We went behind enemy lines with Aaron Yorke of Black Shoe Diaries, SB Nation’s Penn State blog. Thanks to Aaron for answering our questions.
Q. Is Saquon Barkley the best Big Ten running back you've ever seen? Pat Fitzgerald admitted that he's up there during his Monday press conference.
A. Saquon Barkley is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. He's like Ezekiel Elliott, Eddie George, Mike Hart, and the Incredible Hulk combined. However, if Penn State's offensive line doesn't get its act together, there will be more performances like his 56-yard effort against Indiana in which he averaged fewer than 3 yard per carry. The good news is that James Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead have better implemented Barkley into the passing game this year, allowing him more opportunities to carry the ball in space.
Q. Penn State struggled to finish drives in its last road game against Iowa. Do you envision that happening again against Northwestern's defense? Is Northwestern even capable of slowing Penn State's offense down?
Finishing drives has been a problem for Penn State over the past three-plus years. When this team gets close to the goal line, there's less space available to stretch the defense, and the offensive line often isn't strong enough to create holes on its own. Northwestern can slow Penn State down if it forces the Lions to go ten yards at a time, but that's been easier said than done for most opponents this season. Sooner or later, the big play is going to bite the Wildcats.
Q. Fitz also mentioned Penn State's kicking game has improved. Is this actually true?
No, it's not. Tyler Davis was almost perfect last year, connecting on 22 of 24 field goal attempts. However, 2017 has been a different story, as Davis has gone 5-for-11 so far. Blocked kicks have been an issue, but it's inexcusable for him to miss all three of his tries between 30 and 39 yards like he's done. It will be interesting to see if something changes before Davis costs Penn State a close game.
Q. Northwestern forced Wisconsin into three first half turnovers on Saturday. How do you think Penn State would react if similar misfortune befell them this week?
Penn State is built to come from behind with the way it can score quickly from anywhere on the field. We saw that last year when the Lions overcame multiple second-half deficits. Penn State's reaction would probably depend on how many points Northwestern can score off of those turnovers. If the Wildcats have to settle for field goals, I don't see the Lions panicking very much. However, if Penn State falls behind by multiple touchdowns early on, I can see Trace McSorley being asked to throw the ball a little more.
Q. How do you see the game going, with Northwestern as a 14-point underdog?
A. Penn State used special teams and turnovers to jump all over Indiana last week. If Northwestern can protect the ball and contain Barkley in the kickoff return game, it's hard to imagine the Lions running away and hiding again. On the other hand, not much is being said about a Penn State defense that has performed very well so far in conference play. I have Penn State winning 24-13.