Phil's Key Matchups: Northwestern

Philip Grosz, Publisher
Blue White Illustrated

WHEN PENN STATE HAS THE BALL

PENN STATE RUNNING GAME vs. NORTHWESTERN RUN DEFENSE

PENN STATE RUNNING GAME 179 YPG, 5.3 YPC NORTHWESTERN RUN DEFENSE 145.0 YPG, 3.8YPC

THE LOWDOWN Penn State goes into its game with Northwestern on Saturday coming off its worst rushing performance of the 2017 season. The Nittany Lions rushed for just 39 yards on 37 carries (1.1 YPC) with Saquon Barkley rushing for just 56 yards on 20 carries (2.8 YPC). Penn State now ranks seventh in the Big Ten in rushing offense averaging 179 YPG despite its impressive 5.3 average. Barkley ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing with 574 yards on 86 carries (6.7 YPC) averaging 114.8 YPG. Trace McSorley is the Nittany Lions’ second-leading rusher with 179 yards on 56 carries (3.2 YPC) with three rushing TDs. Barkley leads Penn State with four rushing TDs. Miles Sanders has rushed for 63 yards on six carries (10.5 YPC) with one rushing TD. Andre Robinson has 55 yards on eight carries (6.9 YPC), and backup QB Tommy Stevens has rushed for 18 yards on six carries (3.0 YPC).

Northwestern enters it game with Penn State with the 11th ranked rush defense in the Big Ten allowing 145 YPG and 3.8 YPC. The Wildcats have given up six rushing TDs. The Wildcats’ leading tackler is RS Fr. MLB Paddy Fisher (6-3, 235). Fisher has totaled 37 tackles and 0.5 TFL for one yard. Sr. WOLB Brett Walsh (6-1, 215) is next with 27 tackles. Sr. SS Kyle Quiero (6-3, 205) has 24 tackles and leads the team with 4.5 TFL for 15 yards. Jr. SOLB Nate Hall has 22 tackles and 2.0 TFL for three yards. Through four games Northwestern has totaled 26 TFL for 75 yards. Next to Quiero, Sr. DT Tyler Lancaster (6-3, 310) has 3.0 TFL for six yards and Fr. DE/DT Samdup Miller (6-3, 260) has surprised with 2.5 TFL for 11 yards.

KEY MATCHUPS Penn State’s OG Steven Gonzalez and Brendan Mahon vs. Northwestern RS Fr. MLB Paddy Fisher and Penn State C Connor McGovern vs. Northwestern Sr. DT Tyler Lancaster. Fisher has been a major surprise at MLB as a redshirt freshman. He sets the tone for the Wildcats’ defense against the run. Mahon and Gonzalez must get to the second level to contain Fisher.

EDGE: PENN STATE

PENN STATE PASSING GAME vs. NORTHWESTERN PASS DEFENSE

PENN STATE PASSING GAME 292.2 YPG, 13.0 YPC NORTHWESTERN PASS DEFENSE 239.3 YPG,11.5 YPC

THE LOWDOWN The Nittany Lions enter Saturday’s game against the Wildcats with the No. 2 ranked pass offense in the Big Ten averaging 292.2 YPG and 13.0 YPC. Trace McSorley is the No. 1 ranked passer in the Big Ten having completed 105 of 160 passes (65.6 percent) for 1,352 yards with 12 TD passes and four interceptions averaging 270.4 YPG. His pass efficiency rating of 156.4 ranks third in the conference. Saquon Barkley is the Nittany Lions’ leading receiver with 27 catches for 386 yards (14.3 YPC) with two TD receptions. Penn State’s all-time reception leader, DaeSean Hamilton, is tied with Mike Gesicki with 20 catches for 331 yards (16.5 YPC) with four TD catches. Gesicki, whose status for the Northwestern game, has 20 catches for 167 yards (8.4 YPC) and four TD catches. Juwan Johnson is next with 18 catches for 260 yards (14.4 YPC) with one TD reception. DeAndre Thompkins has ten catches for 133 yards (13.3 YPC). Saeed Blacknall has five catches for 88 yards (17.6 YPC), and backup QB Tommy Stevens has four catches for 27 yards (6.8 YPC). As a team Penn State had 14 TD passes with Barkley throwing a 16-yard TD pass to Hamilton in last Saturday’s game with Indiana. Eleven different players have receptions in Penn State’s first five games.

