Five Things We Learned: Northwestern

Story posted October 8, 2017 in CommRadio by Jeremy Ganes

The Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Northwestern Wildcats 31-7 on Saturday afternoon to move to 6-0. While there are often too many storylines in a game to count on one hand, we will try to do just that. Here are five things that we learned from Penn State at Northwestern:

1. Saquon Barkley opens up opportunities for others.

An opposing defense finally managed to bottle up Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley only had 7 carries for -1 yards in the first half and at times was getting hit as soon as he received the handoff. The positive side to his early struggles was that quarterback Trace McSorley was able to  complete big pass plays of 20+ yards to Daesean Hamilton, Brandon Polk and Saeed Blacknall, who led the team with 74 receiving yards. With Northwestern’s defense paying special attention to Barkley, the Penn State receivers were getting open downfield frequently during this game.

2.  The Defense continues to terrorize opponents.

While not completely dominant in terms of yards allowed, the Penn State defense took the air out of Northwestern drives with key third-down stops and takeaways. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson was intercepted twice, including once in the red zone by Amani Oruwariye on a 50-50 ball in one-on-one coverage. Northwestern receivers did not do much to help their embattled QB, struggling to gain separation from the Penn State defensive backs.

3. The offensive line still needs to elevate their play.

In another week where the Penn State offense excelled, the offensive line wasn’t nearly as impressive as the skill position players. A major reason that Saquon Barkley struggled early was due to a lack of quality run blocking. Northwestern was in Penn State’s backfield often, accumulating 12 total tackles for a loss. This also translated to some challenges in the passing game, with Trace McSorley getting sacked five times. If the line doesn’t boost their play soon, defenses like Michigan and Ohio State will take advantage in their games against Penn State later this year.

4. Tommy Stevens can do it all.

Backup QB Tommy Stevens displayed his versatility versus Northwestern, doing a little bit of everything in limited action. Early in the second quarter, with Penn State at the Wildcats’ 10 yard-line, Stevens was inserted into the game and lined up in the backfield. Nobody on the Wildcats defense picked him up when he ran a route to the end zone and McSorley found him for the touchdown. In garbage time, Stevens completed a few nice passes downfield and broke off a 20-yard run. When he gets into the game, magical things seem to happen.

5. Joe Moorhead’s offense is flexible.

In a season-long trend that continued Saturday, the Penn State offense seems to find ways to succeed even when not firing on all cylinders. In previous games where the passing game was subpar, Saquon Barkley was effective in outside runs and check-down passes. Today, the opposite occurred. Barkley was contained in the first half, so Trace McSorley had to beat Northwestern through the air. It will be interesting to see how Penn State’s offense continues to make adjustments to their opponent’s game plans as they enter the most challenging part of their schedule.

Jeremy Ganes is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email