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Five Takeaways From No. 11 Penn State’s 17-7 Win Over Northwestern

See what I did there?

Oct 1, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats at Beaver Stadium. Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Let me speak in the first person for a moment, and start with the quote from Thursday:

The last time Penn State was this big a favorite at home against a Big Ten opponent, well, you know what happened no need to rehash. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, this Northwestern squad is incredibly more dreadful than that other team from the same state. But, if you believe in superstition, look no further than Northwestern’s 1-0 Big Ten record amidst a 1-3 start to the season to know what you need to know about the Wildcats. The two times Northwestern won the division, they did so without beating a single non-conference opponent.

Well friends, this game had an eerily similar feeling to that debacle from last season. The Nittany Lions survived an absolute dog fight, and will go into the bye week with an unblemished record. Here are five takeaways, one for each turnover, on the Nittany Lions’ win:

1. Ball protection is a priority

Each Penn State running back coughed the ball up at least once in this game, with Nicholas Singleton being the worst offender, having two turnovers to Kaytron Allen and Keyvone Lee’s one. Devyn Ford didn’t play, but one must assume he would have fumbled too had he played. It was that kind of day for the Nittany Lions.

The good news is the team is unlikely to fumble four times the rest of the way (or to commit five total turnovers when you count Sean Clifford’s interception). The bad news is that, if the protection issues aren’t addressed, even a couple could decide the next three games.

2. The defense saved the day

The last time Penn State had five turnovers in a game, the Florida Gators came away with with a 37-24 win against the Matt McGloin-led Nittany Lions. In this contest, Northwestern came away with exactly zero points off turnovers. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions were able to take advantage of Northwestern’s own miscues and score 14 points off their turnovers. That, as it turns out, would be the difference in the game.

3. It’s not all sunshine and butterflies

We’ve seen this tape before. Right before (or right after) a big game, or in this case, a big stretch of games, Penn State comes out and plays an uninspired game, usually costing themselves a victory. In 2017, the Nittany Lions let Michigan State hang around and eventually win. In 2018, once again, the Spartans came away with an improbable victory. In 2019, Minnesota was the culprit. 2021 Illinois is still ingrained in our memories.

In 2022, Penn State did it again against a Northwestern squad everyone left for dead after last week. The difference, of course, they didn’t lose the game. They’re lucky that it didn’t this time, they’re luckier to have a bye week to fix some shit, and luckiest of all, any whispers they were hearing about how good they were were put to rest here.

So now, they can get to work. Because the real season starts in two weeks.

4. There’s no one reason for this performance

When so much goes wrong, it’s natural to try and point to the one thing that could have, should have, would have turned the performance around. If the weather were nicer. If the fumbles didn’t happen. If the quarterback was different. The reality of the matter is, a 60-minute game can’t be boiled down to one or two things, as a series of events, unfortunate in this case, make up the entirety of the contest.

Penn State has a lot of ammunition for the bye week. There are a lot of things to clean up. But any one thing you could possibly point at wouldn’t have made a lick of difference on a day like today.

5. I repeat, there’s no one reason for this performance

And as much as you’d think Drew Allar would have turned this into a blow out, deep down inside, you know he wouldn’t have.