Cats have a good history with PSU

By Thomas Schlarp

For the Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK — This Saturday, No. 4 Penn State travels to Evanston, Ill., to take on the Northwestern Wildcats for the first time since 2015.

The Nittany Lions (5-0) have struggled as of late against the Wildcats, dropping the last two matchups with the Big Ten West foe. Northwestern is looking to rebound after a 33-24 defeat to No. 10 Wisconsin this past weekend. The Wildcats (2-2) are led by 2016 first-team All-Big Ten senior running back Justin Jackson who gashed the Penn State defense for 186 yards in the game two years ago.

As Penn State gears up to remain undefeated on the season, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald detailed how his Wildcats are prepping for the Nittany Lions at his Monday press conference.

“Penn State is one of the best, if not the best, program in the country,” Fitzgerald said. “My good friend Coach Franklin has done an outstanding job. Offensively McSorley and Barkley and Hamilton are three of the most dynamic guys. Barkley may be the best player I’ve ever seen on tape. He’s great in the run game, great in protection, great catching the ball out of the backfield, he’s a great return man. Trace is a definite threat in the run game to compliment Saquon. The secondary is probably the most talented and experienced that we’ve seen. They challenge everything.”

Defending Barkley

In 2015 Barkley had an impressive day against the Wildcats, carrying the ball for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Lesser known at the time, the Heisman contender will not be flying under any defender’s radar on Ryan Field.

“He’s one of the most talented players I’ll ever play,” defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster said. “He’s going to be tough. We’ve got to stop the run and force them to pass. He can do anything.”

“He’s a dynamic back and it’s tough to control where he’s going to go,” defensive end Joe Gaziano said. “We just have to stay strong in our gaps and control our blockers. We can’t worry about where the ball could go or where Barkley might cut. We just have to focus on our technique.”

Even coach Pat Fitzgerald could not hide his amazement and fandom of the Penn State back.

“Football is an eleven-man operation,” Fitzgerald said. “Barkley is going to make plays. We just have to respond. If it’s an explosive play, three points we can live with, you just can’t make it seven. I’ll be a huge fan of his after about four o’clock on Saturday to win the Heisman. If I had a vote, I’d vote for him”

Brother Bowl

Penn State punter Blake Gillkin’s twin brother Tyler is the starting long snapper for the Wildcats. Fitzgerald named Gillikin the special teams player of the week for his performance against Wisconsin.

“We recruited them both,” Fitzgerald said. “Tyler trusted me more I guess. They’re a great family and Tyler is having a great start to his career. I’m happy to see Tyler’s brother having a great career. He’s doing a great job punting the ball.”

Adding to the sibling rivalry on Saturday will be Penn State backup quarterback Billy Fessler and his brother Charlie, a wideout for the Wildcats.

“We have the Fessler brothers too, so we have a couple of brother combos going in this game,” Fitzgerald said. “Kind of cool to have that opportunity. Big deal in those households. This is holiday bragging rights.”