State College, Pa.—No. 11 Penn State (4-0) outlasted Northwestern 17-7 (1-4) in the sloppy weather on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 105,524 at Happy Valley.
Before the contest even started, it was inferred that it would be a defensive battle due to the inclement weather throughout the entire game.
The rain pounded the field during warmups which helped the Lions’ defense set the tone in the victory with five three-and-outs on Northwestern’s first five possessions, a feat which has not occurred against a Big Ten opponent since 2011. The defense recovered two fumbles, snatched an interception and forced three fourth quarter turnover-on-downs, including a fourth-and goal stand at the 1-yard line with 11:51 left to go in the game. PSU was successful in stuffing the run, limiting the Wildcats to 31 yards on 28 carries.
The Nittany Lions has forced 11 turnovers in the last three games, the most in any three-game stretch since forcing 13 in 1996 (five vs. Northwestern, five vs. Michigan, three vs. Michigan State). Penn State scored 14 points off three Northwestern turnovers to overcome five of its own giveaways.
Penn State coughed up the ball twice on its first three drives. Xander Mueller recovered a Nicholas Singleton fumble and Bryce Gallagher intercepted Clifford, but Penn State’s defense kept the Wildcats from taking advantage.
“We were frustrated with those turnovers, and there’s never an excuse, we still need to get better with protecting the football, but luckily the defense came and saved us,” offensive lineman Olu Fashanu said.
Two of the turnovers, a Ji’Ayir Brown interception and a Nick Tarburton strip sack, happened in subsequent drives after the offense turned the ball over in its own field position.
PSU didn’t allow the Wildcats to get a first down until the second quarter.
“I actually enjoy [playing in the rain] because it reminds me of playing in the neighborhood and it’s raining, you’re playing with your friends and it’s hard to throw the ball,” Robinson said. “It was fun to me. It was fun for everybody on the defense.”
Both teams struggled early, combining for six turnovers in the first half.
The Wildcats scored its only touchdown of the game the drive before on a 47-yard strike delivered by quarterback Ryan Hilinski to cut Penn State’s lead to 17-7. The Wildcats was stuffed on 4th and 1 at the goal line, the Nittany Lions’ lead would have been cut to three points.
Hilinski went 15-of-37 for 210 passing yards and a touchdown to pace the Wildcats. Jacob Gill caught the 47-yard touchdown.
PJ Mustipher had a team-high eight tackles, with four solo, including the one on Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski on fourth down for the goal-line stand. Ji’Ayir Brown got a pick and a team-high five solo tackles, including one for loss.
“The whole thing that I bring us back to is having your brother’s back, then running out there, strapping the hell up and going to war for your brothers,” defensive end Nick Tarburton said. “That’s something that we preach every day, playing with relentless effort.”
Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 21 rushes, while Kaytron Allen had 86 yards on 21 attempts. Quarterback Sean Clifford was 10-of-20 for 140 passing yards and a touchdown. Wide out Parker Washington recorded team highs of four catches and 73 receiving yards.
Penn State held Northwestern to an abysmal 4-for-15 on third-down conversions and 1-for-4 on fourth-down conversions, including a crucial goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.
“We don’t try to look at it as a sudden change. We look at it as another opportunity to get out there and play defense,” safety Ji’Ayir Brown said. “I’ve never met a great defender who didn’t want to play defense.”
Penn State’s defensive end hit Hilinski early in the second the second quarter for another fumble. Linebacker Curtis Jacobs recovered to keep the score 14-0 at the break.
The Nittany Lions held the Wildcats to just 31 rushing yards. Northwestern running back Evan Hull, who entered leading the country in yards from scrimmage, finished with 96 yards.
Kicker Jake Pinegar added to Penn State’s lead with a 38-yard field goal with 14:29 left to go in the game.
Northwestern: Hosts Wisconsin on Oct. 8.
Penn State: Visits No. 4 Michigan on Oct. 15.