Staff Predictions: No. 4 Penn State vs. Northwestern
The Nittany Lions are heading back on the road this weekend for a matchup at Ryan Field with Northwestern. The Wildcats have bested Penn State both times during James Franklin’s tenure as head coach, but his squad is off to its best start since 2008.
For the sixth consecutive week, our sports staff is very confident Penn State will prevail.
Steve Connelly (5-0): Penn State 42, Northwestern 24
Penn State’s going to get off to that slow 11 a.m. start, it’s will be a tight battle going into halftime, then the Nittany Lions should to turn it on. The atmosphere, or lack thereof, at Ryan Field won’t be a problem that comes with other road games around the Big Ten. The defense will probably come up with a couple big turnovers that make the scoreline look a lot worse than the stat lines will, as has been the case the past couple of weeks.Saquon Barkley might hurdle something. Overall, Penn State heads into the bye week undefeated, bowl eligible, and ready for its White Out clash with Michigan in two weeks.
Elissa Hill (5-0): Penn State 28, Northwestern 21
Much like Penn State’s last showing against Northwestern, this weekend’s game is going to be just a little too close for comfort. I don’t think the Nittany Lions will push to overtime, but it’ll be a late-game score that gives them the edge at Ryan Field this weekend. Even so, Blake Gillikin should come home with some bragging rights over his twin brother Tyler as Penn State lives to see another week undefeated. Oh, and Saquon Barkley will probably do some Saquon Barkley things. But I guess that’s a given.
Anthony Colucci (5-0): Penn State 24, Northwestern 16
With the forecast not looking great for Saturday (windy with a high chance of rain), I don’t see either team establishing anything impressive on offense, other than each team’s feature back carrying the bulks of the respective workloads. As always, Penn State will struggle early on the road, or at least keep the game too close for comfort, but another impressive defensive performance will send the Nittany Lions into the bye week 6-0.
Mikey Mandarino (4-1): Penn State 35, Northwestern 31
I doubted Penn State before a tough road game against Iowa, so this time, I’ll show some belief in Penn State (and spare myself the wrath of your comments), but this won’t be a pushover in any way. Much like Iowa, the atmosphere in Evanston will be electric, and Wildcat standout Justin Jackson is one of the better tailbacks in college football. However, Penn State has shown that they can win in any circumstance, and I expect them to find a way to escape with a 6-0 record.
David Abruzzese (3-0): Penn State 28, Northwestern 7
The Nittany Lions keep on rolling, and it’ll look even better in white. Northwestern gave Wisconsin a miniature scare (until the end of the game), but the Wildcats shouldn’t be an issue for Saquon Barkley and co. His production has been historic, and he could continue his ascension up Penn State’s career rushing list with another stellar performance.
Penn State’s defense will be the determining factor, and I foresee a much improved performance than last weekend’s surprising defensive total. Justin Jackson will need to be held in check, but this team hasn’t sustained many major injuries (pending Mike Gesicki’s health on offense), particularly on the defensive side of the ball. That unit’s looked stout all season, and a rebound effort against the Wildcats will prove that point.
It’s going to be a fun weekend, and hopefully there’s plenty of white in the stands.
Ethan Kasales (5-0): Penn State 41, Northwestern 20
I think Penn State’s field goal unit will figure things out against the Wildcats, while the defense should do enough make it a far more comfortable fourth quarter than the last time the Nittany Lions were in Evanston.
Matt Fox (3-0): Penn State 21, Northwestern 10
Playing in Evanston is never a straight forward affair for the Nittany Lions. The last time they visited Ryan Field, Northwestern was able to frustrate Penn State and capitalize on its mistakes en route to pulling off the victory. While I don’t expect a repeat of the game from two years ago this time, it will be a difficult affair, much like Iowa was, for the Nittany Lions. Weather might keep the scoring down and limit the passing game, but luckily Penn State has the best running back in the country. Saquon Barkley will outplay Justin Jackson and lead the Nittany Lions to a victory as ugly as the weather.
Nathaniel Pinskey (3-0): Penn State 31, Northwestern 24
Penn State will be traveling to Evanston to kick off at 11 a.m. and weather is supposed to be rainy and ugly. It’s going to come down to the run game for both teams. Do not be surprised if Northwestern and Justin Jackson hang around with the Nittany Lions for the first half, but look for Saquon and the offensive line to get the running game going in the second half. This may be a tough game to watch like Iowa, but look for Penn State to pull this one out and head into the bye week remaining undefeated.
Champe Fisher (2-0): Penn State 31, Northwestern 10
Saquon Barkley hopes to continue his Heisman campaign against a Wildcats defense that has been inconsistent in the first four games of the season. Northwestern is currently the 72nd-ranked defense in the nation and expect Trace McSorley to take more shots down the field as Penn State tries to reignite the vertical passing attack that excelled in the latter half of last season. This is Penn State’s last game before its bye week and ensuing back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State. Penn State will dominate the first half and coast to another conference win as it prepares for the most daunting stretch of the season.
Shane Coolen (1-0): Penn State 38, Northwestern 13
Northwestern kept last week’s matchup against No. 9 Wisconsin fairly close. It was able to force three turnovers on defense but not able to capitalize, gaining only three points off of the turnovers in the first half. If Northwestern wants to compete with Penn State, it needs to establish a reliable running game with senior tailback Justin Jackson, especially with rain in the forecast. I see both the Wildcat and Nittany Lion offenses getting off to slow starts with possible inclement weather preventing sustainable vertical attacks. However, in the second half, Penn State’s stingy defense will impose its physicality on Northwestern’s offense while Saquon Barkley gets back to effectively rushing the football.
Austin Smith (0-0): Penn State 35, Northwestern 14
The Nittany Lions struggled mightily on the road against Iowa a few weeks ago, but don’t expect the same to happen in this one. Justin Jackson is the only major threat to Penn State after the departure of big-play receiver Austin Carr to the NFL. Even if Mike Gesicki is unable to play, there are plenty of capable playmakers on offense to keep Penn State ahead. After what might have been Saquon Barkley’s quietest game on the offensive side of the ball last week, expect him to break off a few more big runs to add to his Heisman resumé.