Soggy Slogfest: Penn State Outlasts Northwestern, 17-7
The remnants of Hurricane Ian arrived just in time to make Penn State's B1G home opener a quagmire. Fans tried to gauge when the storm would arrive. It didn't help. A steady driving rain with accompanying winds greeted Northwestern and those fans crazy enough to show up to Beaver Stadium. The results were just as ugly as the weather.
In a comedy of errors by both teams in the slop, the ball was on the ground a lot. Penn State fumbled four times: Singleton 2, Allen 1, Lee, 1. The Wildcats lost a pair. Each team threw one critical interception.
The Nittany Lions were ultra-conservative offensively due to the weather. There were rumors about Sean Clifford' health all week. He played the entire game. Every snap. And for the most part struggled: 10 of 20 for just 140 yards. 43 of those yards coming on one key third-quarter pass to Parker Washington after NW had closed the lead to 14-7.
At that point, this game seemed eerily-familiar to last year's Illinois game here. PSU was a 26-point favorite that day too. And even though the Lions had superior talent and jumped out to a double-digit lead, you had the feeling the Illini were not out of it. Nine overtimes later, our homecoming crowd left in disbelief. Arguably the worst loss of the Franklin era. And with as many key turnovers as there were yesterday, it seemed like deja vu all over again. Luckily, Northwestern could not and did not capitalize. A critical 4th-down stop on the PSU one prevented any kind of Wildcat comeback. NW could have kicked the FG and cut the margin to 17-10 with plenty of time left. But Pat Fitzgerald opted to go for six. It backfired. As it did when he went for it on 4th-and-two midway through the fourth quarter on their side of the field. A second-straight tipped ball got PSU the ball back.
All three PSU running backs averaged four yards or better in wet conditions. Kaytron Allen led the way with 88 yards. He was MIA the first half. Franklin would not elaborate as to why in his post-game presser. It was disciplinary. Some rule violation. Nick Singleton had the game’ longest run for the Lions (19 yards) and his TD burst down close was critical. But the two fumbles had his head coach firing his stylish Nike cap into the soggy turf. He sat for much of the second half. In the Paterno era, if a back had two early fumbles, you would not see him for a while. Like a month. Or more. Then Keyvone Lee reappeared and ran hard and well on ten total carries. He also coughed it up subbing for Allen for a play. And he was on the bench hoodie over head. Some fans will blame the fumbles on the weather. Both teams played in it. And it rains more in Happy Valley than it does in Seattle. Not like PSU players aren't used to the wet.
PSU moves to 5-0 heading into their bye. Up next: undefeated Michigan at the Big House on the 15th. The Wolverines pummeled Iowa on the road to remain unbeaten. They must play next week (Indiana). Hopefully this is a plus for the resting Nittany Lions. Hopefully the Hoosiers put up a punishing effort. Doubtful. They got crushed by lowly Nebraska. Their second straight thumping.
We've seen this 5-0 act before with James Franklin. Go back to last year. 5-0 turned into .500, with a loss in the Outback Bowl. The road wins at Purdue and Auburn were inspiring. Both difficult venues to play in. But then the last two weeks here. Struggling to put away an undermanned MAC team in Central Michigan. And Saturday narrowly surviving a Northwestern unit that had lost three straight home games to the likes of Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami (Ohio).
How good is this PSU team? We will find out after the break. Michigan is humming and a top three team. The White Out vs Minnesota afterwards lost a little luster when the Gophers were clubbed at home by Purdue. Ohio State could be the best team in the nation. They are simply annihilating foes. And they have lowly MSU and Iowa before they come to Happy Valley for what looks to be a noon kickoff on Fox Sports.
October just started. The bye week is desperately needed. Where do see PSU being when Halloween rolls around after the Buckeyes leave here?