FINAL (Josh): Well, Penn State didn’t come away with the shutout thanks to a garbage-time TD by Northwestern. But the Nittany Lions still came away with a good 31-7 win. Now, on to the bye week ...
7:45 left in 4th Quarter (Josh): Nice return by DeAndre Thompkins on the 70-plus yard return ... but it’s called back on a hold. Don’t worry, guys — still pretty sure PSU’s going to come out on top of this one.
8:52 left in 4th Quarter (Josh): Penn State is now up 31-0 after a Trace McSorley touchdown run. He’s having himself a game. 245 passing yards, one passing TD, one rush TD.
9:13 left in 4th Quarter (Josh): That’s a terrible call. Northwestern safety Godwin Igwebuike was ejected for a targeting call. I get the flag, I get the penalty — I don’t get the ejection. Northwestern is now down two starters for next week’s first half. (Paddy Fisher was ejected earlier.)
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10:29 left in 4th Quarter (Josh): Miles Sanders has come in for Saquon Barkley, but Barkley isn’t taking his helmet off. Have to wonder if the day’s over for him now that the game is in hand. Only reason Barkley needs to go back in is if PSU’s trying to get him the Heisman. He has 74 rushing yards, nine receiving yards and two TDs.
Start of 4th Quarter (Josh): Northwestern has a solid defense ... but this offense is hard to watch. Credit the PSU defense, too. It has six tackles for loss so far in this game and has forced three turnovers. Could be on its way to another shutout. I sincerely thought Penn State was going to be in trouble when Bob Shoop left. How wrong I was. Brent Pry doesn’t get enough credit nationally for what he’s achieved with this unit.
2:13 left in 3rd Quarter (Josh): And there goes that Saquon Barkley highlight we’ve been waiting for. Barkley uses his speed to cruise to a 53-yard TD run to give the Nittany Lions a 24-0 lead. Nice cut, nice quickness, nice TD. He now has two TDs this game.
4:02 left in 3rd Quarter (Josh): Todd McShay just showed his all-time draft grades on the ABC broadcast, and Saquon Barkley is second all-time at RB. He’s behind only Adrian Peterson. So, yeah, this isn’t a great game for Barkley, stats-wise, but he’s still the nation’s most talented player.
7:51 left in 3rd Quarter (Josh): Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the targeting rule ... but that was pretty darn clear. It may not have been malicious, but LB Paddy Fisher has unsurprisingly been ejected. He’ll also miss the first half of next week’s game against Maryland.
9:33 left in 3rd Quarter (Josh): Saquon Barkley: Zero rushing yards, one rushing TD. Definitely interesting numbers there. Barkley isn’t playing bad, but Penn State is just taking what Northwestern gives it. And the Wildcats are giving the Nittany Lions plenty of room to pass. McSorley is 18 of 21, and I don’t think he’s had more than one incompletion since the second quarter. He’s been on fire. Penn State leads 17-0.
10:31 left in 3rd Quarter (Josh): Saquon who? Just give the damn ball to Tommy Stevens. (I’m kidding.)
14:01 left in 3rd Quarter (Josh): Saquon Barkley hasn’t been bottled up like this all season. He has no highlights yet. The most exciting player of college football hasn’t done anything exciting. That has to change, right? He has eight carries for minus-1 yard.
15:00 left in 3rd Quarter (Josh): And the second half is upon us. Justin Jackson has been the spark that the Wildcats offense has needed, and Clayton Thorson has committed two turnovers. One of those trends has to continue, one of those has to change for the Wildcats to succeed — I’ll let you decide what one’s what.
Halftime Takeaways (John)
▪ Amani Oruwariye is without a doubt the most underrated player on Penn State’s defense.
The 6-foot-1 redshirt junior cornerback nabbed his third interception of the season, making an acrobatic pick in front of a bigger wideout in the first quarter. Oruwariye positioned himself perfectly along the Northwestern sideline, using his 6-foot-1 frame and bodying 6-foot-4 Wildcat wideout Bennett Skowronek.
Oruwariye nearly had a second interception a quarter later. He may be labeled Penn State’s “third starter” at corner, but the kid knows how to use his frame even in disadvantageous situations.
