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Penn State Football Struggles During First Quarter In Northwestern Win

Nick Singleton stood in the end zone, ready to receive a kickoff from Northwestern and open Penn State football’s fifth game of the season.

Singleton watched as the ball flew into his hands. He watched as the Northwestern special teams unit raced toward him from across the field. And he watched as the ball flew out of his arms and underneath the Wildcats’ Braden Turner, who went down on Penn State’s 11-yard line.

Singleton’s fumble was an omen for how the rest of the first half would play out for the Nittany Lions before they went on to thump Northwestern 41-13. While the Wildcats started their first offensive drive of the game just steps away from Penn State’s end zone, they ended up scoring just three points as Singleton’s teammates bailed him out.

“If we’re in that type of situation, and we’re already backed up to the 10-yard line, there was nothing else we could take,” said safety Jaylen Reed after the game. “They couldn’t score, so we got to win a four-point play.”

While the effort of Reed and his teammates may have been a success to start the game given the position they were put in, the rest of the first quarter didn’t serve as much of an improvement on the other side of the ball. In true Big Ten football fashion, neither team’s offense was able to produce much.

Penn State and Northwestern combined for two field goals and five punts on the first seven drives of the game. While Penn State was favored to win the game by more than 20 points, attitudes among fans quickly turned frustrated and nervous when the Wildcats scored the game’s first touchdown in the second quarter.

“Obviously, starting with a fumble on the kickoff return, that’s not how you want to start the game,” Franklin said. “But not only that, we put the ball on the ground three times and it just messed with our offense’s flow.”

Franklin wasn’t willing to say much about his team’s offensive inability to start the game, but it’s become a common theme, especially over the last two games. Against then-No. 24 Iowa a week ago, Penn State started its first drive of the game at the six-yard line after an impressive punt from the Hawkeyes and gained just one yard before punting the ball away.

The Nittany Lions have become used to cleaning up their own messes, though. When the offense stutters, the defense is prepared to step up and keep the game close. When the offense does finally step up, as it did with a 17-point third quarter against Northwestern, Penn State has been able to bury opponents.

“It’s something that we preach on,” Reed said. “Coach Manny [Diaz] does a great job every day at practice about, when the offense is not doing so well as we want it, we always have to have their back, and coach Franklin always does a great job of preaching that.”

The defense has done more for the offense than just help out with keeping numbers low on the scoreboard,wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith said after the game. The unit has also been able to keep the offense motivated and focused during the slow starts.

“They’re always on our side,” Lambert-Smith said. “If we got the field too early, everybody on the defense comes up, ‘We got y’all! We got y’all!’ Even that gives us a boost when we go back on the field.”

While Reed said that the defense isn’t operating under the assumption that it will have to bail out a struggling offense every game, results on the field are trending in that direction. The first quarter has been Penn State’s lowest-scoring quarter this season, with the Nittany Lions putting up a combined 33 points in the first 15 minutes of their five games this season. In comparison, they’ve scored 52 points in the second quarter, 64 points in the third quarter, and 52 points in the fourth quarter.

Despite that, Franklin said he’s fine with how his team is playing right now. There are things that Franklin will want to tweak during the bye week — low rushing numbers and inconsistencies in the passing game stand out — but as long as his defense is playing solid football, Franklin seems perfectly content.

“You’re gonna have to win throughout a season in a lot of different ways. We were able to do that the first five weeks of the season,” Franklin said. “And there’s going to be some games that we’re going to have to score some more points. There’s no doubt about it. But again, I think we’re playing really good complementary football right now.”

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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