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

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

The Daily Northwestern


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Football: Northwestern’s special teamers jolt first half effort against No. 6 Penn State

Sophomore+defensive+back+Braden+Turner+dives+on+a+loose+ball+against+Penn+State+on+Saturday.+After+Turner+recovered+sophomore+linebacker+Brayden+Brus%E2%80%99+forced+fumble%2C+the+%E2%80%98Cats+took+a+3-0+lead.
Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer
Sophomore defensive back Braden Turner dives on a loose ball against Penn State on Saturday. After Turner recovered sophomore linebacker Brayden Brus’ forced fumble, the ‘Cats took a 3-0 lead.

In the buildup to No. 6 Penn State’s Saturday trip to Ryan Field, Nittany Lions’ coach James Franklin turned down the music in University Park to simulate the environment his team would encounter at Northwestern.

Franklin backed his methods to reporters after his Wednesday practice, echoing that Northwestern’s stadium presents a challenging atmosphere to opposing teams — its silence speaks volumes loud enough to rattle an unacquainted visitor.

Despite the national chatter surrounding their opponents’ unique practices and their own razor slim odds, interim head coach David Braun and the Wildcats entered the game preaching their faith in one another.

“It’s just belief in our coaches and everybody in this program because, at the end of the day, our backs are against the wall — they have been for a while,” graduate student defensive lineman Richie Hagarty said. “We just have to lean on ourselves.”

The game’s end result, a 41-13 victory for the visitors, would’ve surprised very few before a ball was even snapped on Saturday. But with all the talk of stadium atmosphere, several young players vying for sustained playing time immediately set the first half’s tone.

Penn State’s phlegmatic preparation proved insufficient once senior kicker Jack Olsen’s opening kickoff bounced its way into Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton’s gloves. Hesitating for a moment, the return man looked downfield and prepared to make an opening impression on the game.

Instead, he collided with a crew of ‘Cats second-year special teamers, looking to make their own impact. Sophomore defensive back Robert Fitzgerald made initial contact with the runner, setting him up on a silver platter.

Right on schedule, sophomore linebacker Braydon Brus bulldozed into Singleton at the 11-yard line, jarring the ball loose. Keen to play cleanup duty, sophomore defensive back Braden Turner dove on the ball, setting NU up with pristine field position on the game’s first play.

A former three-star athlete unleashed a haymaker on a highly-touted, five-star recruit, embodying Braun’s belief that every player who puts on the pads serves a vital purpose –– regardless of their star status.

“We just need guys that love football, and there’s no greater reflection for how much you truly care about your team than your effort and energy that you put into special teams,” Braun said. “That’s the type of effort, energy, passion (and) selflessness that we need to continue to embody to get the results we’re looking for.”

That very effort and energy right off the opening kickoff — as students still filtered into the designated student section — forced the first Penn State turnover of the season.

While the offense wouldn’t fully capitalize off the takeaway to the tune of a touchdown — settling for a field goal — Olsen gave the ‘Cats their only first quarter lead through five games. Hagarty said after an emotional comeback victory last week, the special teams’ effort gave NU a much-needed spark of momentum.

That momentum carried over to the team’s ensuing defensive drive, where quarterback Drew Allar and the Nittany Lions’ drive stalled out with a punt after six plays. Carrying a bend-don’t-break mentality, NU capped 30 minutes of football tied 10-10 against a heavily-favored foe.

Although Penn State pulled away in a second-half performance befitting the No. 6 team in the country, Braun and company kept an explosive offense at bay for far longer than expected, as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference struggled to find his footing early.

Franklin’s squad set out to tackle an environment far different from the sellout stands of Beaver Stadium, but the ‘Cats and their half-capacity crowd gave the Nittany Lions a first half to forget, made possible by effort on NU’s special teams.

And make no mistake – Franklin’s actions and words rang loud in Braun’s ears, as the latter directly addressed the Nittany Lion coach’s comments in his postgame press conference.

“I saw a group of energized fans in that first half, and I see a football program that’s trending in the right direction,” Braun said. “New stadium and a lot of awesome stuff to get behind — I look forward to inviting coach Franklin and Penn State back into Ryan Field and seeing what type of environment we can create for him next time.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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