▪ Northwestern is doing a fine job disrupting the Trace McSorley-Saquon Barkley mesh point.
Barkley has been held to minus-1 yard on eight carries, and it’s because Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald knows how to coach a defense. The Wildcats’ blitzes are timely, notably shutting down a delayed Barkley handoff in the red zone.
Everyone knows what Barkley is capable of doing in the second half, but for now, give credit to Northwestern.
▪ McSorley is spreading it around.
The quarterback has hit eight different receivers in the first half. He’s even connected with his backup at quarteback, Tommy Stevens.
With the wind at his back, McSorley and the passing game has looked potent.
Keep an eye on his ability to spread it around in the second half.
End of 2nd Quarter (Josh): That was an ... interesting ... Hail Mary. Thorson barely got it there, and the receiver wasn’t paying attention. PSU will take a 10-0 halftime lead. It wasn’t a pretty first half, but the Nittany Lions rebounded from a slow start.
:42 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): The good news for Northwestern: It’s approaching the red zone. The bad news: Clayton Thorson makes mistakes when he has to rush things. The Wildcats need this if they’re going to hang with Penn State.
5:40 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): Barkley has less than 10 all-purpose yards right now. If that doesn’t improve. he’ll definitely drop down at least 1-2 spots — if he’s lucky — in the Heisman race. Trace McSorley is picking up the slack so far, though, as he’s currently 13 of 16 for 148 yards and a TD. After a slow start, Penn State is back looking like the better team at least.
7:02 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): Shane Simmons may get credit for that fourth-down stop, but Marcus Allen absolutely read that and prevented the pitch. Too slow-developing to be effective against Penn State’s swarming defense. You can’t fault going for it on fourth down right there but, once again, Northwestern comes up short.
8:30 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): When Northwestern isn’t making mistakes, it’s not performing terribly on offense. Justin Jackson already has 61 yards on eight carries, and Clayton Thorson is doing fine on those short throws.
12:04 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): Well, if Barkley is covered, you might as well go to ... Tommy Stevens? Yup, the backup quarterback lined up in the backfield, and Trace McSorley found him uncovered in the end zone. That was a nice little catch, too. It was low, and he had to adjust. Great play-call, great catch. McSorley was 4 of 4 on that drive, too. Penn State now leads 10-0, and all the PSU bettors can relax a little. (The spread is between 14 and 15 ... so a little.)
12:50 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): Brandon Polk couldn’t have been more open there if he were invisible. It seems as if the only thing Northwestern can do is stop Saquon Barkley.
14:15 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): My goodness. Northwestern can’t seem to do anything right. The Wildcats’ punter essentially missed the punt and booted it 13 yards. Well, Penn State now has the clear field-position advantage, even after a 10-yard holding penalty. It’s starting this drive at midfield, and it needs to get something going here. Maybe we finally see Barkley break one loose.
15:00 left in 2nd Quarter (Josh): McSorley is 8 of 11 for 75 yards, and Barkley has five carries for 1 yard. This game is going to be won and lost on McSorley’s right arm. We expected as much when Pat Fitzgerald said earlier in the week that Barkley might be the best player he’s ever seen on film. All game plans are going to revolve around stopping Barkley. And the key so far? He’s only had one catch.
:13 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): Penn State leads 3-0 after a 21-yard field goal. But it’s the same offensive issue as before: Get into the red zone, inside the 10, and settle for a field goal. That’s not going to cut it against better teams. And, at this rate, it might not cut it against Northwestern. If the Wildcats can stop turning the ball over, this could turn out to be an interesting game.
1:30 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): That pass interference was pretty clear on Northwestern. But that’s still the third HUGE penalty on the Wildcats this game. Again, I wouldn’t say Penn State looks like the better team at this point. But mistakes are just absolutely killing the Wildcats. Unsurprisingly, they’re daring Trace McSorley to beat them.
