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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern falls 41-13 to No. 6 Penn State despite promising start

It was tied at the half but went downhill from there.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we will always have the first half.

Northwestern (2-3, 1-2 B1G) fell to No. 6 Penn State (5-0, 3-0 B1G) 41-13 on Saturday afternoon. The ‘Cats found themselves tied 10-10 at halftime but were unable to hang with the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions for the full 60 minutes.

Ben Bryant led the NU offense, going 14-for-25 for 122 yards and a rushing touchdown before leaving the game in the third quarter with an upper-body injury. Cam Johnson had six catches for 81 yards, but the Wildcats’ offensive line surrendered six sacks. Nicholas Singleton had 80 rushing yards, as well as 39 receiving yards, and two scores on the day for the Nittany Lions. Drew Allar was 18-of-33 for 189 and a touchdown.

On the opening play of the game, Jack Olsen squibbed the ball down to PSU’s 10-yard line. Singleton scooped it up, but coughed it up after a big hit from Brayden Bus, who also recovered it to set NU up in the red zone. However, the Wildcats’ offense was unable to do anything with the ball, going backwards. Olsen connected on a 33-yard field goal to make it 3-0 Wildcats early.

The Nittany Lions took over after a touchback. On third-and-one, Drew Aller pushed the ball ahead on a QB sneak for a fresh set of downs. On the next set of downs, the Wildcats were able to get of the field after KeAndre Lambert-Smith could not coral the checkdown pass from Aller on third down.

NU’s offense did not do a single thing against the stout Penn State defense. Ben Bryant got walloped on first down to send Northwestern backward three yards. On the ensuing plays, a toss to Cam Porter and a screen to Bryce Kirtz sent the punting unit out for the Wildcats. Through two drives, the ‘Cats had negative two yards.

Starting just before midfield, Penn State looked to its tandem of running backs of Singleton and Kaytron Allen to lead the offense. The duo picked up an easy first down, but the ‘Cats’ defense held and forced at fourth-and-one. A false start penalty pushed the Nittany Lions back five yards, but Aller found Dante Cephas for 15 yards and a new set of downs. PSU worked the ball all the way down to the three, but Allar missed Theo Johnson in the corner of the end zone, forcing the Nittany Lions to settle for three. Alex Felkins booted through the 20-yard attempt to even the game at 3-3.

On the ensuing kickoff, A.J. Henning ran the ball all the way to the 40-yard line but had to come off the field due to an injury. After falling behind to second-and-21, Bryant located Cam Johnson for 18 yards, and Cam Porter got just enough to pick up the first down. At the end of the first quarter, the ‘Cats and Nittany Lions were all knotted up at three.

The ‘Cats stalled at midfield, and Hunter Renner sent the ball back to PSU at its own 11-yard line. The Nittany Lions picked up a first down, but the ball came loose at the end of the play; however, PSU fell on it. On the next set of downs, Carmine Bastone forced Allar to throw the ball away, and Rod Heard II blew up a screen to make it third-and-11. On third down, Allar’s pass fell incomplete, and PSU had to punt it away. Henning fielded the punt and picked up 15 yards on the return, his longest as a Wildcat.

After the return, Bryant found Johnson on an RPO, and Porter spun his way into Nittany Lions' territory and to move the chains. However, another PSU sack pushed NU back 10 yards. On third-and-16, Bryant checked it down to Porter, and No. 4 did the rest. Porter cut and weaved his way through the Penn State defense and got just enough for a first down. An offsides penalty made it first-and-five, and Bryant kept it himself to move the chains. Bryant and Johnson continued to be in sync, as they hooked up again for a 21-yard catch and run all the way to the PSU three-yard line. Bryant, with a push from the backfield, punched the ball in from a yard out and NU took a 10-3 lead with nearly six minutes left in the half.

The Penn State offense, more specifically Allar, could do not anything on the ensuing possession. The PSU QB missed two straight throws, including one that was tipped by Richie Haggarty, to send the punting unit out once again. The ‘Cats offense also could not do anything, going three-and-out and punting it right back to PSU.

In a temp offense, the Nittany Lions started to click. Allar found Lambert-Smith for a 25-yard catch and run, and Singleton took a check down for 13 yards to reach the edge of the red zone. After Penn State picked up another first down, Trey Potts took a handoff and scampered into the end zone from 13 yards out to tie the game at 10-10 with a minute left in the half.

NU went three-and-out and gave the Nittany Lions the ball at midfield with a minute to go; however, the Wildcats defense was ready. Ore Adeyi drove on the football and broke up a first-down pass from Allar, and Anto Saka knocked the ball out of Allar’s hands, but the QB was able to recover it to end the first half. As both teams headed to the locker room, the score remained even.

While the score was tied, the Wildcats struggled to move the ball. NU had 59 yards of total offense in the first half, compared to PSU’s 158 yards. Bryant was sacked four times, while Allar had been brought down just once.

NU got the ball to begin the second half, but could not do anything with it once again, going three-and-out. The Nittany Lions were able to move the ball all the way into the red zone, thanks to a 35-yard catch and run by Lambert-Smith. An Allar scramble and defensive holding made it first-and-goal for PSU, and after three plays falling short of the end zone, Allar lunged across the goal line for the touchdown and gave PSU its first lead of the day at 17-10.

After falling behind the sticks third-and-15, Bryant scrambled out of the pocket but gave himself up just inches short of the marker. The ‘Cats decided to go for it on fourth down, but Bryant’s sneak attempt came up short, giving the ball to PSU at NU’s 31. The Wildcats’ defense held after the sudden change, but the Nittany Lions expanded its lead to 20-10.

The ‘Cats offense was once again overwhelmed by the pass rush, as the Nittany Lions forced another three-and-out. Trying anything to stay on the field, NU attempted a fake punt, but Mangieri was stopped short of the line to gain and set up Penn State inside Northwestern territory once again. PSU drove right down the field, and Allar connected with Singleton to expand the Nittany Lions’ lead to 27-10.

On the next drive, Bryant found Johnson on a slant for a first down, NU’s first fresh set of downs in the second half. The next play, a taunting penalty on Penn State gave the Wildcats a free 15 yards, and a 17-yard reception by Thomas Gordon put NU on the end of the red zone entering the final frame.

On the first two plays of the fourth quarter, Porter and Johnson worked the ball inside the 10-yard line, and Kirtz brought the ball all the way to the Nittany Lions’ three. However, at the one-yard line, Bryant was blown up on a play action, being sacked all the way back at the 10-yard line and needing medical help to get off the field. Olsen connected on a 28-yard attempt to cut the ‘Cats’ deficit to 27-13.

The Nittany Lions had to punt the ball away. and Brendan Sullivan came in to take over for the injured Bryant. Sullivan did not do anything, running for his life on every play. To make matters even worse, Hunter Renner whiffed on a punt, sending it only 22 yards.

Lambert-Smith added another first-down reception, and PSU converted on another third-down to get inside the red zone. A holding penalty pushed Penn State behind the 20, but a catch and run by Tyler Warren made it a third-and-three inside the 10, and Singleton converted PSU’s third straight third down. On the next play, Singleton punched it in to put the game out of reach, 34-13.

In garbage time, Sullivan had a nice 18-yard scramble to pick up a first down, but followed it up immediately by throwing it directly to Daequan Hardy. On the ensuing plays, with all the backups in, Beau Pribula connected on a 30-yard pass to Potts for a walk-in touchdown, and PSU closed out the game with a 41-13 victory.

Northwestern keeps it going at Ryan Field by taking on Howard at home next Saturday on homecoming. Kick is set for 2:30 p.m. CT.