Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Northwestern

Our staff has Penn State taking this one tomorrow afternoon and cruising to its first 5-0 start since 2008. Here are our staff predictions, Northwestern style:

Mike Reisman (season record 3-1): Penn State 28, Northwestern 10

If you had told me that Penn State would be 4-0 at this point in the beginning of the year, this probably would have felt like a huge trap game. Northwestern is a normally good school that, despite having little recent success against the Nittany Lions, always puts up a strong fight. But Northwestern has basically begged to be overlooked this year, under-performing in every single one of their games so far, even their wins. While it isn’t entirely their fault, as injuries have plagued them all year, that really isn’t totally relevant, and the end product is just bad.

Northwestern is 1-2 through three home games, so coming to a rocking Beaver Stadium on Homecoming won’t do them any favors. I expect to see Hackenberg return to normal form, having no problem picking apart a defense that gave up 292 yards to FCS Western Illinois at home. I would have maybe given the Wildcats an extra touchdown, but teams just don’t seem to like scoring against the Nittany Lions. It should be a happy Homecoming.

Ben Berkman (season record 3-1): Penn State 35, Northwestern 13

Other than 3-1 Rutgers, Penn State’s first three opponents have woefully underperformed thus far. Northwestern is another step in the same direction.

With home losses to California and an irrelevant directional Illinois school, the Wildcats enter Big Ten play at 1-2. A very mediocre team statistically, Northwestern will run an up-tempo no-huddle offense that, although may not stump Penn State’s stout defense, will at least provide a cardiovascular challenge.

Penn State set season highs in rushing yards and points scored last week against UMass. With the Wildcat’s weak defense allowing 140 rushing yards a game, the Nittany Lions will have a chance to eclipse both of those marks again.

The only trap for Penn State may be giveaways: Northwestern is outscoring its opponents 24-0 on points off turnovers.

Still, it won’t be an issue. Geno Lewis and Daesean Hamilton will run circles around the Wildcats’ secondary, and Anthony Zettel and Mike Hull will consistently find themselves in the backfield. 5-0 into the bye week, then Onward to Michigan. 

Doug Leeson (season record: 2-0): Penn State 37, Northwestern 16

Statistically, the Wildcats aren’t better than the Nittany Lions in almost any aspect of the game. If Christian Hackenberg has the ball in his hands as much as he did the first three games, he should torch Northwestern’s secondary. If James Franklin continues to ride our three-headed rushing attack, Northwestern’s front seven are going to have a long day. I’m not saying the Wildcats have a bad defense, I just think that Penn State’s offense is finally coming together in time for the Big Ten schedule.

On the other side of the ball, Northwestern has a much better squad than UMass (but who doesn’t?) Quarterback Trevor Siemian is going to have a rough day when all of Beaver Stadium gives the Wildcats’ offense absolute hell during the huddle. Also after giving up about nine feet rushing last week, look for Zettel, Hull, and Co. to continue that dominance.

Northwestern isn’t going to come close to spoiling our Homecoming. Let’s go State!

Noel Purcell (season record: 3-0): Penn State 49, Northwestern 6

Put it in the books. It’s absolutely happening this time.

David Abruzzese (season record: 4-0): Penn State 31, Northwestern 17

The cake games are over. It’s time for the gauntlet.

Penn State is a better team than Northwestern all across the board, but Northwestern is not a team to overlook. The running game got its act together last weekend against UMass, but needs to show signs of consistency against the Wildcats.

Christian Hackenberg did not have a good showing against UMass, but he has had the entire week to tune his game and make adjustments so what happened last Saturday doesn’t happen again. I will be interested in seeing how often James Franklin runs the ball against the Northwestern front seven vs. testing its secondary with Hackenberg. Hopefully Hackenberg gets it together and absolutely torches the Wildcat secondary, while DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis put on a show. Northwestern gives up a lot of yards, so expect Penn State’s totals to pile up.

The only reason Northwestern stays in this game is if Penn State’s offense stalls, because Mike Hull and Co. will be firing on all cylinders. Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian will be lucky if he has two seconds to throw. The Northwestern rushing attack will have nowhere to run, as Anthony Zettel could have a field day.

All in all, this is a game that should be dominated by the Nittany Lions. That only happens if Christian Hackenberg can rebound from last week and set off some offensive fireworks.

CJ Doon (season record: 2-0): Penn State 24, Northwestern 10

Historically, even when Northwestern was the better team, Penn State won. The comeback in 2012, with Penn State overcoming an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to stun No. 24 Northwestern, comes to mind.

And even when Northwestern outplayed a more talented Nittany Lions squad, Penn State won. The 36-yard touchdown pass from Michael Robinson to Derrick Williams in the final minute in 2005 comes to mind.

This time, Penn State is the better team, sitting at 4-0 while Northwestern wallows at the bottom of the Big Ten at 1-2, its only win coming against FCS foe Western Illinois. And, oh by the way, the Leathernecks outgained the Wildcats 376-283 in that game.

So, sorry Northwestern. I guess what I’m saying is that no matter what you do on Saturday, Penn State is going to win. Happy Homecoming!

Tim Gilbert (season record: 3-1): Penn State 20, Northwestern 10

Unlike much of our staff, I’m not close to sold on Penn State’s running game because it did well against UMass. An offensive line doesn’t go from what it had done against three underwhelming opponents to what it did against UMass in one week.

That said, Northwestern sucks, too! Even if we run the ball down its throat, I probably still wouldn’t be sold. For now, I’m just enjoying the build-up to the last game for some time in which Penn State will be a double-digit favorite. Happy Homecoming, everybody.

Alex Robinson (season record: 0-0): Penn State 34, Northwestern 7

Let’s be real, Northwestern isn’t going to win this game. Hackenberg is too good, and the Wildcats are just not.

I think this game will be a continuation of the UMass game, meaning the offensive line will continue to grow as a cohesive unit. Expect Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch to have 100+ yard games on the ground — and expect Zach Zwinak to continue to not play hardly at all.

Defensively, there aren’t enough weapons around Siemian to make the Wildcats relevant, and I have a gut feeling that someone in the secondary (probably Jordan Lucas) will have a defensive touchdown this week. Go State!

Stephane Hardinger: Penn State 26, Northwestern 13.

It was nice to see the running game get going against UMASS on Saturday, but I’m not sure the same success will carry over to the Northwestern game. Instead, I see this following a similar script to the Rutgers game: stifling defense, inconsistent offense, but enough to get the job done. I see the offense taking advantage of consistent good field position courtesy of the defense and giving the defense a lead it won’t relinquish.

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About the Author

Alex Robinson

Alex Robinson was Onward State's Acting Managing Editor/Resident Old Man. He lived in Harrisburg almost his whole life, but he says he's from California -- where he was born -- because that's more fun. He loves cats and Chinese food, but only separately. He met both Ben Affleck and Kanye West within a half hour, so the three of them are basically best friends. If you want to hear his #scorching #hot #takes, you can follow him at @ARobinsonPSU or email him at [email protected].

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