Allen, is sure to feature in the backfield for Penn State in Saturday’s clash as well. Allen has tallied 217 yards rushing and three touchdowns so far this season. Neither back has fumbled the ball this season.

For a Cats squad that has struggled to win the turnover battle in 2022, stopping (or at least impeding) Singleton and Allen’s efforts this weekend will be imperative. Otherwise, it could get ugly in a hurry.

Ryan Hilinski hopes to return to Nebraska form against Nittany Lions

Hilinski’s 314-yard, two touchdown performance against Nebraska in the season opener feels like an eternity ago. 

The junior quarterback has not eclipsed a 63% completion rate since the game in Ireland and is coming off a performance against Miami in which he was 26-of-44 passing for 257 yards and no touchdowns.

Hilinski has recorded 1,219 passing yards so far in 2022 — good for 13th in the country — but his five passing touchdowns and 49.2 QBR rank 78th and 84th nationally, respectively. The magic of the overseas win has long passed, but Hilinski and the Cats might get a chance to return to form against a Penn State secondary that is allowing 275 passing yards per game. 

NU’s track record on the road against Top-25 opponents under Fitz

NU’s meeting with Penn State this weekend will be the 19th time during coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure that the Cats face a Top 25 opponent on the road. Chicago’s Big Ten Team enters the contest boasting a 6-12 record in that span.

Opponents have outscored NU 546 to 324 in the span, and the Cats have dropped four of the last five road meetings. However, while under Fitzgerald, NU has never faced Penn State in Happy Valley while the Nittany Lions were ranked. 

The Cats’ last road win against a top-25 opponent came in the fabled 2018 campaign versus No. 20 Michigan State. NU pulled off a surprise 29-19 victory in East Lansing en route to a Big Ten West title. That win also came after the Cats started the season 1-3, including a three-game losing streak at home before the road meeting with the Spartans. Seems eerily similar to the situation right now. 

Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But, it is just food for thought during a season devoid of optimism at the moment.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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