“Northwestern has very smart football players,” Brett Conway told us as we were discussing what we thought of Penn State’s chances at the Pep Rally yesterday. There was none smarter on Northwestern’s team than their starting quarterback, Mike Kafka. Kafka picked apart our defensive secondary in the first half, completing 14 of 18 passes for 128 yards and rushing 42 yards on 8 attempts. Kafka was Northwestern’s primary offensive threat in the first half of that game. He is a very talented quarterback with incredible vision and timing.
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I don’t like to see players injured on either side of the ball, but in many ways, Penn State is lucky that Mike Kafka suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to leave the game with 8:15 left in the 2nd quarter. Yesterday’s game might have had a very different conclusion if Mike Kafka had remained in the game. Dan Persa, Northwestern’s backup quarterback, was able to move the ball quickly with 28 seconds left on the clock at the end of the first half to score 3 more points on a field goal. But it was a different team we played against once Kafka was out. Northwestern was not nearly as in sync.
The score was 13-10 in favor of Northwestern at the end of the second quarter. In the third quarter, Northwestern’s defense held Penn State to a Collin Wagner field goal with 5:38 remaining in the quarter.
So a tie at 13-13 started the 4th quarter. I turned to Terry and said, “Remind me why I like close games.” Terry’s response was, “I have no idea!” We weren’t very happy. In fact, I didn’t like this game at all. We had difficulty establishing the run, difficulty scoring touchdowns, and we had some dumb penalties (delay of game, 12 men on the field, an unnecessary personal foul) that caused our offense to stall or gave Northwestern first downs after we had stopped them on third down.
That all changed with 12:27 remaining in the 4th quarter. Darryl Clark engineered a 7-play, 58-yard touchdown drive. The score was 20-13. Northwestern went 3-and-out on the next possession.
Then on the first play from scrimmage with 10:25 on the clock, Darryl Clark threw a 53-yard pass to Derek Moye for a touchdown. It was a perfectly executed pass, and Derek Moye didn’t even break stride when he caught it and ran into the end-zone. That got us excited! The score was 27-13, and we began to feel more comfortable.
Penn State’s defense held Northwestern to 26 yards of offense on their next possession. With 8:58 left on the clock, Penn State started on their own 31-yard line. The handoff to Evan Royster resulted in a 69-yard scramble for a touchdown.
So a 53-yard pass play for a touchdown and a 69-yard rush for a touchdown were the final two scores. Two plays for two touchdowns. Wow.
Penn State’s defense had a much better second half. Sean Lee led the defense for the game, with 12 tackles. It was good to see him finally start again. The defense also recovered two fumbles during the game. Whatever difficulties they had in the first half were solved with adjustments in the second half.
But I keep going back to the fact that Kafka was injured. Northwestern was down 28-3 last week against Indiana and Kafka had led a comeback in the second half, winning the game 29-28.
So despite our quick strike offense and a win, there is reason to be concerned for next week. It was not what I would call a solid performance. The game was much closer than the final score indicated, and Penn State has plenty to work on to prepare for a solid game against Ohio State.
But, as they say, a win is a win! We’re happy. It’s nice to be 8-1 for the season!