Penn State’s Defense Steps Up In Grimey Win Against Northwestern

It wasn’t pretty, but sometimes, it doesn’t have to be.

Penn State and Northwestern duked it out in the rain on Saturday afternoon, but the Nittany Lions escaped the weekend with a 17-7 win and will head into their bye week undefeated.

The offense did not look its best for Penn State. Sean Clifford was 10-for-20 for 140 passing yards with a touchdown and interception. Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen each had 21 carries for 91 yards, but they combined for three fumbles lost. Although the weather may have been a factor, head coach James Franklin believes these turnovers have no excuses.

“I’m never going to allow the weather to be an excuse,” Franklin said in his postgame press conference. “It doesn’t matter, we have to protect the football.”

Fortunately enough for Franklin, his men on the other side of the ball weren’t fazed at all due to the offensive lack of production, turnovers, or even the rain. Franklin expressed that the defense allowed the offense to thrive today, and was extremely impressed with how the unit adjusted from start to finish.

“Fortunately, for most of the game, our defense was either able to get a turnover or they just played great sudden change defense,” Franklin said. “They played phenomenal. I think we started the game with five straight three-and-outs, which is really, really impressive.”

Defensive captain PJ Mustipher didn’t get worked up over the offensive turnovers and emphasized that the group has two goals when stepping on the field: to stop the other team from scoring and to give the offense back the ball.

“We don’t blame nobody else, we don’t,” Mustipher said. “We’re not looking at nothing else, but the guys next to us and we know we got a job to do on the defensive side of the ball and that’s to get the ball back to our offense. So, if we do that, then we’ll be good.”

Penn State’s defense started the game by forcing three straight three-and-outs and didn’t allow a first down until the second quarter. In fact, as halftime came to a close, Northwestern had only 78 total offensive yards on 31 plays. 65 of those yards came on just three plays.

However, the play that seemed to have sealed Northwestern’s fate came early in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats found themselves on the goal line with a chance to cut the lead from ten to three. Ryan Hilinski completed a 24-yard pass on 3rd and 8 to Malik Washington which put them on the Penn State nine-yard line. The duo then tacked on eight more yards and found itself in a fourth and one right on the goal line.

Unfortunately for Northwestern, Mustipher was lined up and stuffed a quarterback sneak attempt from Hilinski to turn the ball over back to the offense. On that play, Mustipher loved every moment of it.

“I like to take on double teams and getting in those piles,” Mustipher said. “I love doing it. That’s my job. You got 600, 800, and 900 pounds laying on top of you in a rainy Big Ten game. It feels fun. I like it.”

The defense wasn’t just Mustipher either.

Ji’Ayir Brown collected his second interception of the season in the first quarter which turned into a Brenton Strange touchdown. Nick Tarburton recorded the only sack of the game and forced a fumble in the second that turned into a Nick Singleton touchdown. Finally, the defensive backs combined for eight pass breakups, with two key breakups coming from Hakeem Beamon in the fourth quarter. Needless to say, everyone showed up to play on the defensive side of the ball.

“It was complimentary defense,” Mustipher said. “We did a lot of good things. We made the stops when they were supposed to be made. We just had to play sound football because it was a grimy game.”

In total, Penn State’s defense held the Wildcats to 241 total yards and allowed no breathing room for Northwestern to take advantage of. In fact, the only explosive play the Wildcats had today came from a 47-yard touchdown catch from Jacob Gill in the third quarter. All games won’t be perfect, but improving on the last and being better for the next is most important for Brown.

“We got to see what coaches have for us tomorrow,” Brown said. “We need to focus on what we need to get better. Each week you learn something new about your team and you need to correct mistakes and learn new things… I feel like we took a step from last week, but now we get to take another step this week.”

Penn State is now heading into a bye week before a gauntlet of Big Ten matches to end October. Mustipher is relieved to be heading into a bye week but is excited for the matchups to come.

“We got a good schedule coming up, great teams,” Mustipher said. “But you know, this is what you come to Penn State for, this is what you come to the Big Ten for, so we wouldn’t want it no other way, but we’re excited to get in this spot. We continue to focus on improving and then the rest will take care of itself.”

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About the Author

Tobey Prime

Tobey is a senior studying broadcast journalism from Lancaster, PA. He is a major Pittsburgh sports fan and Miami Heat fanatic. When Tobey isn't writing for Onward State, you can catch him looking at photos of his pugs. Send your best insults to [email protected] or sports takes to @tobey_prime on Twitter.

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