The Wildcats’ pass defense ranks tenth in the Big Ten allowing 239.3 YPG and 11.5 YPG. That’s an improvement over last season where the Wildcats’ pass defense ranked 109th in the country allowing 265.2 YPG. The leader of the Northwestern secondary is Sr. FS Godwin Igwebuike (6-0, 205). Igwebuike is second on the team in tackles (29) and has an interception he retuned six yards. Northwestern, as a team, has four interceptions. In addition to Igwebuike Jr. CB Montre Hartage (6-0, 205), Fr. FS J.R. Pace (6-1, 185) and Sr. SS Kyle Quiero (6-3, 205) have one interception a piece. Part of the reason why the Wildcats rank tenth in the Big Ten in pass defense is their inability to get to the QB. Northwestern has totaled six sacks for 29 yards in its first four games. So. DE Joe Gaziano(6-4, 265) leads Northwestern with 2.0 sacks for nine yards and is tied for second with 3.0 TFL for 12 yards.

KEY MATCHUPS Penn State WRs DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson vs. Northwestern CBs Jr. Montre Hartage and Sr. CB Keith Watkins (5-11, 187). Penn State RB Saquon Barkley vs. Northwestern WOLB Brett Walsh, and Penn State RT Chasz Wright vs. Northwestern DE Joe Gaziano. It will be interesting to see if Walsh can cover Barkley coming out of the backfield in man-to-man coverage.

EDGE: PENN STATE

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Steve Manuel

WHEN NORTHWESTERN HAS THE BALL

NORTHWESTERN RUNNING GAME vs. PENN STATE RUN DEFENSE

NORTHWESTERN RUNNING GAME 126.5 YPG, 3.4 YPC PENN STATE RUN DEFENSE 127.4 YPG, 3.2 YPC

THE LOWDOWN The Wildcats’ rush offense has struggled in its first four games this season. It ranks 13th in the Big Ten averaging just 126.5 YPG and 3.4 YPC. Sr. Justin Jackson (5-11, 195) leads the Wildcats’ rushing attack with 273 yards on 64 carries (4.3 YPC) with four rushing TDs. The past three seasons Jackson has rushed for over 1,000 yards. RS Fr. Jeremy Larkin (5-10, 185) is the Wildcats’ second leading rusher with 102 yards on 23 carries (4.4 YPC) with one rushing TD. So. John Moten IV (6-0, 202) is next with 23 yards on 13 carries (1.8 YPC). Northwestern likes to run Jr. WR Jelani Roberts (5-8, 170) on the jet sweep. Roberts has rushed for 54 yards on five carries (10.8 YPC). Jr. QB Clayton Thorson (6-4, 220) has rushed for minus-38 yards on 32 carries (negative 1.2 YPC), but has two rushing TDs.

Penn State’s rush defense ranks sixth in the Big Ten allowing 127.4 YPG and 3.2 YPC. Jason Cabinda is Penn State’s leading tackler with 35 tackles and 3.0 TFL for 16 yards coming off his 14-tackle performance against Indiana. Marcus Allen is the Nittany Lions’ second leading tackler with 29 total tackles and 4.0 TFL for 12 yards. Manny Bowen is Penn State’s third leading tackler with 25 tackles and 2.0 TFL for seven yards. Troy Apke is next with 19 tackles, and Brandon Smith is the Nittany Lions’ fifth leading tackler with 18 total tackles and 2.0 TFL for three yards. Penn State is second in the country with 44 TFL for 159 yards with Shareef Miller leading the team with 6.0 TFL for 28 yards and a safety. An amazing 26 players on Penn State’s defense have at least 0.5 TFL.

KEY MATCHUP Northwestern Fr. RT Rashawn Slater (6-5, 289) vs. Penn State LDE Shareef Miller. Northwestern OGs RS Jr. Blake Hance (6-5, 202) and RS Jr. Tommy Doles (6-6, 295) vs. Penn State MLB Jason Cabinda. It will truly be interesting to see if true freshman RT Slater can control Miller who is having a breakout season.

