The Nittany Lions look to remain unbeaten, while Northwestern seeks an opportunity to bounce back from a disastrous start to the season.
Penn State (4-0) vs. Northwesters (1-3)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
TV: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. - Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), Dan Orlovsky (analyst), Kris Budden (sideline)
Weather: Pack those raincoats. Showers are expected to begin late Saturday and could carry on throughout Saturday. The temperatures will be mid-to-upper 50s during the day, dropping into the 40s as nighttime approaches.
PENN STATE RECORD: 71-34, 9th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 95-49, 12th Year
VS. Northwestern: 1-2
NORTHWESTERN RECORD: 110-93, 16th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 110-93, 16th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 2-6
This will be the first time Penn State has played Northwestern since 2017, and the first time they hosted the Wildcats since 2014...Penn State holds a 14-5 all-time series advantage...Penn State and Northwestern did not play until the Nittany Lions became part of the Big Ten in 1993...Penn State has won its last six games played on Oct. 1, and are 12-6 overall on the first day of October...the last Penn State game played on Oct. 1 was a memorable overtime victory against Minnesota in 2016, with Saquon Barkley scoring the walk-off touchdown...they also stomped the Harrisburg Athletic Club 58-0 on this date.
NORTHWESTERN OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE
Evan Hull. That’s the majority of the Wildcats offense. The talented running back is leading the team in rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards after four games. Hull is averaging 92.5 yards rushing per game with a 4.4 yard per carry average, which is quite impressive considering defenses are able to key in on stopping him. He also has 29 catches for 311 yards, meaning you can expect to see him get targeted about 10 times out of the backfield.
South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski started five games in 2021, and became the full-time start this fall. Hilinski airs it out more than you would be used to for a Northwestern team, averaging 46.25 passing attempts per game. He had a wildly productive afternoon against Duke, passing for 435 yards. He also completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 314 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the team’s sole win of the season against Nebraska in week 0. Despite the focus on the passing game, the Wildcats offense is averaging 23 points a game, and could only muster 14 points in a home loss to Miami (OH) Saturday.
PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. NORTHWESTERN DEFENSE
The WIldcats defense is giving up nearly 400 yards per game, which isn’t so great when you consider there are much better offenses on the schedule ahead. They played well for most of Saturday’s contest with Miami (OH), before falling apart late and allowing two scoring drives to end the game, which culminated in the RedHawks game-winning field goal as time expired.
Linebacker Bryce Gallagher leads the team in tackles by a wide margin, and defensive tackle Adetomiwa Adebawore can cause headaches by getting into the backfield. Linebacker Xander Mueller has been a playmaker, with two interceptions and 2.5 TFLs, while also placing third on the team with 24 tackles.
Like Penn State, Northwestern uses a lot of bodies on defense. While the individual stats may not jump off the page, the team totals of 21 TFLs (credited to 12 players) and nine sacks (by seven players) paint a slightly different picture.
Penn State has been working on a more balanced offense this season, after depending heavily on Sean Clifford’s arm to carry them without much help the last two seasons. You can expect a heavy dose of true freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, who is coming off his first 100-yard effort, especially if Keyvone Lee isn’t ready to return from injury. The Nittany Lions have been lacking a deep threat in the mold of Jahan Dotson or KJ Hamler, and will be working to identify the best option for this role to help keep defenses honest.
Northwestern and Penn State are both facing struggles with field goals. Northwestern kicker Adam Stage is three-of-five, with a long of 35 yards. He has yet to attempt a field goal of 40 or more yards on the season, with both misses in the 30-39 yard range. Meanwhile, Jake Pinegar is also three-of-five for Penn State, while missing two extra points (one being blocked). Pinegar nailed a crucial 48-yarder against Auburn in week three, only to follow it up by missing a chip shot against Central Michigan on Saturday.
Northwestern punter Luke Akers is averaging a respectable 41.76 yards per punt with a long of 52. He’s found success pinning teams deep, with eight punts landing inside the 20.
Barney Armor has been just about perfect as Penn State’s new punter following his transfer from Colgate. He’s not only proven to have a powerful leg, but also has the incredible ability to make the ball neatly drop within the five yard line, regularly forcing opponents to start with terrible field position.
Penn State-34, Northwestern-14
Pat Fitzgerald has a history of throwing something unexpected at the Penn State offense to take them out of rhythm. When the Nittany Lions have the talent, they make adjustments and take care of business in the second half (‘09, ‘10, ‘12, ‘17). However, there were years when Fitz got the best of them (‘14 and ‘15). Fortunately, this year’s offense will be able to handle whatever comes their way.
The Wildcats offense has been able to move the ball somewhat, but struggle to get points on the board. They’re coming off an especially embarrassing performance where they could only mange 14 points in a home loss to Miami (OH). Hilinski is efficient enough to take them down the field a couple times, but the defense should otherwise make it a very difficult day for the WIldcats offense.
Penn State’s offense was slowed down by several small mistakes a week ago that can be easily cleaned up. I’d expect this game to be an opportunity to do just so, as the team prepares for a bye week that will be followed by the toughest stretch of the season.
Considering the game could be played in soggy conditions, Northwestern will keep Penn State at arm’s length for much of the first half before the Nittany Lions pull ahead for a comfortable victory.