It only took one Saturday for Northwestern's season to take on a totally different outlook. Here's a break-down of the stats from NU's big win over Penn State:
Check down Trevor didn't make an appearance in Happy Valley Saturday. Siemian exploded in the first quarter for 150 yards on 11-15 passing. In the first 15 minutes, he threw for 10 yards per attempt, a huge boost from the 5.6 ypa he had coming into the game. Siemian was a tad erratic, often missing high, but he still finished with almost 7 ypa and an adjusted QBR of 66.7, which is more than double his previous season high. His progression improved, and he finally threw some intermediate and deep passes. Siemian's strides in the right direction are a good sign for the 'Cats as they move on in Big Ten play.
The offense looked great at times, but in the middle of the game, it went 36 minutes without a score. And that spell was only broken thanks to a Christian Hackenberg fumble that set NU up at the PSU 15. Northwestern's scoring drives were 31, 60, 8 and 28 yards respectively. When the defense wasn't putting points on the board themselves, they were putting the offense in amazing field position. Siemian and co. didn't have to work much for those 29 points. They threw the game into cruise control once they got up 14-0, and that's why it was one possession game entering the 4th quarter. It really seemed like Northwestern was still playing not to lose, rather than to win.
Penn State could only muster 50 yards rushing against Northwestern's stout defense front. The Nittany Lions averaged just 0.5 yards per carry in the first half and bumped it up to 2.0 by game's end. The stats are slightly skewed by Christian Hackenberg's 11 "carries", but Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak simply had no where to run. Northwestern's defense owned the line of scrimmage and plugged all the holes to stop PSU's ground game.
It's 10 again but on the defensive side of the ball. 10 different Wildcats were credited with at least half a tackle for loss. Everyone on the defense was blowing up plays in the backfield. The Penn State o-line was definitely poor, but NU's defensive front was above and beyond the best unit in this game. Anthony Walker was amazing filling in for Collin Ellis, making Northwestern probably six-deep at linebacker. Even Xavier Washington got a sack and forced fumble. The front seven is easily Northwestern's most talented and deepest group.
Jack Mitchell made just 2 of 4 extra points against Penn State. Obviously, expectations are not high for the sophomore walk-on, but that's not going to cut it in conference play. The 'Cats are going to play in much closer games than this one, and Pat Fitzgerald knows it's an issue. You don't just run a fake field goal from the 3-yard line, when you are up 14, out of nowhere. Mitchell doesn't have range or accuracy, so until Hunter Niswander is healthy, the offense needs to finish off drives.