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What Nate Williams is Watching: NU vs Penn State

Here's what to watch in NU-PSU tomorrow, from former Northwestern linebacker Nate Williams.

Can Siemian regain the confidence in his OL and Receiving Corps to pull off the upset in Happy Valley?
Can Siemian regain the confidence in his OL and Receiving Corps to pull off the upset in Happy Valley?
Jonathan Daniel

Northwestern takes on Penn State in Happy Valley on Saturday in one of college football's prized environments. Is it loud? Not until the 3rd or 4th quarter. Is it "daunting"? No, not really. It's an impressive erector set of a stadium, but to think it makes a huge impact on the game would be wrong. With an early start, that place will not be rocking until after half time, but maybe their 4-0 record and Big Ten play starting will bring the students to the game a bit earlier than usual.

Overall, Northwestern just needs to gain confidence. I think they can do that by coming out of the gates swinging and getting on the scoreboard first. That would energize this team. If we can see a confident Trevor, a new found consistency with Tony Jones back, a few new wrinkles on 3rd down from both sides of the ball and stop any PSU running attack, we MAY be able to pull this one off ... In the meantime, this is what I'll be watching for tomorrow:

Trevor Siemian

After watching the past three games of Northwestern football, we have seen a couple of glaring issues with the offense, the biggest being the offensive line. It feels like Trevor has started to lose some confidence in the OL based on what I saw out of him in the last game. Trevor hasn't shown us much, if any, consistency in being able to feel out ensuing pressure. We've seen him hold onto the ball too long at times, and get rid of the ball too early at times and not read through his progressions. What showed his lack of confidence in protection the most was throwing the checkdown route as the first and primary target 3 or 4 times on third down below the sticks, against an FCS opponent. He never gave his first and second reads a look. He knows better than that, which tells me he likely thinks he may get pressure in his face quickly and is taking the easy way out. If he can improve on this and show some confidence in his OL (not saying he should have any, because this OL is abysmal) or at least a better feeling for his time in the pocket, he can likely get this team back on track.

I think a lot can be attributed to his injury from a purely mental standpoint. So how is his ankle? If it affects him that much, should we see some of the backups get a shot? There is never exactly a "good time" to bring in QB2 and with B1G starting now there certainly never will be. However, if Trevor can't pull it together the hand might be forced.

Wide Receivers

This is going to be a critical group for the success of the offense against PSU. NU won't be able to run the ball against PSU — it may take the coaches about 10-15 power run plays to realize this, but eventually they will. This group is in need of consistency. Tony Jones could be the guy to bring that back. I don't think he'll be some catalyst for the offense's woes, but he could certainly help Siemian's confidence. Maybe those checkdowns don't hurt as bad with Jones blazing across the middle. With Jones added back into the equation, we may be able to spread the ball around a little more and force Penn State to not favor any side schematically. We're going to need these guys to catch the ball this week.

Front Seven on 1st and 2nd Down

The DL has not looked good in this category even while playing an FCS team. Hopefully playing against a rather weak PSU OL will help, but they HAVE to put this Penn State in 3rd and long situations. How good this defense front seven plays on 1st and 2nd down will determine a lot of what pressure if any we can put on Hackenberg, who hasn't looked very good this year with pressure in his face. If we are able to stop the run on 1st and 2nd down and not allow PSU to any set up game that gives Hackenberg the ability to throw the play action bomb, we could see a very tight game.

Offensive Scheme

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." -  This is something I've heard more than a number of times from NU coaches directed at players, but they do not seem to want to take the same medicine. We simply need to see a change up on offense. It's difficult for players to buy in when it's painfully obvious that we can't decide what kind of offense we want to be. There is no other way around it. We can't expect to have three-to-four different offensive schemes, plain and simple. Similar to having more than one QB ... When you have two, you have none (except for the 2012 Wildcats, apparently). I hope, at the very least, we see some new wrinkles out of our offense in their "jumbo" 22 & 23 personnel packages (two RBs and two TEs, and two RBs and three TEs, respectively). We're going to have to show some cards, there seems to be too much pressure building up over there for them not to use anything and everything at their disposal.

Next Man Up

With one veteran being out and another probable, can the guys behind them step up and play? I think yes. I believe Godwin Igwebuike can fill in great if need be for Campbell. There may be a step down in communication and adjustments with his youth, but I'm excited to see him get some more playing time. What about Anthony Walker? I've heard good things about him. I honestly do not watch the defense when I watch a live game. I watch pre-snap defense, then the opposing team's offenses (it's been ingrained in my head after 17 years of playing MLB). So I can not say I've noticed his play, or give a fair assessment of it. We may end up seeing some more blitz packages called for the young linebacker so that his responsibilities aren't as vast and it allows him to make his mistakes going fast, which is what you want.

So what do we see Saturday? I hope a win. We're going to need to win the turnover battle, field position, and time of possession to have a chance in Happy Valley. All of which we're capable of doing if the puzzle is finally put together. If we cant put it together this week, next Saturday is going to be one ugly, ugly day. This is more or less our last hope to salvage a season. After tomorrow we could be going into a long, long season. If a 5-win (one conference win) season didn't shake things up, a 2-3 win season certainly will.