Coming into this past weekend’s matchup at Northwestern, Penn State led the Big Ten in defensive pass yards, rush yards and points allowed per game. That defensive scoring average, 8.9 points per game, also led the nation.
Not to mention the tag-team superstar linebackers Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman were playing alongside each other for just the third game this year, after both suffered injuries early in the season.
Eight games into 2009, Linebacker U's monster defensive talent was starting to show entering a tough Big Ten matchup in Evanston.
But the defense Penn State fans have come to know and love this year was given a reality check by Wildcat head coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Nittany Lions’ “D” was exposed, exploited and run over.
Early in the game, it seemed as though Northwestern’s offense would have its way with the Lions. Wildcat quarterback Mike Kafka led two scoring drives in the first two quarters, including an 80-yard touchdown drive—just the second allowed by Penn State in the first half this year.
Kafka was able to mix a combination of quick slants and out routes with 15-yard completions down the middle to tight ends and receivers somehow matched up with Penn State linebackers.
The speed difference was obvious.
Firing completion after completion, Kafka also included a steady running game in his no-huddle offense, forcing the Penn State defense back on its heels, unaware of what would come next. The Nittany Lions were aware of Kafka’s mobility early, and he made them pay with 42 yards on the ground in less than two quarters.
Frankly, Fitzgerald had it going against the nation’s best.
Had Kafka not gone down early in the game with a leg injury, forcing junior quarterback Dan Persa to take over, the Wildcat offense could have kept the pressure on Penn State in the second half and created a different outcome.
Fourth quarter aside, the game was a tough one to watch for Penn State fans hoping to see their defense lead another dominant performance. Now the question for defensive coordinator Tom Bradley lies in the defense’s ability to regroup and hope Ohio State won’t be watching too much tape this week.