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Previewing The Enemy: Northwestern Wildcats

Penn State heads to Evanston, Illinois for a meeting with Northwestern for the first time since losing a heartbreaker in 2015. The Nittany Lions have momentum, and a -14 betting line shows the same confidence in the gambling world. Read on as we provide a breakdown of the Northwestern Wildcats.

The Team

The Wildcats sit at 2-2 with one conference loss suffered last weekend on the road against Wisconsin despite giving the Badgers a scare in Camp Randall. Pat Fitzgerald has talent — leading some to believe this could be a trap game for the Nittany Lions.

The spectacle at Ryan Field will feature a guest in former Wildcats standout and current Denver Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, who’ll join as an honorary captain. It’s a shame he can’t suit back up in the college ranks.

Also worth noting, if fans are hungry upon their arrival to Ryan Field on Saturday morning, the Wildcats have you covered.

Offense

The team’s chances offensively hinge on star running back Justin Jackson’s health. The senior, who’s compiled 273 yards and four touchdowns in the final year of what’s been a remarkable career, is questionable with a leg injury — one Pat Fitzgerald hasn’t shed much light on; if he can’t go, there’s not too much experience behind him. Freshman Jeremy Larkin would likely get the nod if Jackson isn’t available. Larkin has 102 yards and a score on the ground this season, followed by John Moten IV, who only has 23 yards on 13 carries. The Wildcats need a consistent answer on the ground, and Jackson is that guy. The pressure falls on the shoulders of quarterback Clayton Thorson if he’s out of the lineup.

Siemian’s successor, Thorson, faces a Nittany Lion defense that held Indiana to 175 yards passing. The junior averages around 278 yards per game, and if Jackson can’t play, Fitzgerald will be forced to move the ball through the air. Turnover machine Marcus Allen should have an impact in this game if that’s the case. Thorson isn’t nearly as mobile as his predecessor, meaning the production will have to come inside the pocket — assuming Northwestern’s front line can ward off an aggressive Penn State front four that figures to spend plenty of time in Thorson’s backfield.

Tight end Garrett Dickerson is Northwestern’s leading receiver with 18 catches for 214 yards and a touchdown after switching from the fullback position. He’ll be leaned on heavily this Saturday, especially considering Jackson ranks No. 4 on the team in catches with 13 from the running back position. Behind Dickerson is big red zone threat Ben Skowronek, who’s totaled 17 catches for 256 yards and two scores so far in 2017. He’ll likely be guarded by the taller Christian Campbell in one on one situations.

Here he is going vertical a few weeks ago:

Defense

Nortwestern’s defense is littered with NFL talent, and one of its brightest stars will be a force for Penn State to deal with up front in defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster. Named a “game-wrecker” by James Franklin, Lancaster will definitely be disruptive on Saturday. So far he’s compiled 15 total tackles, two TFL, and a sack. Don’t be surprised to see Penn State try and bounce Saquon Barkley to the outside to avoid Lancaster’s presence.

Top tacklers in LB Paddy Fisher and safety Godwin Igwebuike — who rank No. 1 and No. 2 on the Wildcats, respectively, are also on NFL radars, and fans can expect to hear their names called early and often. Look for Igwebuike to make his presence felt in the passing game, where he has one interception on the year already.

This is a talented unit, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’ll be up to Penn State’s playmakers to get the job done.

About the Author

David Abruzzese

David is a senior from Rochester, NY, nestled right in beautiful Western New York. He is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, and as an avid sports fan, he passionately supports the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres. He is the first Penn Stater from his family, and couldn’t be prouder to represent Penn State University. In his free time, he likes to alpine ski, and play golf. You can follow him on Twitter @abruz11, and can contact him via email at [email protected]

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