Penn State vs. No. 21 Northwestern Preview

Audio/Story posted November 5, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio by Sports Staff

PODCAST:

ComRadio's own Brandon Stewart, Dave Arroyo, Alissa Devine and Jon Gross break down Saturday's conference matchup between the Wildcats and Penn State. 

The Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) will travel to Evanston, Illinois Saturday to take on the No. 21 Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2 B1G) in a Big Ten showdown. The Nittany Lions are playing arguably their best football of the season and are also coming off their most decisive win this season, a 39-0 dismantling of Illinois. On the other side of the field, after their red-hot start, Northwestern has started to falter as of late, losing blowout games to Michigan and Iowa, while mixing in a win against Nebraska.

Penn State has been led by the man many thought would be their best player all season, Christian Hackenberg. The junior quarterback is certainly coming into his own as of late, having thrown 12 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last six games. The Nittany Lions as an offense have been explosive as well. Totaling 29 plays of 30 yards or more, Penn State ranks eighth in the nation in those explosive plays.

No player is more explosive on the side of the Blue and White than freshman running back Saquon Barkley. The true freshman has shown he is capable of being a dominant force, even as a freshman. His hurdle for a touchdown last week against Illinois illustrated why many feel that he could be the next special player to grace the field in Penn State colors. He has rushed for 716 yards this season on an average of 6.6 yards per carry. Barkley also has five touchdowns on the season. With Barkley and Hackenberg flourishing on offense, the Nittany Lions have the most balance on that unit than they have had in awhile.

The defense was a question mark after the Maryland game, but silenced critics after the Illinois game. Bob Shoop’s unit is one of the best in the nation and Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib have been a dynamic duo up front. Northwestern will have to worry about these three especially during the game Saturday as they are primarily a ground and pound team.
Looking at the Wildcats, nothing jumps out and rightly so. They are simply a fundamentally sound team that runs the ball over 70 percent of the time and chooses their spots wisely.

“(This is a) very, very well-coached, sound team," said Franklin. "Very rarely do you watch a tape and are they out of position or not lined up correctly, so been impressed watching them on tape."

Northwestern is led on offense by quarterback Clayton Thorson. If there is one person Penn State needs to watch out for it’s Thorson, as  dual-threat quarterbacks have proven to be this defenses Achilles heel. Thorson has totaled over 1,100 yards through the air and has accounted for almost 300 more on the ground. He leads the team with five rushing touchdowns.

In a game with implications in the rankings for both teams, scoring could be at a premium as both teams strengths on offense could be nullified by strong defenses. Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. EST at Ryan Field. ComRadio’s coverage will begin at 10:30 and will lead you right up to kick off.

Jack Milewski is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email jbm250@psu.edu.