3:38 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): Sounds like a lot of Penn State fans are in the crowd at Ryan Field. After that fumble recovery, a big cheer went up. That’s turnover No. 2 for Clayton Thorson. Shame that he just hasn’t panned out. I remember talking to the Wildcats’ recruiting coordinator right after Thorson enrolled, and he just went on about how he could take the program to the next level. Thorson was highly recruited — but decided to stick with the hometown school. Northwestern worked really hard to get him. But he’s made mistakes, his growth hasn’t been nearly where they thought it would be after his freshman season. He just hasn’t lived up to expectations. He’s not accurate and just doesn’t make good decisions. And his offensive line isn’t helping him either. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if PSU picked up 6-10 sacks this game.
4:36 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): Northwestern is outplaying Penn State, but Northwestern is killing itself with mistakes. Pat Fitzgerald is irate. First, Clayton Thorson throws that awful interception and then — after a great 29-yard run by Justin Jackson — the ball-carrier is called for facemask on a stiff arm. Tough if you’re a Northwestern fan; big sigh of relief if you’re a Penn State supporter.
5:23 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): Penn State has more talent at literally every position. But now it’s losing the field-position battle, and it’s not looking great on offense. This game started at 11 a.m. local time, but Penn State better wake up. Northwestern allowed 41 points against Duke; PSU should not be experiencing three-and-outs like this. Offensive line needs to get more push on those third-and-shorts, and McSorley needs to find his groove.
6:41 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): What a terrible decision by Clayton Thorson. Penn State lucked out there — but it all started with the curious decision for Penn State to go for it on the Northwestern 40. We need to see more out of PSU’s offense on this next drive.
11:50 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): Trace McSorley was throwing into the wind on this last drive — and that was pretty obvious. He had two pretty bad passes. Don’t understand that last play-call, though, by going for it on fourth-and-long when Blake Gillikin has the ability to pin Northwestern inside the 5 and PSU can win the field position. Weirdly aggressive call this early.
15:00 left in 1st Quarter (Josh): And we’re off. Penn State will receive, and it’ll be interesting to see just how much more he can increase his Heisman stock. Everyone keeps talking about how the Wildcats stopped Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey — but this is an entirely different defense. This is not a great defense. And Barkley should run wild if the line plays all right.
PREGAME: 20 MINUTES BEFORE KICKOFF (Josh): James Franklin just said on ESPN’s College GameDay, when asked if Mike Gesicki would play, that “We expect him to play today.” Good news for the Nittany Lions; bad news for Pat Fitzgerald’s crew.
PREGAME: 30 MINUTES BEFORE KICKOFF (Josh): McGonigal is on the field right now, but he tells me that OL Andrew Nelson is not on the travel roster today. Injuries have obviously taken him back a few steps; hopefully, he can get healthy this season.
PREGAME: 60 MINUTES BEFORE KICKOFF (Josh/John): McGonigal previews the game from the stands at Ryan Field:
PREGAME: 60 MINUTES BEFORE KICKOFF (Josh): In case you missed it, Ryan Gery wrote a great story on how Blake Gillikin and his twin, who plays at Northwestern, will meet on the field today in a family affair. One thing he wrote about was the custom jerseys his family ordered that were half PSU, half Northwestern. Here’s the finished product:
PREGAME: 90 MINUTES BEFORE KICKOFF (Josh): Lots of reports coming out of Evanston — Johnny’s there; I’m in State College — that Mike Gesicki is warming up before the game, and it looks as if he’s going to try to play today. That’s good news at this point, but no one’s in pads just yet. So it’s not official. Stay tuned here ... obviously, we don’t have to reiterate just how important Gesicki is to this offense. (20 catches, 167 yards, 4 TDs)
PREGAME: 2 HOURS BEFORE KICKOFF (John): Greetings folks from the press box at Ryan Field. After a quick drive from Milwaukee and brisk stroll through town and the sparse tailgate lots surrounding the stadium, your CDT beat writer is on the scene to check out Penn State take on Northwestern. Coming from a Ryan Field first-timer, this is a pretty cool place to catch a game. Ryan Field is in the heart of a small town, and with the open-ended end zones, it has a high school game feel. Just a different kind of venue. It’ll be filled up soon — but in the meantime check out a few pictures from around the stadium. Stay here throughout the game for updates from Johnny and Josh.
Who: No. 4 Penn State (5-0) at Northwestern (2-2)
Where: Ryan Field
TV/Radio: ABC/WQWK 1450
Previews: Click here