Highs & Lows: Northwestern

Nate Bauer, Senior Editor
Blue White Illustrated

PSU remained unbeaten for the season with a 31-7 win against Northwestern Saturday afternoon. Check out the highs and lows from the game, here:

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PLAYER OF THE GAME His performance through much of the first five games called into question, Trace McSorley provided an answer before the bye week. Connecting on 25 of 34 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown, plus a score on the ground, McSorley helped guide the Nittany Lion offense past a Northwestern defense determined to bottle up Saquon Barkley. Patient throughout, McSorley found a groove in the second and third quarters, completing 15-straight passes for a Penn State school record.

PLAY OF THE GAME In the postgame, Saquon Barkley said he felt no frustration through much of the first three quarters of the game at Ryan Field. Barkley’s first half included a touchdown carry but otherwise had been stopped outright. With 2:13left to play in the third, though, Barkley broke off a 53-yard touchdown carry that boosted the Nittany Lions’ lead to 24-0 and effectively put any opportunity for a Northwestern comeback out of reach.

BEST PASS Leading Northwestern 10-0 in the second quarter and facing a third-and-14, Trace McSorley calmly hung in the pocket and delivered a first down strike to Juwan Johnson between three Wildcat defenders.

BEST RUN Wrangled for the entire game, Saquon Barkley finally found a crease late in the third quarter. Taking the handoff from McSorley in the backfield, Barkley shuffled, juked, and jumped his way into the middle of the field, finally using an inadvertent screen from the back judge to rip off a 53-yard touchdown carry. The run gave the Nittany Lions a little more breathing room at 24-0.

BEST CATCH Penn State’s offense had a number of good catches Saturday, but none were as dramatic or as important as Amani Oruwariye’s first quarter interception in which he caught the ball at its highest point and came down with yet another takeaway.

WORST DROP Northwestern tight end Bennett Skowronek had Christian Campbell beat on the Wildcats’ first possession of the day, but quarterback Clayton Thorson just barely overthrew him, Skowronek let the ball slip through his hands, and the Lions paid no price for the slight coverage lapse.

BEST SACK Penn State’s Shaka Toney was a force throughout the game on Saturday, delivering the pressure that led to Amani Oruwariye’s interception in the first quarter, then later forcing a strip-sack fumble recovered by the Nittany Lions later in the same frame. In the second quarter, he’d do the same, bringing down Thorson for an 8-yard loss and his second sack.

BEST HIT On a designed run to Thorson, one that would, in fact, be good for a first down on the Wildcats’ first possession of the afternoon, Penn State’s Marcus Allen and linebacker Manny Bowen unloaded two vicious hits that left Thorson slow to get up.

BEST EFFORT With Northwestern moving down the field in the first quarter, Penn State’s defense buckled down in a first-and-goal situation. After a holding penalty moved the Wildcats back 10 yards, Parker Cothran entered the backfield undisturbed to sack Thorson. On second down, the Wildcats ran for no gain. And on third-and-goal from the 29-yard line, Thorson was picked off by Amani Oruwariye. It’d be the theme of Penn State’s day on defense, as the group finished with three takeaways and shutout the hosts until garbage time in the fourth quarter.

BEST KICK After booting one into the end zone midway through the third quarter to the confused looks of his teammates and coaches, Blake Gillikin bounced back with a towering 48-yard punt to pin the Wildcats to their own 9-yard line early in the fourth. The effort was all the more impressive because it was made straight into a driving wind at Ryan Field.

BEST RETURN Even though a holding call against Ayron Monroe upended the play, DeAndre Thompkins has to claim this category for his 32-yarder in the third quarter. Had Monroe not been flagged, Thompkins was in the clear for his second return for a touchdown on the season.

BEST DECISION In continuing to feed Barkley, even on an afternoon when the Wildcats made life difficult for the star running back, the Nittany Lions found a payoff in his 53-yard touchdown carry. The touch itself was highlight-reel worthy, but also boosted his statistics to the point that should the Heisman Trophy continue to be in his sights, he wouldn’t finish the day with disqualifying numbers.

WORST DECISION With the leg of Blake Gillikin available to pin Northwestern deep early in the game, James Franklin’s choice to go for a fourth-and-8 at the 38-yard line proved vexing. The Wildcats quickly produced a first down and swung field position toward their favor.

MOST TELLING MOMENT Penn State head coach James Franklin was relaxed and happy to banter with reporters after the game Saturday, acknowledging the team’s shortcomings while pounding the drum for the areas that have so far been successful this season. Confident at 6-0, his Nittany Lions enter the bye week with the meat of their schedule on the flip side.

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