Northwestern - 7
Penn State - 33
The Nittany Lions entered their game with Northwestern at a crossroads. At 2-2 there was still uncertainty about how good, or bad, this team was. Their two wins were over relatively weak competition. So the Lions knew they weren't one of the worst teams in college football. Their two losses were at the hands of Notre Dame and Ohio State proving Penn State doesn't belong ranked with the top 20 teams. But between number 20 and number 100 there is a lot of ground. And nobody knew where these Lions belonged.
The Lions came into this game ranked at the bottom of the Big Ten at 0-1 thanks to their loss to the Buckeyes last week. The defense proved themselves in that game, and Tony Hunt proved the usual solid running back we've come to know. But questions swirled around Anthony Morelli and the Penn State passing game. Building confidence in the passing game had to be first priority in this game going into the heart of the Big Ten schedule. And the Lions wasted no time getting to work.
On the first play from scrimmage Anthony Morelli and Deon Butler set the tone for the game when Butler burned past Wildcat corner Deante Battle for a 40 yard post pattern down to the Northwestern 40 yard line. Morelli continued to look sharp completing his next two passes leading the Lions down to the 9 yard line before Tony Hunt fumbled the ball away. The Lions have struggled to finish off drives all season, and the fumble just perpetuated those struggles.
So with that it was time for the Nittany Lion defense to set the tone for their part of the game. As he's done so often, Paul Posluszny stepped up and made a statement stopping the Wildcats on their first two running plays near the line of scrimmage. The Wildcats would go three and out and punt.
There was much of this on Saturday
Starting with excellent field position, the Lions would turn to the rushing game in their second possession. Runs by Hunt, Bell, and Williams got the Lions down to the Wildcat 12 yard line before an illegal procedure stalled another drive. This time Kevin Kelly got the Lions on the board with a 34 yard field goal. (PSU 3-0)
The swarming Lion linebackers once again held Northwestern to a 3&O with help from an illegal procedure penalty on the Wildcats. On their next possession Morelli and Butler hooked up again for a 55 yard pass down to the NW 6 yard line. But again Penn State stalled at the goal line and had to settle for a field goal. (PSU 6-0)
Northwestern managed to pick up their first first down of the game on their next drive before being forced to punt again. The Lions came back with a 13 play 51 yard drive resulting in another Kevin Kelly field goal. (PSU 9-0)
There was uneasy feeling building as the Lions were dominating every aspect of the game except the score board. Blown opportunities were keeping Penn State from running away with the game and allowing Northwestern to hang around. The Nittany Lions had 10 first downs to Northwestern's one. The Lions had outgained the Wildcats 215 yards to 27 yards. Yet they were only ahead by nine points. And it was about to get worse.
After the Lions forced Northwestern to go 3&O and punt, Anthony Morelli threw an interception to Nick Roach on a poorly underthrown ball to Deon Butler giving Northwestern the ball on the PSU 16. Northwestern capitalized and scored a touchdown five plays later to make it a two point game. (PSU 9-7) Nittany Nation was beginning to get nervous.
It was a year ago when Penn State was at a similar crossroads. Their play on offense was extremely erratic and midway through the second quarter against Northwestern the Lions found themselves down 23-7 off of four Michael Robinson turnovers. That team seemed to grow up right in front of our eyes that afternoon as they rallied to win the game with a perfect second half.
This team similarly flicked a switch on Saturday. On their next offensive drive, the Lions easily drove down to a first and goal on the NW 1 yard line as the half wound down. Penn State came out in the predictable three tight end two running back set. On first down BranDon Snow was stuffed for no gain. On second down the QB sneak was stuffed. At this point I was screaming at the coaches to try something different. Try a QB rollout. Try a fade to the corner of the endzone to Chris Bell. Try anything but another run up the middle. We had been stuffed for the past 4 and a half games and I was not optimistic we were going to get in again. But much to my chagrin, they came out again in the three tight end set. They handed it to Tony Hunt who leaped over the center to barely cross the goal line. (PSU 16-7)
Hunt dives into the endzone
He didn't get in by much, but it was enough. But more important than the seven points, it showed the Lions could punch it in from inside the 5 yard line. From that point on, the flood gates were open. The Lions would not have trouble getting in the endzone again. The Lions would go on to roll on offense and defense in the second half to win by a score of 33-7.
For the game the Lions rolled up 528 total yards with 25 first downs. They had 233 yards rushing and 295 yards through the air. The Wildcats were held to 238 yards of offense with only 81 yards on the ground. They entered Penn State territory twice in the second half only to be stopped on fourth down attempts.
