Last season, the elephant in the room was the slew of early-game interceptions. That has been (mostly) corrected. Yes, leeway is a must given the fact that he’s working under new coaches and in a new offensive scheme. The accuracy is now the focal point; there have already been more than enough missed throws for an entire season through four games – Hackenberg must become more consistent and accurate and it must start tomorrow. It cannot be stressed enough how crucial it would be for the signal-caller to have two full weeks to sleep on confidence before going to Ann Arbor.
If all goes according to plan, this should be the game with which the talking heads will begin Hackenberg’s highlight clip in 2015. “If you look back at last season’s Northwestern game, you can see Christian really come into his own and take that first step toward commanding an entire game…(flip to next clip)…then a month later against Ohio State, you see even more poise as he exposes the Buckeyes’ secondary….”
While on the topic of defensive backfields, look for John Donovan to abuse that of Northwestern, which is allowing opponents to pass for an average of 260 years per game – a statistic which takes into account the 292 yards that Western Illinois, an FCS squad, accumulated last week. Ouch.
Last Saturday’s victory showed – despite the quality of the opponent – that the running game can be successful when the combination of the right personnel, the right play-calling, and the commitment to it is present. The move to more laterals/swing-shovel passes (and, begrudgingly, some “wildcat” formations) that allow the tailbacks to start the play outside of the pocket has proven wise. The offensive line is simply not ready to block consistently for a 60-minute obligation to between-the-tackles rushing.
Pat Fitzgerald has done quite a nice job at Northwestern, but this 2014 outfit is not as solid as other teams have been during his tenure and doesn’t do anything particularly well. But this is a conference opponent nonetheless.
The Wildcats lost to Northern Illinois, but that was not as bad of a loss as some consider it to be and a seven-point home setback to Cal in Week 1 is nothing to be ashamed of. But the sum of tomorrow’s equation is that Penn State is more talented at every position and, playing at home in front of what is expected to be a sellout at Beaver Stadium (actual derrieres in the seats as opposed to strictly tickets sold), should comfortably win this game by two touchdowns.