Penn State will head to the Chicago area Saturday for a noon ET, 11 a.m. local kickoff airing on the Big Ten Network.
This will be the first time Penn State has played Northwestern without Pat Fitzgerald on the sidelines in some sort of coaching capacity since before the 2001 season. Fitzgerald was in his first season as the DB coach for the ‘Cats that year. He was fired by the program following a hazing scandal this past summer.
At the helm, on an interim basis, is former North Dakota State defensive coordinator David Braun. He was hired by Northwestern in January of this year for the same position. Braun was a two-time national champion in his role at NDSU.
Braun’s current defense isn’t of the caliber of a national championship team, which was evident last week as Minnesota running back Darius Taylor went for 198 yards on 31 carries (6.4 YPC).
That’s where Penn State starts its game Saturday: On the ground.
Leading up to this week, explosive plays, more the lack thereof, have been a hot topic. Penn State’s offense slugged it out offense against Iowa with six drives of 10 plays or more. No play could be deemed explosive in that contest, for the offense at least.
Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen will have their chance to make an explosive gain on the ground Saturday against this inferior defensive squad. Penn State’s longest rush of the season is only 21 yards, achieved by backup QB Beau Pribula.
Singleton and Allen have each been a shoestring tackle away from a big run several times this season—which led me to go super aggressive in our friendly weekly Lasching Out wager with NSN’s Jarrod Prugar. I bet Jarrod that the longest run of a game would be over 68 yards earlier this season, but we won’t go there.
But this weekend could be the time for the big, long runs we grew accustomed to seeing out of this dynamic running back duo last season.
Also necessary this weekend will be to explore the vertical passing game. The passing game has been without explosive plays this season as well, aside from a 72-yard catch and run from KeAndre Lambert-Smith in the opener against West Virginia.
It won’t need the aforementioned explosive plays to win, but it’d be encouraging from Penn State’s end to see some offensive splash.
The offense has shown they can win games in three ways so far this season. Penn State’s won with an air-dominant offense, a run-dominant offense, and a possession, control-the-clock type offense.
Each way is critical and will be useful later in the season. But winning a game with explosive plays is a way to win too, and that could be crucial in three weeks’ time for their trip to Columbus.
We’ll see what Franklin’s squad has in store for us this weekend.
Frankly, Penn State should win with its eyes closed.
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Weather forecast: Temperature (°F): H:75/L:62, sunny, 7% chance of rain, SSE winds @ 8 MPH. (weather.com)
Spead and over/under: PSU: -27.5, O/U: 46.5
Prediction: Penn State 45, Northwestern 7