Austin Johnson believes he plays every Saturday with the best linebacker in the Big Ten backing him and the rest of Penn State’s defensive line up.
Mike Hull did all he could on Saturday to try to keep Penn State in a 29-6 loss to Northwestern.
The senior made a career-high 16 tackles, including one on a second-and-goal play in the first quarter with Northwestern threatening to take a three-touchdown lead. Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian hit running back Justin Jackson over the middle. Jackson had nothing between him and the goal line but Hull caught him from behind and brought him down to force a third down.
The Wildcats tried a fake field goal two plays later and Hull put a jarring tackle on holder Christian Salem to foil it.
“Mike Hull is an amazing linebacker,” Johnson said. “I don’t think there’s another linebacker in the Big Ten who’s as good as Mike Hull.”
Hull came into the game seventh in the Big Ten in tackling, but will certainly move up the list after his career day. He’s now averaging 10.6 tackles per contest.
“Some days you just feel on and feel like you can make every single play,” said Hull. “I guess today was one of those days. Unfortunately, we didn’t win.”
Hull was flanked by a pair of newcomers at times throughout the game. Von Walker started in place of Nyeem Wartman who was not available for the game and was seen on the sideline with his right arm in a sling. Penn State also was forced to play true freshman Jason Cabinda, who finished second to Hull with eight tackles. Walker made three tackles.
“For young guys, they did really well out there,” Hull said of Cabinda and Walker. “There’s obviously going to be some growing pains, but down the road that’s really good for our team because we’re going to have to have some of those guys.”
Hull, playing middle linebacker for the first season in his Penn State career, said having the young guys out there could have contributed to his busy afternoon.
“It might have been. At the same time, I’m going to keep flying around and making plays. The defensive line keeps guys off of us. It’s everyone working together. Sometimes, you just have those games.”
Coach James Franklin said he expects Wartman will be available for Penn State’s Oct. 11 game at Michigan.
“We missed him a lot,” Hull said of Wartman. “He’s a big part of our defense. He does great in pass coverage and he takes away those seam throws most of the time which you don’t really recognize until he’s not in there.”
Good news for Northwestern’s Harris
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald started his postgame press conference with an update on sophomore cornerback Matthew Harris.
Harris was carted off the field late in the third quarter, giving a thumbs up to the Beaver Stadium crowd after a collision with Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg lowered his shoulder into Harris on a run down the left sideline and their helmets hit. Harris lay motionless on the field, and he was taken off the field on a stretcher.
“All the tests came back clear, which is unbelievable news,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s my understanding he’s on his way back right now to Beaver Stadium and will travel back with us to Chicago, so that’s great news to say the least. And I’m very thankful that he came out of it OK.”
Fitzgerald reached down to Harris when he was still on the field.
“I said, ‘Hey Matthew, Coach is here,’” Fitzgerald said. “He goes, ‘Go win it. Go win it.’ I’m like, ‘Matthew, relax alright.’ So he’s a great young man and we’ll see how things progress, but it’s great news that all the tests came back clear.”
Asked about his fiery disposition on the sideline, Fitzgerald said he wishes he could still play.
He then looked back on his playing days at Northwestern, specifically when he and his teammates went 15-1 in Big Ten play from 1995-96.
The lone loss came to Penn State, as the Nittany Lions beat the Wildcats 34-9 at Beaver Stadium in 1996.
“That’s one you don’t forget,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s one you don’t forget. And I talked to some of the captains about that in the leadership council on Monday. This is a tough place to play. This is a great student section and this is one of those cathedrals of college football.”
Fitzgerald was a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-American linebacker for the Wildcats.
Ficken climbs FG list
Penn State kicker Sam Ficken accounted for the Nittany Lions’ only points with two field goals Saturday.
Ficken now has 40 field goals in his career, moving him into a tie with Massimo Manca for fifth in program history.
Ficken had his first attempt of the day, from 32 yards, blocked in the second quarter. He then connected on a 42-yard field goal with five seconds left in the first half.
His 36-yard field goal early in the third quarter cut Penn State’s deficit to 14-6.
As rough a day as it was for the Penn State offensive line, it also got worse online.
Photos and video from the game show Brian Gaia blocking teammate Andrew Nelson during the fourth quarter.
If this wasn’t bad enough, it came on a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lion 30 in which running back Bill Belton was dropped for a two-yard loss. Northwestern went on to tack on its final touchdown in the romp.
It was reminiscent of a play in which two Florida linemen blocked each other during an upset loss to Georgia Southern last fall. On that play, however, the Gator running back got a first down.