Penn State-NU grades: Jackson powers Wildcats with big plays
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Northwestern’s 23-21 victory over Penn State.
Penn State Nittany Lions
— Junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg (-2.8) struggled to get the Penn State offense to move down the field most of the day. There was a couple of throws that showed why Hackenberg was once a promising prospect a couple of years ago, however these throws where few and far between. The Northwestern defense was happy to allow short passes in front of them and force Hackenberg to be consistent all game to beat them — on passes under ten yards Hackenberg was just 15-24 for 82 yards and an interception.
— Saquon Barkley (+4..6) continues to mount an impressive freshman campaign. Barkley is the highest-graded freshman running back this season at +18.8 and the ninth-highest RB so far this season. Barkley is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this season and right at four yards after contact. Barkley managed to force seven missed tackles against Northwestern’s defense and most of Barkley’s success came from a point of attack of middle left, middle right and right guard where Barkley gained 62.7 percent of his yards on 11 carries (out of 25 attempts).
— In the middle of Penn State’s defense were Anthony Zettel (+3.3) and Austin Johnson (+4.6). Both players helped cause Northwestern issues in both the run game where they had three and five run stops respectively. However, they also had nine total hurries between them as they were able to consistently push back the middle of the pocket in passing situations without leaving their assignments in the run game.
RB Saquon Barkley (+4.6)
DT Austin Johnson (+4.6)
DT Anthony Zettel (+3.3)
DE Curtis Cothran (+2.6)
DE Garrett Sickels (+2.1)
— After starting quarterback Clayton Thorson (-2.4) was injured for the second time in 17 snaps, fifth year senior Zach Oliver (-5.0) had his first major action of the year. Where Oliver struggled was passing the ball beyond 10 yards, going 2 of 10 for 37 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. When Penn State blitzed Oliver, Oliver had very little answer with only two completions on nine attempts and a QB rating of 1.9.
— Senior cornerback Nick VanHoose (+2.9) was targeted eight times and allowed four catches for 54 yards. Outside of one completion for 32 yards, VanHoose was able to limit the Penn States wide receivers and had one interception and one pass deflection. VanHoose was the highest-graded defender in coverage for Northwestern, and only one of the starting secondary had a negative grade, as the Northwestern defense was able to suffocate most of the Penn State passing game.
— The Northwestern offensive line struggled to keep the Penn State defensive line from disrupting the running game for Northwestern. However, this didn’t prevent Justin Jackson (+1.6) from having success against the Nittany Lions. Jackson showed his ability to be a big play runner against Penn State — something which he has lacked this year — gaining 64.5 percent of his 186 yards on just four of his carries. Over the season Jackson has only gained 284 out of 915 yards on runs that have gone over 15 yards.
LB Nate Hall (+3.5)
DE Dean Lowry (+3.1)
CB Nick VanHoose (+2.9)
TE Dan Vitale (+2.8)
DT Tyler Lancaster (+2.8)