EDGE: PENN STATE

NORTHWESTERN PASSING GAME vs. PENN STATE PASS DEFENSE

NORTHWESTERN PASSING 278.8 YPG, 11.7 YPC PENN STATE PASS DEFENSE 161.8 YPG, 9.6 YPC

THE LOWDOWN After throwing for 3,182 yards with 22 TDs and just nine interceptions in 2016 Jr. QB Clayton Thorson has been superb in the Wildcats’ first four games this season. He’s completed 91 of 142 passes (64.1 percent) for 1,061 yards and seven TD passes with five interceptions. Northwestern’s pass offense ranks third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Penn State averaging 278.8 YPG and 11.7 YPC. Thorson ranks second in the Big Ten behind McSorley averaging 265.3 YPG and his pass efficiency rating of 136.1 is eighth in the Big Ten. Sr. superback Garrett Dickerson (6-3, 240) is the Wildcats’ leading receiver with 18 catches for 214 yards (11.9 YPC) with one TD catch. So. WR Ben Skowronek (6-4, 210) is next with 17 catches for 256 yards (15.1 YPC) with two TD receptions. Jr. WR Flynn Nagel (5-11, 181) has 15 receptions for 149 yards (9.9 YPC) and Sr. RB Justin Jackson (5-11, 195) is next with 13 catches for 103 yards (7.9 YPC). Sr. WR Macan Wilson(6-0, 186) is the Wildcats’ home run threat with six catches for 98 yards (16.3 YPC), but his status forSaturday’s game is doubtful. Fr. WR James Jace (6-0, 194) could replace Wilson.

Penn State’s pass defense enters Saturday’s game ranked third in the Big Ten allowing 161.8 YPG and 9.6 YPC. The Nittany Lions also lead the Big Ten in interceptions with seven and are third in the Big Ten in sacks with 13 sacks for 81 yards. Grant Haley and Amani Oruwariye lead Penn State with two interceptions. Troy Apke, Marcus Allen and Fr. CB Tariq Castro-Fields each have one interception a piece. Shareef Miller leads Penn State with 2.0 sacks for 15 yards with 14 different players on defense with at least 0.5 sacks.

KEY MATCHUPS Northwestern SR Sr. Garrett Dickerson vs. Penn State FS Marcus Allen and Northwestern Fr. RT Rashawn Slater vs. Penn State LDE Shareef Miller. Northwestern loves to throw the football to Dickerson on third down and Thorson is his go-to receiver. Can Fr. RT Slater control Miller who is having a breakout season?

EDGE: PENN STATE

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OTHER MATCHUPS

SPECIAL TEAMS

THE LOWDOWN On paper Penn State appears to have a big advantage here. DeAndre Thompkins averages 18.7 yards per punt return. Jr. WR Flynn Nagle averages just 0.7 YPR on three punts. Saquon Barkley averages 32.2 yards per kickoff return with a 98-yard TD. So. John Moten IV averages 16.8 YPR. Penn State is first in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage with a net average of 43.1 yards. Northwestern is sixth with a net average of 42.1 yards.

The two areas where Penn State and Northwestern are equal are punting and field goals. Tyler Davis has converted on five of 11 field goal attempts with a long of 42 yards. Fr. PK Charlie Kuhbander (5-10, 190) has converted on two of three field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards. Penn State and Northwestern have two excellent punters:Blake Gillikin averages 44.4 yards per punt, and Sr. Hunter Niswander (6-5, 240) averages 45.7 yards per punt. Saquon Barkley leads the country averaging 243.6 all-purpose yards per game.

EDGE: PENN STATE

THIS ‘N’ THAT

THE LOWDOWN Penn State leads the series with Northwestern 13-5, but playing at 11 a.m. Eastern time in Evanston, Ill. has not been easy. When Penn State played last at 11 a.m. in Evanston in 2015 the Nittany Lions lost 23-21.

EDGE: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ PENN STATE

COACHING STAFF

THE LOWDOWN In his 12 years at Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald has posted a 79-64 record and has a 3-5 bowl record – better than any other Northwestern coach. James Franklin is in his fourth year at Penn State with a 30-15 record coming off of an 11-3 season with a Rose Bowl game against Southern California.

EDGE: PENN STATE

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