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Analyzing Post-Northwestern Reactions For Penn State Football

Penn State football is five games into the regular season and still undefeated.

After a not-so-exciting first half, the Nittany Lions once again put on a clinic in the second half to beat Northwestern 41-13. Despite the win and the team once again covering the spread, fans weren’t so happy with all the aspects of Penn State’s play, so our football writers broke down the hottest takes from Saturday’s game.

Penn State’s First Half Against Northwestern Was Its Worst First Half Yet

Joe Lister: Yup. Watching Penn State in the first half was far from pretty and was stressful at best. While the Northwestern student journalists in the press box were laughing and having a great time at halftime with the score at 10-10, the Penn State writers who had come to know a better football team than this were shocked and confused. Yes, the Nittany Lions turned things around, but the first half should be entirely unacceptable for a team with hopes of lifting that shiny trophy at the end of a national championship game.

CJ Doebler: Yeah, it was pretty bad. The offense combined for only 158 yards of offense during the first half, 91 of which came through the air and 67 on the ground. We’re used to slow starts from the offense, but it normally gets it together pretty quickly. This game was different, and even the defense struggled. The first half field goal from Northwestern was a success on the defensive side of the ball after the drive started at the Penn State 11-yard line, but the touchdown was concerning. Even though Penn State returned to form in the second half, it can’t afford to come out that sleepy against Ohio State and Michigan.

Nolan Wick: Penn State trailed twice in this timeframe, which marks the only two times it has done so this season. It was the team’s worst first half from that standpoint alone, but let’s dive into the reasons a little more. 

Out of Penn State’s five drives of the half, only one lasted longer than three minutes. That’s not great for a team that was averaging 36 minutes of possession per game before the contest. The Nittany Lions struggled to move the ball, as three drives ended in punts. The longest drive, which lasted 5:11, culminated in only a field goal. All of this, as well as Nick Singleton’s fumble for the team’s first turnover of the year on the opening kickoff, is why it ended up being the worst first half of the season so far. 

Despite The Win, The Game Felt A Bit Like A Loss

Joe Lister: In a weird way, yes and no. Immediately after the game, I felt a lot of frustration with the way that the offense looked. As time passed, I was happy with the way the second half lookaed. And now I’m somewhere in between. What I would say as of this moment is that this game feels like a learning moment if nothing else. There’s another notch in the win column; Penn State covered, but it can still improve.

CJ Doebler: I was worried that the pollsters would see it that way, but they ultimately didn’t. Being tied with Northwestern at the half isn’t good, but the ability to come out of the locker room and outscore an opponent by four touchdowns in one half is still impressive.

Even though the Nittany Lions didn’t drop in the rankings, there’s an asterisk attached to this win. The Northwestern-bye-UMass schedule no longer looks like the warmups for Ohio State that Penn State thought it would be. UMass is now the only chance James Franklin has to address some real issues in-game.

Nolan Wick: No, the game doesn’t feel like a loss. Instead, that first half will be a preview of what’s to come if Penn State doesn’t figure out how to start faster, and the Nittany Lions hopefully learned a valuable lesson from it.

The offense displayed resiliency while the defense continued playing lights-out football, and everything eventually got figured out. Penn State now has the experience of digging itself out of a hole and winning by a big margin, which is important moving forward.

Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich Is Unqualified For His Job

Joe Lister: A few of our more loyal readers may be saying, “Hey, didn’t you write about that last week?” Yes, yes, we did. But the question persists among Penn State fans and the Northwestern game was another look at an often sluggish offense, so we’re doing this again.

Yes, there are better offensive coordinators in the country. There’s a reason why USC is staying near the top of the polls despite having an atrocious defense. But at the same time, Penn State isn’t struggling through Iowa’s experience with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. Mike Yurcich isn’t quite a fish out of water, but he’s definitely swimming a little too close to land. Penn State can’t keep looking like it’s never touched a football for 30 minutes each week, and it’s Yurcich’s job to get them going.

