Post-Game Analysis: Penn State
by Jonathan Hodges
The Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1) lost their first game of the 2012 season to the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0) by a final score of 28-39
as PSU scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter after NU took
a 28-17 lead into the final frame. There's a lot to say about this
game, but we should all start by taking a deep breath.
this is yet another example of Northwestern failing to make good on a
national ranking which they did by giving up a big lead in the second
half, this is certainly not a death knell to the program or the season.
NU is at the very least on par with expectations heading into the
season and will play a winnable game next week that will give the 'Cats
a chance to gain bowl eligibility. Also, Northwestern still controls
its own destiny in the race for a Legends Division crown, with the rest
of the conference looking like a mess, and NU missing OSU, which is
clearly the best team in the conference, the Wildcats will have an
opportunity to make noise in the division race and make it to a higher
profile bowl if they can improve from here.
of improvement, there is certainly room to do so, but things are not as
dour as they looked on Saturday. One must credit the NU defense for
hanging in there and keeping the 'Cats in the game until late: Bill
O'Brien had an excellent game plan to attack NU along the perimeter as
Matt McGloin went to a horizontal passing game to move the football
while PSU moved the ball well on the ground especially after wearing
down the NU defense late. But NU allowed just 17 points heading into
the fourth quarter and did not allow any explosion plays to allow Penn
State to run away and hide like they have in previous meetings.
the primary issue in this game was the performance of the offense,
particularly QB Trevor Siemian, who finished at 21-of-36 (58%
completion rate) with just 135 yards and 1 TD on the day. Many bemoan
the NU coaching staff's choice to go to Siemian at QB over Kain Colter,
who got just 8 touches on the day and did not attempt a pass, as the
ground game was relatively effective but also relatively unused (NU
averaged 4.5 yards per carry, including 5.5 from Venric Mark, though NU
had just 25 rushes and just 13 from Mark). But the fact is that the
coaches made a conscious decision to stick to the passing game against
a talented and stout defensive front that PSU possesses, and NU stayed
aggressive by going to the air even with a lead. The issue truly came
down to the performance of the redshirt sophomore Siemian who just
plain had a bad game; whether it was the pressure, the crowd noise, or
the wind, he was flustered all day and couldn't seem to make the right
decision on where to throw the football. The 'Cats had just one drive
of 10+ plays (PSU had 4 such drives) which completely threw the NU
offense out of its usual rhythm. If NU had been able to hit on just
some of those passes, particularly in the second half, nobody would be
complaining about the game plan today.
the end, this game presents an opportunity for improvement and the
Wildcats could certainly beat anyone on their remaining schedule (the
only team with fewer than 2 losses as of now is Minnesota, where NU
travels next week). NU has shown intra-season improvement in previous
seasons and the offense is certainly capable of coming out of its
shell, particularly against some of the more porous defenses that are
coming up on the schedule. Essentially all of the team's goals remain
on the table (I dont know of anyone who had a 13-0 team heading to a
national championship game as a realistic goal) and NU now has even
more motivation to improve and play to win in its remaining games.
Player of the Game: PSU QB Matt McGloin (35-of-51 for 282 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; 1 TD rushing)
It's hard not to give this one to McGloin as he has put the 'Cats to
bed for the third consecutive season. Over those three games, he has
thrown for 699 yards and 7 TDs while running for another. He was the
reason that PSU was able to convert 5-of-6 fourth downs, including
numerous conversions during their fourth quarter comeback. Credit to
McGloin as he stuck with the game plan and made plays when he needed to
in order for Penn State to pull off the comeback win.
Northwestern Honorable Mentions: RB/KR/PR
Venric Mark (13 carries for 72 yards, 1 TD; 1 punt return for 72 yards
& TD; 2 kick returns for 36 yards), S Ibraheim Campbell (14
tackles, 2 pass break-ups).
What to Work on:
Passing (Siemian): I'm
still a believer in NU's 2 QB system, although Siemian must shore up
his decision making in the pass game in order for NU to be successful.
He had issues throwing into coverage, overthrowing some receivers (some
of whom managed to come down with the ball thanks to the effort of the
WR), and holding onto the ball for too long and/or missing open guys.
It's vital to have a quick decision maker in an offense like NU's with
limited pass protection and a number of targets.
Overall the defense was in position to make plays but at times tackling
left a lot to be desired, particularly against the run game. There were
quite a few yards after contact and that includes NU's inability to
bring down the opposing QB (though NU did somehow win the sack battle
2-1). This must improve, particularly against some of the solid runners
the 'Cats will face the rest of the way.
The first loss is always tough, especially when it comes after reeling
off five straight wins, but NU has shown a great ability to respond to
those losses in the past (think of NU's three recent conference
championship seasons) and it must do so again now. This is still an
overall young team and the opportunity is certainly there for
improvement since we've seen flashes of greatness early on. Now they
must put it together, and there are at least six more chances to do so.
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