No. 11 Penn State outlasts Northwestern 17-7 in sloppy game
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As rain pounded the field during warmups, Penn State’s PJ Mustipher found himself in his natural element.
Frolicking shirtless, the 320-pound defensive tackle high-stepped and skipped, grinning ear-to-ear as he kicked up grass and dirt an hour before No. 11 Penn State outlasted Northwestern 17-7 in the slop on Saturday.
Penn State's defensive captain stuffed Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski at the goal line early in the fourth quarter to snuff out the Wildcats’ second-half momentum, and Penn State scored 14 points off three Northwestern turnovers to overcome five of its own giveaways.
“It was a grimy game,” Mustipher said. “We executed our defense, made the plays we were supposed to and that’s about it.”
Nick Singleton had 21 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown, Sean Clifford completed 10 of 20 passes for 140 yards with a touchdown and Kaytron Allen added 86 rushing yards on 21 carries to help Penn State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) stay unbeaten heading into an off week where they’ll have plenty to clean up.
Both teams struggled early, combining for six turnovers in the first half.
Penn State coughed up the ball twice on its first three drives. Xander Mueller recovered a Singleton fumble and Bryce Gallagher intercepted Clifford, but Penn State’s defense kept the Wildcats (1-3, 1-1) from taking advantage.
Northwestern gained just 13 yards in the first quarter and gave the ball back when Ji’Ayir Brown intercepted Ryan Hilinski and returned it to midfield.
Clifford led a quick five-play drive from there, and found tight end Brenton Strange open in the flat. Strange leapt over a defender at the goal line to make it 7-0 late in the first.
Hilinski didn’t complete his first pass until 10 minutes before halftime. Shortly afterward, a bad snap bounced at his feet and Penn State defensive end Nick Tarburton hopped on it.
The Nittany Lions turned that giveaway into points, too, when Singleton plowed in from two yards out seven plays later.
Singleton’s up and down day continued, with the freshman fumbling again Penn State’s next possession when Rod Heard drilled him behind the line of scrimmage. Cameron Mitchell recovered for the Wildcats. But they couldn’t block Tarburton.
Penn State’s end hit Hilinski two plays later to force another fumble. Linebacker Curtis Jacobs recovered to keep the score 14-0 at halftime.
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.
Kicker Jake Pinegar added to Penn State’s lead with a 38-yard field goal with 14:29 left.
Hilinski got into a rhythm in the fourth quarter before Mustipher shut him down.
Northwestern’s quarterback went 5-for-9 with 54 yards to steer his offense to the Penn State 1 on the Wildcats’ 11th possession of the day. Instead of opting for a field goal that would’ve made it 17-10 with just under 12 minutes left, Fitzgerald tried to sneak Hilinski over the goal line.
“That was the turning point in the game to be honest with you,” Fitzgerald said.
Franklin was not pleased with his team’s turnovers, especially after the Nittany Lions entered the game second in the country at plus-8 in turnover margin.
In addition to Singleton’s two fumbles, Allen and Keyvone Lee also lost hold of the ball.
“I’m never going to allow the weather to be an excuse,” Franklin said. “It doesn’t matter. We have to protect the football.”
Penn State wideout KeAndre Lambert-Smith suffered a right leg injury in the first quarter and spent the rest of the game on the sideline with his right leg in a boot.
Northwestern: Northwestern has been plagued by turnovers all season. Saturday was no different. They gave the ball away nearly every time they had any momentum going. Meanwhile, Hull entered the game as the team’s leading receiver, but didn’t catch his first pass until late in the third quarter.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are off next week before they travel to Michigan to face the No. 4 Wolverines on Oct. 15. They’ll have a lot to clean up.
Northwestern: Hosts Wisconsin on Oct. 8.
Penn State: Visits No. 4 Michigan on Oct. 15.