Offensive Player of the Game
It's tempting to give the OPG to Anthony Morelli for his 19-32 285 yard performance. Even more tempting is Tony Hunt's 28 carry 137 yard 3 TD game. But when you set a school record, that has to be recognized. Deon Butler has virtually been a ghost this season. He broke out this weekend with 11 catches for 216 yards breaking O.J. McDuffie's school record of 212 yards in a game. For breaking the school single game receiving record, Deon Bulter is the BSD Offensive Player of the Game.
The Butler did it with the candlestick in the library
Defensive Player of the Game
Paul Posluszny was all over the field on Saturday leading Penn State with 10 tackles. But Sean Lee was also all over the field and was second on the team with six tackles and a sack that almost resulted in a safety. Lee also intercepted a pass and showed some nice footwork to keep his foot in bounds. Sean Lee just barely edges out Poz for the BSD Defensive Player of the Game honors.
Special Teams Player of the Game
After taking a lot of criticism this week and all season, Kevin Kelly had to fight through back pain so serious he was wearing a back brace this week. But Kelly was a perfect 4-4 on field goals and 3-3 on PAT's. Each kick was right down the pipe and looked perfect. On the year Kelly is now 12-16.
Impressions of the Game
Joe looked pretty good for an 80 year old guy that got JACKED UP in practice on Tuesday. No visibly injuries from the hit he took from Andrew Quarless and Anthony Scirrotto.
Who said freshman tight end Andrew Quarless would be the starting by mid season? This guy. Who started at TE on Saturday? Said tight end. Quarless had 2 catches on the day for 31 yards.
Anthony Morelli mostly looked good. But there were still some bone head plays where he scrambled out of the pocket to buy time and looked 40 yards down field at the guy he wanted to throw to. After completely giving away his intentions and drawing in the safeties, he still let it fly effectively throwing it up for grabs when the wise play was clearly throwing the ball away. Fortunately Northwestern was not able to capitalize and intercept the passes. He will not be so fortunate against better competition. Toward the end of the game he was doing a better job of hitting his underneath receivers.
Tony Hunt is just awesome. He isn't going to break the 75 yard touchdown run. But he's going to get four or five yards every run. He dares you to stop him, and you can't. There is no other running back I would rather have running the ball when I have a lead in the fourth quarter and I need three yards.
Hunt ran for 137 yards and 3 TD on 28 carries
Derrick Williams still can't get it going. I'm more and more convinced the coaches don't know what to do with him. He had five catches for a miniscule 25 yards to go with 4 runs and 19 rushing yards. It coaches seem content to use him exclusively on end arounds and bubble screens with the occasional deep pass. Defenses are swarming on him and he often finds two or three defenders in his face when he catches the ball and turns up field. A lot of the problem is defenses are keying on him which is why Butler saw a lot of single coverage on Saturday that allowed him to have such a huge day. Maybe now that Butler had the type of game he had several times last year defenses will have to play him more honestly allowing Williams to get open some. But I wish the coaches would try some short crossing patterns mixed with deep post patterns to DWill. Get him one-on-one and let him outrun his man.
Chris Auletta started in place of Levi Brown who sat out with a leg injury of some kind. Robert Price moved to left guard to replace the ineffective Gerald Cadogan giving Rich Ohrnberger his first career start at right guard. Paterno called them a "make shift offensive line". The group missed some blocks in the redzone in the first quarter. After one stand Joe Paterno was visibly upset with Robert Price when he came to the sideline. Apparently Joe reminded the offensive line the field is 100 yards long and not 80. After getting stuffed on their first four trips to the redzone they punched it in three times after that.
Funniest post game quote was Jay Alford. When asked what Joe said to him after his celebratory leap into the endzone that resulted in a 15 yard unsportsman-like conduct penalty, Jay said. "He said if I do it again, I'm going to be on the scout team. And he was serious."
Thanks to the five game losing streak choke job by the Detroit Tigers, the Minnesota Twins have won their division and secured the second best record in the American League meaning the Nittany Lions will play the Minnesota Golden Gophers this coming Saturday in the Metrodome as scheduled. The Gophers have fallen on hard times this year and find themselves sitting at 2-3 coming off a 28-14 loss to #6 Michigan this weekend.
Overall I'm pleased we get to play this game. It would be nice to have a week off to rest up for the Wolverines, but the fact is this Nittany Lion team is still growing and learning. Each game it's evident they are getting better. I would prefer to see the Lions play another game to tune up for Michigan rather than spend an extra week playing the scout team. Plus I don't want to hear the Michigan fans whine about us getting an extra week to prepare.