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The Daily Northwestern

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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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Rapid Recap: No. 6 Penn State 41, Northwestern 13

Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
Cam Porter gets tackled by a Penn State defender. As a result of its offensive line struggles, the ‘Cats offense was unable to gain momentum in their 41-13 loss to No. 6 Penn State.

Coming off a second half rally against Minnesota last week, Northwestern hoped to shock the football world as it hosted No. 6 Penn State on Saturday.

The two teams started off slow offensively, each recording a field goal in the first quarter. Following graduate student quarterback Ben Bryant’s one-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter, the ‘Cats (2-3, 1-2 Big Ten) nabbed a seven-point lead — the first time the Nittany Lions (5-0, 3-0 Big Ten) have trailed in conference play this season. 

Late in the second quarter, NU surrendered a 13-yard rushing score to Penn State running back Trey Potts, which tied the game at 10-10 heading into the intermission. 

Out of halftime, the Nittany Lions were quick to pounce on the ‘Cats. As a result of 31 second-half Penn State points and NU’s inability to generate any semblance of offensive momentum, the ‘Cats were unable to keep within distance as the contest winded down.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game.


1. Special teams provide ideal start

NU could not have asked for a better start to the game. After winning the toss and opting to defer, senior kicker Jack Olsen squib kicked the opening kickoff, forcing running back Nicholas Singleton to return the ball. 

As a result of multiple ‘Cats swarming the Nittany Lions returner, sophomore linebacker Braydon Brus forced a fumble recovery, setting NU up at the 11-yard line.

While NU failed to record a first down once gaining possession, Olsen drilled a 33-yard field goal for an early 3-0 lead. 

The team’s early three-point advantage was already better than its losses to Rutgers and Duke earlier this season. In those contests, the ‘Cats trailed from the onset after surrendering opening drive touchdowns.

That’s what Northwestern football is all about,” interim head coach David Braun said regarding the special team unit’s passion on the field. “We (have) players on our team that are passionate about playing for their teammates in the locker room. That’s the type of effort, energy, passion and selflessness that we need to continue to embody to get the results that we’re looking for.”  

2. ‘Cats defense holds strong throughout first half but struggles in second half

NU’s excellent start was propelled by its defense’s ability to record multiple stops early in the first quarter. On the Nittany Lions’ first offensive drive, the ‘Cats forced a punt following a third-and-short pass breakup.

NU’s early defensive success was reinforced in tough situations. Despite surrendering a fourth-down completion late in the first quarter, the ‘Cats held strong in the red zone, forcing a Nittany Lions field goal. 

Throughout the first half, NU’s defense held the Nittany Lions in check, with Penn State going 2-for-8 on third down attempts and punting three times. Allowing a mere 91 passing yards, the ‘Cats ensured the contest remained knotted up at 10 entering the locker room. 

“So much of it comes with having a knock back mentality and establishing the line of scrimmage,” Braun said. “We have a certain attitude and demeanor in terms of finishing every play. That is being physical, playing with violent hands and getting off blocks.” 

However, the defense looked more vulnerable in the second half, conceding two touchdowns and a field goal in its first three defensive drives, making it difficult for NU’s attempt toward a comeback.

3. ‘Cats offensive line struggles to give Bryant time in pocket 

If NU was going to go toe-to-toe with the Nittany Lions, its offense was going to have to replicate its success in last week’s victory over Minnesota.

However, Bryant struggled to gain momentum early on due to his offensive line’s inability to give him adequate time in the pocket. On the team’s second offensive drive, Bryant was sacked after evading multiple Penn State defenders. A couple of drives later, the offensive line surrendered another sack. In total, the ‘Cats gave up four first half sacks. 

Over the second half, NU’s offensive line struggles persisted. Bryant did not look comfortable in the pocket and was unable to find his receivers. An unsuccessful fake punt on fourth down midway through the third quarter further reinforced the team’s inability to move the chains in the second half. 

(The offensive line) made enormous strides last week against Minnesota,” Braun said. “We understood the stress and pressure that group would be under in terms of the aggressive nature of Penn State’s defense. The best thing you can do against an opponent like that is stay in the game and not turn it into a drop back pass game.”

4. Henning provides spark in return game 

With the defense’s ability to force multiple Penn State punts throughout the first half, senior wide receiver A.J. Henning supplied the ‘Cats offense with excellent starting field position on multiple occasions. 

Evading multiple Penn State defenders, the Michigan transfer broke out for both a 36-yard and 15-yard return. Henning’s ability to spark his offense set NU up at midfield both times. The beneficial field position made matters much easier for Bryant to lead the offense to its first — and only — touchdown on a 10-play, 59-yard drive in the second quarter.

5. The ‘Cats turns their sights toward Howard next week

Looking ahead to next week, NU will get a respite from Big Ten play when it hosts Howard.

The ‘Cats will look to contain another strong offensive unit. The Bison’s offense has had a high-level of success this season, averaging nearly 40 points per contest. 

Next week’s contest is even more crucial for NU as it is the team’s final game before the bye week. A victory over Howard would ensure that the ‘Cats enter their second-half stretch with momentum and the opportunity to compete in meaningful contests late in the season.

“There will be plenty of things that we can learn from as we go back and review the tape,” Braun said. “As this team continues to mature, it will understand how critical it is to play complimentary football, how critical it is to play all four quarters, and when we do show up at our best, the opportunities are going to be in front of us moving forward.”

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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