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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Penn State

The Wildcats will have to pull out all the stops to steal a Homecoming win against the Nittany Lions.

Penn State v Northwestern Photo by JonathanDaniel/Getty Images

After a hard-fought loss against Wisconsin, Northwestern will have to defend Ryan Field against a top-5 squad coming off a dominating victory over Indiana. Penn State is strong in all phases and has the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, so it goes without saying that the Wildcats will need a little something extra if they want to turn around their struggles against fellow Power 5 teams to this point.

Why Northwestern Will Win

The defense is on a roll.

Yes, Penn State’s offense has great weapons, but their offensive line has struggled recently, with Saquon Barkley averaging less than 3 yards per carry against Penn State. When you consider Trace McSorley’s gunslinging mentality, which plays right into the hands of ballhawking safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro, the Wildcats will have the chance to create big plays defensively. As long as they also figure out a way to slow down the run, Northwestern’s defense could have a solid afternoon.

They will establish the run.

Justin Jackson said in this week’s press conference that he was feeling better already after apparently being banged up in the Bowling Green game. With Penn State having a good, but not dominant front 7, The Ball Carrier will be back in form to create a killer one-two punch with emerging freshman star Jeremy Larkin.

Rain, the great equalizer.

The forecast is calling for rain this weekend. While neither team has played in rain yet this year, a wet, low-scoring matchup favors the home underdogs. Iowa followed this gameplay to a T (albeit without the rain) and came one or two breaks from taking down the mighty Nittany Lions.

(Editor’s note: recent forecasts say it probably won’t start raining until after the game is over)

Why Penn State Will Win

McSorley will control the game with his legs as well as his arm.

Though Northwestern’s defense has shown clear recent improvement, its one consistent weakness is mobile quarterbacks. Daniel Jones torched them earlier in the year, and McSorley is posed to do the same. Add in wideouts with serious big-play ability like Daesean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson and the likely return of security blanket tight end Mike Gesicki, and it’s going to be tough sledding for Northwestern’s banged-up secondary before even worrying about McSorley’s legs.

Their pass defense will dominate the Wildcats.

Penn State’s scoring defense is tops in the Big Ten, allowing just 9.4 points per game. The bulk of Penn State’s ability lies within the secondary. The veteran group has amassed 7 interceptions and 20 pass breakups in 5 games, and they are poised to feast on a struggling Clayton Thorson and his largely inexperienced wideout corps.

Saquon will get his.

If you haven’t heard about Barkley yet, all you need to know is that he is the Heisman frontrunner. The junior wunderkind can do it all; even when he was largely bottled up in the running game against Indiana, he managed to bring the opening kickoff to the house while throwing (!) for a touchdown later in the game. Northwestern can’t stop him, they can only hope to contain him —and they probably won’t do a very good job of that either. Hey, at least he’ll be fun to watch.