It was an easy start for Northwestern against a BBDS defense that came out in its softest form. Poor tackling and bad angles helped with Wildcats score early and easily with six and ten-yard gains all the way down the field. Before being injured, Kafka was taking the easy slant routes and running successfully when the zone defense spread out too thin.
A lot of the game wrap-ups today cite Kafka's injury as the setback Northwestern would never overcome, but I'm not sure he would have maintained his early consistency. The veteran quarterback was also completing 77% of his passes, 10 points higher than the season average he has posted against lesser defenses. I suspect we would have seen some regression to the mean.
Northwestern was winning the game by working long drives that kept the ball away from Daryll Clark. They ended up in 19 third down situations against Penn State's defense, the most any team has totaled all season, and converted early. Combine that with the free downs (we'll get to that in a second), and the best defense was a slow, clock eating offense.
The turnover stat in the second half read Penn State 0, Northwestern 1; as often happens in football, the stats fail us here.
Three times the defense forced a punt, only to see possession slip away through mistakes. A late hit turned a 4th and short into a first down. The punt return team had an illegal substitution that allowed the Wildcats to keep the ball. Finally, and most painfully, was the fumbled snap on a Northwestern punt that they somehow back-yard-balled into a first down that could have ended with Penn State ball inside the red zone.
Northwestern ran the kind of "you'll have to throw to win" defense we saw a lot of earlier in the year, yet Penn State was too stubborn to counter it. Corey Wootton, who played as well as expected, led a blowing-up of the Penn State o-line that never allowed Royster to get any momentum.
It wasn't until almost 25 minutes into the game that the offensive brain trust did the obvious: five passes, two QB runs (one a busted play), zero Royster carries, and the first Penn State touchdown.
In the end Clark finished with 274 yards and a QB rating a couple points above his average. Royster had 118 yards, but just a 3.3 average excluding his 69-yard TD run.
The defense fixed the holes and posted a second half shutout, but they'll have to play a complete game next week if they want to beat Ohio State.