Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's battle against Northwestern. The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing. The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football. Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
MH: It was a nice “drama-free” victory that allowed the Lions to get a lot of semi-meaningful reps to and array of players. The slow start on offense was concerning, but Penn State did what it was expected to do. The fact the running game was able to roll over UMass was certainly a step in the right direction. Now we’ll see if it can continue into Big Ten play.
ND: The Lions coasted to a nice victory over the Minutemen of UMass. It is homecoming week for Penn State and Northwestern will be rolling into town hoping to squash any plans for a celebratory weekend. As was discussed on the FightonState TAP Message Board, Penn State is 6-0 against the spread in the last 6 matchups against Northwestern. Will the trend continue?
Who: Northwestern vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, September 27th at 12:00 pm ET, 9:00 am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 13-3
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: PSU favored by 10.5pts
MH: Let’s take a closer look at where the Nittany Lions stand heading into their homecoming clash with Northwestern.
GROUND ASSAULT: It’s no secret that the ground game has been flat in the early goings of this season. However, Saturday was a different story with running game. In fact, the Lions posted one more yard (228) against Massachusetts than they had against UCF, Akron and Rutgers combined. We’ll see if the offensive line can pick up from where they left off in the trenches. The good news is PSU saw RBs Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch both have solid outings with Zach Zwinak getting it together on short yardage situations.
GROUNDED OUT: On the other side, PSU’s rush defense is the best in the nation right now, allowing only 1.7 YPC and a mere 49.5 yards per game. Anthony Zettel and the defensive front have stacked up runners consistently and should be a strong cornerstone of the Lion defense as they face the Wildcats and get into conference play.
STUCK IN FIRST: Despite the opponent, Penn State’s offense had another slow start against the Minutemen. In fact, the Lions struggled to find the endzone until their fourth drive early in the second quarter with a punt and two field goals. The boys in Blue will have to start out faster as they get into Big Ten play. Granted PSU scored six touchdowns on the ensuing six drives, but the slow starts are a point of concern a quarter of the way through the season.
KICK IT: Sam Ficken continues to be a weapon for the Lions on special teams. While his two field goals and five extra points were a reliable aspect of PSU’s victory over UMass, the most impressive part of his play to me were his eight of nine touchbacks which forced the Minutemen into long drive situations, helping PSU win key field position battles.
NO PASSING ZONE: Christian Hackenberg basically looked mortal throughout much of his play, going 12 of 23 for 179 yards with no touchdowns and two sacks. It was key that he did not toss any interceptions, something he hadn’t done since the Wisconsin win last season. Protecting the ball is key, but so is consistency in spreading the ball around. I am not overly concerned here at this stage though.
ND: In this section, I will review this week’s opponent, the Northwestern Wildcats.
MISSING THE MARK: Northwestern is an offense that has no identity and is struggling to move the ball. The loss of Venric Mark, arguably one of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten, is clearly having a major impact. Justin Jackson, Treyvon Green and Solomon Vault are trying to run the ball but they have only gained 180 yards on 73 carries (2.5 yards per carry) against their FBS competition. Penn State’s run defense will make Northwestern even more one dimensional.
DELIVERY MAN: Trevor Siemian is the QB for Northwestern but he has not been effective or productive this year. The main reason for that is that the threat of a running game is not there and there are no playmakers on the perimeter. Siemian, as a result, is having to throw balls into coverage in the hopes of moving the chains but it simply is not working. He is only averaging 204 yards per game and has 2 TDs.
PAC IT UP: Kyle Prater was the third best WR in his class and a 5-star recruit for Lane Kiffin’s USC squad. But, Prater packed it up to come back home to Illinois. He’s the one playmaker on this offense. He’s big and physical but his routes are a bit sloppy. It should be interesting to see how well PSU can cover him. I expect to see Penn State rolling a safety in his area to help keep him shutdown.
JIMMY ON THE SPOT: Northwestern’s defense has a few solid guys. Chi Chi Ariguzo is a good LB and seems to be all over the field. He is one of the best unheard of backers in the conference. Northwestern runs a 4-3 defense but they rarely every move to a nickel package regardless of the formation by the opposition. The reason for that is that senior LB Jimmy Hall is a very athletic backer that is often lining up over TEs that are flexed out or slot receivers. This will be a matchup that should be fun to watch – PSU’s TEs against Northwestern’s Jimmy Hall.
MAN OF THE HOOSE: Junior CB Nick Van Hoose is an excellent cover corner. He has good size, speed and instincts. But, he has so much game experience that he rarely gets fooled. He is currently 3rd in the nation in passes defended and he will be on a mission to shutdown the PSU passing attack.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: I think this one comes down to protecting the ball and playing balanced offense to keep opportunities out of the Wildcats’ paws. PSU can’t afford to give Northwestern gimme breaks that will build momentum for them.
ND: The Lions have been slow out of the gate the last few weeks and that needs to change this week. Northwestern knows that they are on the brink of a disastrous season. They are going to come out trying to win but the will to win will evaporate if Penn State can jump on them. Allowing Northwestern to hang around will create confidence, which currently does not exist.
MH: With Northwestern’s passing inconsistencies and their challenges rushing the ball, coupled with PSU’s stout run defense, Northwestern may struggle to find ways to move the ball. If Penn State can pounce early and make the Wildcats take risks they should be able to jump ahead in this game.
Penn State 34, Northwestern 13
ND: Despite the early start, I think PSU will get out of the gate strong. Northwestern’s inability to run the ball will make for a very long day for Trevor Siemian. Penn State will use the pass to open up the run and I look for Bill Belton to have his best game of the season.
Penn State 31, Northwestern 10
Until next time,
Fight On State!
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