Previewing The Enemy: Northwestern Wildcats
It sure has gone by fast, hasn’t it?
Penn State has already played four games this season and currently boasts a 4-0 record. Most recently, the Nittany Lions defeated Iowa 31-0 in the White Out last week in front of the second-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history.
Now, James Franklin’s team heads to the great state of Illinois for the second time in three weeks for a date with the Northwestern Wildcats. Before the game begins, let’s preview this week’s opponent.
It’s been a tumultuous year for the Northwestern program, as longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald was dismissed in July amid widespread allegations of hazing and racism within the team. Defensive coordinator David Braun assumed interim head coaching duties but still acts as defensive coordinator. Braun himself is still relatively new to Northwestern after arriving in January from North Dakota State.
The Wildcats are 2-2 this season and have posted losses to Rutgers and Duke while defeating UTEP and Minnesota.
Northwestern went 1-11 last season with a 1-8 Big Ten record which slotted it in last place in the conference. Its lone win was a 31-28 victory against Nebraska. Additionally, Penn State defeated the Wildcats 17-7 at Beaver Stadium last season and owns a 15-5 all-time record against Northwestern.
Averaging 24 points per game, Northwestern has gained 495 rushing yards, 959 passing yards, and scored 13 touchdowns this season for an average of five yards per play.
Sixth-year starting quarterback Ben Bryant has thrown for 804 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions good for a 59.56% completion rate so far.
Meanwhile, Bryant’s wide receiver corps consists primarily of Bryce Kirtz, Cam Johnson, Joseph Himon II, and A.J. Henning. Kirtz leads the team with 274 receiving yards along with two touchdowns and an average of 16.12 yards per catch. Johnson is second with 176 receiving yards, while Himon and Henning have 122 and 111 yards, respectively. Henning also has two touchdowns, while Himon has one.
Northwestern’s running game isn’t as spread out. The Wildcats replaced Evan Hull, who left for the NFL last season, with Cam Porter, who has 216 rushing yards and a touchdown. Henning is also utilized in the pass game with 82 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Thomas Gordon is Northwestern’s primary tight end. Thomas isn’t as involved in the passing game as the wideouts, although he has 61 yards and a touchdown.
Caleb Tiernan starts at left tackle, while Josh Priebe is at left guard. Ben Wrather is the starting center, while Dom D’Antonio and Zachary Franks are at right guard and right tackle, respectively.
Opponents have gained over 100 more yards than Northwestern and are averaging 25.75 points against the Wildcats this season.
Linebacker Bryce Gallagher leads the team with 44 tackles, which is 15 more than fellow linebacker Xander Mueller. The duo has combined for two interceptions, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
The secondary has allowed 65 completed passes over 95 attempts, amounting to 750 total yards and 7.65 yards per attempt. The Wildcats have made three interceptions this year.
Garnett Hollis Jr., Theran Johnson, Ore Adeyi, and Nigel Williams make up the primary cornerback depth chart. Meanwhile, Coco Azema, Jaheem Joseph, Rod Heard II, Garner Wallace, Devin Turner, and Greyson Metz are the primary cornerbacks. Turner leads the group with 23 tackles and three pass breakups, and Azema and Heard aren’t far behind with 21 tackles apiece. The latter also has a sack.
Up front, Richie Hagarty, Sean McLaughlin, Jaylen Pate, and Aidan Hubbard are the defensive ends. P.J. Spencer, Carmine Bastone, Najee Story, and R.J. Pearson are the defensive tackles. Hagarty has the most tackles of the unit with 13 tackles and two sacks. Pate and Bastone also trail by slim margins, with 11 and nine tackles, respectively.
Jack Olsen is two-for-two in field goal attempts, while punter Hunter Renner is averaging 38 yards per punt. Meanwhile, Henning handles punt returns while he and Azema take care of kickoffs.
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“We’re in a people business.”
Penn State men’s soccer’s season may be over, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a thrilling, fun-filled ride.
The Nittany Lions will host St. Francis (PA) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 14, at the Bryce Jordan Center.