Three Things to Watch…
Who wins the battle at the line? One of the most intriguing battles Saturday will be at the line of scrimmage, Penn State’s pass rush vs. Northwesterns’ offensive line. Tackle Peter Skoronski is a potential first round draft pick, and for all the struggles Northwestern’s offense has had, they’ve kept quarterback Ryan Hilinski upright, surrendering just five sacks in four games. Hilinski is averaging 305 yards-per-game, third best in the Big Ten. But Penn State is the toughest defense the Wildcats have faced by a long stretch. The Nittany Lions have 12 sacks, tied for most in the Big Ten, and have frustrated offenses with quarterback pressures, and a college football best 41 pass breakups.
Does the 100-yard rusher steak continue? The last time Penn State running backs strung together three-straight 100-yard rushing games, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton did it in 2014. (Yes, Saquon Barkley was one yard-shy of four-straight in 2016.) Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen have done just that over the past three weeks. The freshman duo has been dynamic, and Singleton’s 9.0 yards-per-carry is the most in college football of players averaging more than 10-carries. One of these backs has a great opportunity to keep the run alive against a Northwestern run defense that ranks next to last in the Big Ten is every run category.
The Wildcats have one wild card, running back Evan Hull. Running back Evan Hull is one of the most productive players in the Big Ten. Hull is seventh in the conference in rushing with 370 yards, sixth in receiving with 311 yards. Hull was a 1,000 yard runner in 2021, and is certainly Northwestern’s top weapon, but he is the offense. The offense is him. Slow Hull and Northwestern hasn’t proven it can be productive.