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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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Football: Northwestern still searching for four full quarters of football, falls victim to second-half surge from No. 6 Penn State

Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
Sophomore quarterback Jack Lausch is tackled. Northwestern fell victim to a 31-point second-half burst from No. 6 Penn State on Saturday in a 41-13 defeat.

Northwestern interim head coach David Braun got exactly what he wanted against No. 6 Penn State: a fast start.

Senior kicker Jack Olsen’s opening squib kick on Saturday threw the Nittany Lions for a loop. Running back Nicholas Singleton reacted late, scrambling to pick up the ball and muster some positive yardage before being swarmed by a gaggle of black jerseys.

In the ensuing melee, sophomore linebacker Braydon Brus punched the ball free. Fellow sophomore defensive back Braden Turner promptly jumped on the pigskin, securing the Wildcats’ first special teams turnover of the year. Singleton’s fumble was also Penn State’s first cough-up of the season.

“The early fumble sparked a lot of momentum,” graduate student defensive lineman Richie Hagarty said. “But we’ve got to continue that momentum, not just let it die off with one play … I think we got a little too high on that one (play).”

Braun and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian couldn’t have asked for a better opening field position than starting at the Nittany Lion 11-yard line. But a pass for zero yards, a false start from senior wide receiver A.J. Henning and a negative yardage screen pass resulted in NU settling for three points.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, Braun talked repeatedly about playing complimentary football through all four quarters, which includes clean and efficient play. Following a win against Minnesota, Braun said the offense needed to start faster. The “self-inflicted wounds” — namely holdings, tackles for loss and sacks — which plagued the ‘Cats in the first 30 minutes last Saturday, couldn’t rear their heads against a far-better opponent.

Facing one of the top defensive units in the country — one which entered the game boasting the nation’s top passing defense and a top-15 rushing defense — no one could blame NU for some short drives.

Despite settling for a field goal instead of six points, after less than three minutes of action, the ‘Cats were leading the sixth-ranked team in the country. And with a 3-0 lead in hand, attention turned to the NU defense, specifically the defensive line, which received a challenge from Braun ahead of the game.

“We’re starting to have an understanding of who we can be as a defensive line group,” Braun said. “(I) challenged that group post-Duke about what it looked like to really win at the line of scrimmage, defeat blocks, get off the blocks and be an extra hat in the run game.”

Braun’s unit answered the call against the Nittany Lions’ offense early. NU forced a punt on Penn State’s opening drive before holding the visitors to three points in the red zone on the following possession.

The Nittany Lions’ rushing attack, headlined by the dynamic duo of Singleton and Kaytron Allen, was held relatively in check by the ‘Cats. Penn State registered just 67 yards on the ground in the first half. Through the air, quarterback Drew Allar was uncomfortable, completing just eight of 16 passes — he came into the game boasting a completion percentage of 67.2.

Coach James Franklin’s squad entered Evanston averaging 20.3 first-half points in its last three contests. NU held the Nittany Lions to half that number in the first 30 minutes of action.

A self-proclaimed “second half team” — look no further than the victory over the Golden Gophers for proof — the ‘Cats have put together some compelling stretches of football in the third and fourth quarters this season.

That was not the case Saturday.

Penn State scored 17 straight points to start the third quarter, aided by a pair of instances in which NU failed to convert on fourth down in its own territory. A second field goal from Olsen stopped the bleeding briefly, but scores from Singleton and running back Trey Potts in the fourth quarter quelled any notion of back-to-back ‘Cats victories.

The Nittany Lions, a team with College Football Playoff aspirations, enforced their will on NU in the second half. The Penn State defense finished with seven sacks, six QB hurries, 12 tackles for a loss and an interception — all of the “self-inflicted” wounds Braun wanted to avoid.

Nevertheless, in spite of the Nittany Lions’ second half surge, Braun is confident there is much to glean from his team’s first half performance moving forward.

“At the end of the day, it’s a great opportunity for us to evaluate how we can improve and play with more consistency,” Braun said. “If anything, that first half should be an opportunity for us to see what we’re capable of. (We’ll) continue to challenge ourselves to find a way to put four quarters together.”

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex

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