Offense Dooms Nittany Lions on Homecoming

posted September 27, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Jeff Jezewski

University Park, PA - A stingy defensive effort and three Trevor Siemian touchdown runs lead the Wildcats (2-2) to a 29-6 win over the Nittany Lions (4-1) on Homecoming.

After two Sam Ficken field goals cut the lead to 14-6, Penn State looked to be gaining momentum. However, Anthony Walker picked off a Christian Hackenberg pass and raced 49 yards into the end zone for a pick-six and a 20-6 Northwestern lead.

James Franklin’s team has been able to recover from slow starts throughout the year, but today was different.

“We’ve been able to get by with playing hard and smart, but we haven’t played pretty all year long and it caught up with us today,” said Franklin.

Penn State fumbled on their next play and the Wildcats were able to put it in cruise control as Siemian picked up his third rushing touchdown.

Along with his three rushing touchdowns, Siemian added 258 yards through the air for Northwestern.

Offensive line struggles were the story, yet again for Penn State. Christian Hackenberg was sacked four times and hit countless others, turning the ball over twice and looking completely out of sync in the loss.

“We want to limit the amount of hits (Christian) takes”, said Franklin. “At this point, he’s taking way too many of them.”

The run game was also nonexistent, churning out only 50 rushing yards on 25 attempts, 10 of those coming on a Cole Chiappialle run on the last drive of the game.

Coach Franklin echoed the offensive struggles after the game.

“We weren’t consistent enough offensively,” said Franklin. “(At this point) we’re too one-dimensional.”

The Nittany Lions stumbled out of the gates, going three-and-out on their first three drives and punting on their first five.

However, Northwestern’s attack stalled and left the Nittany Lions an opportunity to get back in the game.

A gutsy play-call on a 4th-and- 1 in their own territory gave the Nittany Lions a fresh set of downs leading Hackenberg to unleash a 51-yard strike to DaeSean Hamilton, putting the Nittany Lions inside the red zone. The drive was shut down from there and the air was deflated from the crowd as Sam Ficken’s field goal attempt was blocked.

Time after time, Penn State failed to capitalize on the opportunities they were given.

A long punt return by Jesse Della Valle set up great field position for the Nittany Lions. On 3rd and 10 from the 19, Hackenberg saw a wide-open Bill Belton and left the pass short, forcing Penn State to settle for another field goal.

After an Adrian Amos red zone interception, Hackenberg took control of the offense and started moving the ball downfield. However, the Nittany Lions stalled offensively and Hackenberg’s pass attempt on fourth and three fell incomplete out of the hands of Geno Lewis.

The defense was able to hold Northwestern in check and a kick-catch interference penalty left Penn State with good field position, yet again.

Zach Zwinak was called for clipping on a Hackenberg scramble that turned into a scary moment. Hackenberg lowered his shoulder and collided with Northwestern defensive back Matthew Harris. Harris was down on the field for more than a few minutes and a stretcher was needed to take him from the field. Beaver Stadium was eerily quiet and after everything was cleared away, Penn State’s drive stalled.

After the game, Hackenberg commented on his team’s slow start after play was stopped.

“I felt awful after the hit. It’s part of the game, but you have to be able to bounce back and continue to operate,” Hackenberg said.

It was all downhill from there as Penn State turned the ball over on their first two plays of the fourth quarter, allowing Northwestern to take a 23-6 lead and ultimately seal the game.

“We’ve been able to come back and rally late in games, but you can only do that so many times,” Franklin said.

With Nyeem Wartman out for the Nittany Lions, Mike Hull was counted on even more to make most of the plays defensively, racking up a career-high 16 tackles, including a stop on a Northwestern fake field goal attempt inside the 5-yard line. Unfortunately, he was one of the lone bright spots for Penn State.

Despite their blowout win, Northwestern failed to generate much offense during the second and third quarters, gaining only 118 yards.

The Wildcats were unable to develop a true run game, rushing 38 times for 103 yards.

Northwestern was able to execute when needed, however, and that made all the difference.

This was the Nittany Lions’ first lost to the Wildcats since 2004, ending a streak of six straight wins.

After losing a shocker on homecoming in 2012, Northwestern was able to play spoiler this time, ending talks of Penn State heading into their matchup with Ohio State undefeated.

Penn State will have a bye week before returning to action on October 11th in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“The bye week couldn’t come at a better time for us,” Franklin said.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Jeff Jezewski is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jeffjez13@gmail.com