Evanston is a weird place at 11 in the morning, odd games happen. If James Franklin still wasn’t still winless against the Wildcats, I would be inclined to worry, but this season has the early markings of him settling the score on a few things in his ledger. I expect the coaches to give Gesicki an extra week off, meanwhile, Saquon might pass 300 all-purpose yards on the day.
Penn State 45, Northwestern 24
Prior to the season, the game I was most worried about during this three-game stretch was the Northwestern game. Justin Jackson is very good, and I was a believer in Clayton Thorson, so I thought maybe Northwestern would upend the Nittany Lions just before their bye week. Obviously, things have kind of changed. The Wildcats haven't looked all that good, barely escaping Nevada and getting trounced by Duke. This game could still get weird, but signs point toward a Penn State victory. Expect a big game from Trace McSorley, who won't silence the haters (because the haters are idiots) but will have his best performance of the season.
Penn State 42, Northwestern 13
Honestly, I don't know what to make of this game. Throughout most of the preseason, I imagined this would be the game prior to Ohio State where PSU would be likely to get tripped up. Although Northwestern did look better against Wisconsin last week, they have been rather erratic and not as good as advertised, despite having what seemed to be the best QB-RB duo in the Big Ten other than McSorley and Barkley in Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson. On the flip side, PSU's O-line has not been as good we thought it would be, McSorley's been somewhat off his game (though overall, having a good year thus far) and don't get me started on the field goal kicking unit...Given how Northwestern has been the bane of James Franklin's existence (Franklin is 0-3 against the Wildcats dating back to his Vanderbilt coaching days), you would have to think he really, really, wants to get this monkey off his back with his most talented team yet and will have them as prepared as possible for this one. The line on this game opened at -14 for PSU and while that may seem reasonable, consider the fact that Northwestern has either outright lead or trailed PSU by 10 points or less heading into the fourth quarter in each of the past six meetings. Similar to how I said a couple weeks ago with my Iowa prediction that I would believe that the Hawkeyes could hang with a non-Paterno coached PSU team when I see it, I'll believe that PSU can beat Northwestern by a couple of TD's when I see it.
Penn State 24, Northwestern 20
I've been wary of Northwestern for a while, and that dreaded 11:00 AM kick is part of the reason for that feeling. I think Penn State is much better talent-wise than the Wildcats (as they've been in pretty much every meeting), so these games often come down to coaching (and execution). Justin Jackson should provide a test for a team that is 39th in the country in run defense, and Clayton Thorson is a veteran quarterback that is both mobile and an accurate passer (though you might not have known he was a veteran if you watched the last play of last week's game against Wisconsin). I think it's Penn State's offense that is the difference against Northwestern's 72nd ranked defense. McSorley and Barkley will do just enough to get Penn State the victory.
Penn State 34, Northwestern 24
On the road in Evanston has rarely been easy for the Nittany Lions, and this one should be tough as well when you consider that Northwestern just went wire to wire at Wisconsin. However, star tailback Justin Jackson only has 43 total rushing yards on 16 carries against two Power Five opponents this year. Similarly, junior quarterback Clayton Thorson averaged fewer than five yards per pass against both Duke and Wisconsin with a pair of interceptions in each game. Penn State's offense hasn't looked great in Big Ten play, but with the way the defense has played, the Lions should be able to stay within arm's length of Northwestern if they take care of the football.
Penn State 24, Northwestern 13
Before the Indiana game I switched my outlook from "Penn State is a playoff team for sure, and will steamroll most opponents this season" to "they're lucky they've played relatively weak competition so far, because the offensive line is terrible and is going to struggle in every game." Following the win against Indiana, I still think the offensive line needs to get better with a quickness, but I'm starting to realize that there aren't very many teams that can take advantage of this weakness - this is college, and usually only a handful of players on any given team in any given year are going to head to the NFL. Every team has problems, it's not just Penn State. They may not be perfect, but I don't think any team is, including Alabama. I'll still keep my pessimism hat on, and pine for the day when Penn State’s OL can routinely spring holes in the defense for our running backs, but I'm going to try to temper my angst a bit.
Penn State has proven it is good in all three phases of the game, and though the early kickoff - plus the weird Franklin-Fitzgerald voodoo - have me a little concerned, I think the Lions crockpot their way to a solid victory.
Penn State 38, Northwestern 24
Ho hum, we win another one. Shareef Miller is your B1G Defensive PotW.
Penn State 34, jNW 20
Ah, Northwestern, the team that has had James Franklin’s number for the past three meetings. The First meeting, at Vanderbilt, was the time the Wildcats won 10 games and went to the Gator Bowl. The second meeting, in State College, was when Penn State had one of the worst offensive lines in the history of Nittany Lion football. The third meeting, in Evanston, also being the closest meeting, still came against a team with both hands tied behind its back. You know who tied those hands? John Donovan.
Without Donovan to make Penn State predictable on offense, trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, Northwestern won’t be easily able to take advantage. If you think Duke had success against the Wildcats, wait ‘til you see what Joe Moorhead has in store.
Penn State 56, Northwestern 17
James Franklin has never beaten Pat Fitzgerald, at both his head coaching stops. He's never faced Northwestern with a team this talented, though, and the 2017 Wildcats aren't as good as in years past, or as expected preseason. They'll still be tough, though, since Penn State hasn't played great on the road and road games in the Big Ten are never a cakewalk. This one might be just what they need headed into the bye week and a season-defining stretch of games.
PLAYER(S) ON THE SPOT: Trace McSorley. He had a down quarter last week, and there were corners of the web where some called for him to be benched. He's the unquestioned starter for good reason, but a 2017 breakout game should quiet all doubters.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF … like at Iowa, Penn State is down at the half.
PREDICTION: 11 a.m. local times cause pessimism amongst the fanbase, due to historical performances. This shouldn't end like the last couple with Penn State's defense better at stopping the run and the offense finally looking to break out. This game should start slow, but burn hot for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State 54, Northwestern 21
As Patrick Koerbler astutely stated in the most recent Big Ten Power Rankings, “Northwestern is weird.” The Wildcats were supposed to be among the favorites to claim the Big Ten West Division heading into 2017, but have mostly looked like a team that will be at home during the bowl season. They claimed victories against two “Other 5” opponents and were absolutely dismantled by Duke. However, they did give a top-10 Wisconsin squad a tough time this past week, so perhaps they are starting to figure things out.
Despite the talents of Thorson and Jackson, Northwestern’s offense has really struggled. Considering the play of Penn State’s defense that has absolutely exceeded expectations, the Wildcats should struggle to put up enough points to keep pace with the Nittany Lions. They may be able to keep it close for a bit, but Penn State should have the firepower to pull ahead and win comfortably.
Jason Cabinda again leads the charge on defense with a 15-tackle performance that also includes a forced fumble, while Curtis Cothran joins the party with three TFLs and a fumble recovery. On offense, McSorley has another 300-plus yard day through the air and hits Juwan Johnson on two touchdown strikes.
Penn State 38, Northwestern 17