Fumble recovery and punting keys in PSU win
EVANSTON, Ill. — Following are the highlights and lowlights from Penn State’s 31-7 victory over Northwestern on Saturday at Ryan Field:
Play of the game: Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney, a redshirt freshman, drilled Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson in the first quarter, forcing a fumble at midfield that Ryan Bucholz recovered.
Offensive player of the game: Going out of the box here. Punter Blake Gillikin was the Nittany Lions’ most consistent offensive player, averaging 43.0 yards on five punts, including three inside the 20 as Penn State kept the Wildcats in a field-position hole all day.
“I practice it a lot during the week,” Gillikin said. “Obviously our offense is really good, so we’re going to have those kind of punts a lot. Just being able to drop the nose and kind of put it where I want to, and then our coverage guys are unbelievable getting to the goal line.”
Gillikin said he aims to land the ball around the 7 or 8 yard line “so it kind of makes their returner make a decision. If he wants to fair catch at the 7-yard line, it’s OK with me.”
Defensive player of the game: Both of Toney’s tackles were sacks, including the aforementioned forced fumble.
Most telling statistic: Northwestern was whistled for eight penalties for 74 yards and had two players ejected for targeting.
Most deceiving statistic: Penn State managed a rushing average of just 2.5 yards on 38 attempts.
Hidden statistic: Of Northwestern’s 13 possessions, nine were for four plays or less.
Best run: After being bottled up much of the game, Saquon Barkley danced outside and burst 53 yards for a touchdown to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead to 24-0 with 2:14 in the third quarter.
Best pass: On third-and-14, Trace McSorley gunned a 14-yarder over the middle to DaeSean Hamilton on third down to midfield, sustaining a second-quarter drive.
Worst pass: Thorson had Bennett Skowronek open deep in the first quarter but threw behind him.
Best catch: Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye made a leaping interception, his third of the season, to kill an early Northwestern drive.
Catch it, will ya: Barkley dropped a catchable pass in the end zone on a fourth- quarter wheel route attempt, and Hamilton missed a late pass from Tommy Stevens.
Hold it, won’t ya: Penn State was not charged with a fumble (although McSorley dropped a snap).
Best tackle: On fourth-and-2 from the PSU 34 midway through the second quarter, Lion defensive end Shane Simmons, another redshirt freshman, strung out the option and dumped Thorson for a 5-yard loss, forcing a change of possession and keeping the Nit lead at 10-0.
Best block(s): Not a great day for the offense, which didn’t run well and allowed four sacks. So let’s go with Givens, who knocked down a pair of passes.
Worst block: Nit right tackle Chaz Wright whiffed on Joe Gaziano, who nearly decapitated McSorley in the third quarter.
Best hit: Marcus Allen laid the wood to Thorson, who picked up 6 yards and a first down in the first quarter but paid the price for it.
Best kick: Gillikin had a 42-yarder check up with backspin at the Northwestern 5 midway through the third quarter.
Worst kick: The funk continues for Lion placekicker Tyler Davis, who pushed a late 35-yard field goal to the right.
Best call: On third-and-goal from the 1, handing it to Barkley, who jumped over the pile for a touchdown that put the Lions up 17-0.
Worst call: Thought James Franklin/Joe Moorhead lost some patience by going for an early fourth-and-8 from the NW 39 instead of punting. McSorley was tackled short of a first down, forcing a change of possession.
Worst penalty: Midway through the third quarter, Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher broke through and decked McSorley with a high, late hit. Fisher was called for targeting and ejected, summing up the Wildcats’ frustration.
Best effort: Mike Gesicki was clearly still smarting from a rib injury, but he gutted it out and caught two passes for 9 yards.
Unsung hero: Though he only quarterbacked two series, Stevens was busy. He completed 4-of-7 for 41 yards, rushed three times for 17 and caught two passes, including an 8-yard TD.