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Defense, Defense, Defense: No. 6 Penn State 41, Northwestern 13

1-0 is good, but Penn State will have to play better to win the Big Ten.

Penn State v Northwestern Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Penn State headed into its matchup with Northwestern as big time favorites, with Vegas closing the lines at -26.5. Although the Nittany Lions did end up covering the near four-touchdown spread — winning 41-13 — it was anything but an impressive victory for Penn State.

The game started out with Nick Singleton fumbling the opening kickoff and giving the Wildcats the ball at the 11 yard line. While the Penn State defense salvaged what it could, holding Northwestern to just a field goal, the first few minutes served as foreshadowing for what ended up being a frustrating day for the Nittany Lions.

The offense could just not get things going on the afternoon. The running game was stuck in the mud, with Nick Singleton averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. His longest run of the day went for 16 yards, as he was largely met with defenders just as he was crossing the line of scrimmage. To make matters worse, Kaytron Allen missed the second half with an unspecified injury.

Drew Allar and his wide receivers could not get in sync, with multiple drops, inaccurate passes, and miscommunications throughout the game. We did see the offense start to open things up a bit toward the end of the game — Dante Cephas dropped what would have been a 40+ yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter — but it was a lot of dinking and dunking for an offense that seem too risk-averse for much of the afternoon.

The defense — outside of one drive where they just decided to not tackle — was once again excellent for the Nittany Lions. Manny Diaz’s crew lived in the Northwestern backfield, finishing the game with 7 sacks and 12 TFLs. The Wildcats could only must 175 yards on the day.

It might seem harsh to label a 41-13 victory as “underwhelming” but for where this Penn State program wants to be, that’s how it needs to be graded. Many of the concerns heading into this game — run blocking, lack of big plays, inconsistent receivers after KeAndre Lambert-Smith — all popped up again today. Fortunately, Penn State will have a bye week and the UMass game to iron out the wrinkles, but today served as a missed opportunity for a more impressive victory.