CJ Doebler: I’m a Steelers fan. I have to deal with Matt Canada week in and week out. I have no sympathy for anyone complaining about an offense that can not only score, but also win. This offense, however, does have some issues. Another Northwestern-type game can’t happen. The lack of explosive plays is becoming more and more concerning as the weeks go by, and that ultimately falls on Mike Yurcich. Last week, I was shocked that this was even being talked about. This week, I’m less shocked, but I’m still advocating for everyone to stay calm.

Nolan Wick: Yes, the slow starts are problematic. However, we touched on how efficient this offense is last week. This is a problem that can be fixed, but it would be nice to see more explosive plays. Franklin has touched on this recently, and he has said he wants to see more explosive plays. So would I, as I think that’ll need to happen in order to win games against Ohio State and Michigan.

Penn State Is Unstoppable In The Second Half

Joe Lister: It sure looks like that. Against Iowa and Northwestern in the past two weeks, the Nittany Lions were an unstoppable force. That matters even more against Iowa, which has built up a reputation as one of the nation’s best defenses over the years. This doesn’t excuse the play demonstrated in the first half, but it’s at least calming to know that if Penn State isn’t exactly stellar in the first half, it can pull things together in the second.

CJ Doebler: Penn State was gifted with good starting field position a few times during the second half after the Wildcats went for it on fourth down just to try to get something going. Because of that, the second-half yardage doesn’t look too much better than the first, but the Nittany Lions rallied regardless. Thirty of the 128 passing yards came on one throw from Beau Pribula to Trey Potts, leaving Allar with 98 yards and a touchdown through the air during the second half.

Without Kaytron Allen, the running backs tallied 67 yards, the same as in the first half. Even though the yardage doesn’t tell the tale, the offense outscored Northwestern 31-3 in the second half. Penn State put together two great halves of football during the last two weeks, they just haven’t been in the same game.

Nolan Wick: Penn State wears opponents down enough that it is able to open the game up in the second half, and all the evidence so far points to that continuing. The total yardage isn’t much different, but the team is scoring more points in the second half than in the first. It’s a good sign that Penn State continues to put up more points in the timeframe, compared to how slow things have been in the first half. Hopefully, this level of dominance begins sooner in the game.

Drew Allar Isn’t The Quarterback That Penn State Needs Him To Be

Joe Lister: We’re going there today, folks. Drew Allar isn’t quite what we all thought he’d be after West Virginia, but nobody should be anywhere close to pushing the panic button yet. Beau Pribula is a good backup option, but he’s nowhere near what Penn State would need him to be, and he certainly isn’t providing what Allar is, either. Allar’s floor right now seems to be somewhere around where Sean Clifford finished: a mix of really stunning plays and brain farts that will eventually drive you insane. But if Allar’s floor is an NFL Draft selection, his ceiling can be something special.

CJ Doebler: Right now, no. Allar has had a few disappointing showings since Illinois. Allar ended his second road start with 189 yards on 18 completions with a 55% completion rate while adding both a rushing and passing touchdown to his stat line. Franklin acknowledged that the completion rate was something that needed to be improved during his post-game press conference. What isn’t shown on the stat sheet, though, is some of the wide-open receivers he missed and some throws that were plainly uncatchable. I liked the two shots that Allar took near the end of the game, and even though neither of them were completed, they were both well-thrown balls. Allar needs to start connecting with his targets farther downfield, and he’ll have to put together a near-perfect game if he wants to be the guy who finally gets Penn State past Ohio State.

Nolan Wick: Drew Allar has thrown 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns with a 64.6% completion rate and no interceptions. For a young, first-year starter, that isn’t bad. However, he has missed some wide-open receivers, but they also haven’t helped him by dropping several passes. I think Joe’s assertion is fairly reasonable, but I think Allar isn’t as mistake-prone as Clifford ever was. He’s got a very high ceiling that needs time to be reached, and I still think he’ll get there. It just might take more time than many thought after West Virginia.

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