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Penn State Grades vs. Northwestern

Who played well against the Wildcats, and who still has some work to do?

Penn State improved to 7-1 on the season and 4-0 in the Big Ten Leaders Division on Saturday with a 34-24 victory against Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. Today, we take a look at who played well and who has some work to do as the Nittany Lions prepare to host Illinois this weekend.

Quarterbacks: For the first time this season, the Nittany Lions had one man under center for an entire game, and that one man played pretty well. Mattew McGloin finished the evening 17-26 for 192 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His play slowed down a little in the second half, but as Northwestern was scoring in bunches in the first half, McGloin did plenty to help Penn State keep pace and stay in the game. Solid effort from him. Grade: A-

Backs: Silas Redd was the backbone of the offense yet again. He netted 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for Penn State and ripped off a huge 42-yard scamper to set the Lions up for a touchdown just before the half. Senior Stephfon Green also saw some legitimate action, finally, after spending most of the first seven games either suspended for violating team rules or riding the bench. He came through with 33 yards and a touchdown on the evening. Grade: A

Receivers: A number of backs caught passes out of the backfield in this one, so the wideouts didn't get a ton of balls, but they contributed where they could. Devon Smith's six-catch, 110-yard performance sticks out with Derek Moye missing due to an injury. He's had a number of games this year where he's gotten open and the quarterbacks just haven't been able to get balls where they needed to be for him to catch them, so for him to finally break through is likely a big confidence booster. Grade: B+

Offensive Line: This group did a nice job of finding holes for the running backs and giving McGloin time to throw, so they get high marks there. They also found ways to get a push when Penn State needed one the most, helping Penn State get a key fourth-down conversion in the first half when it really needed one. We still have yet to see this unit put a dominant performance together, but this was a step in the right direction. Grade: A-

Defensive Line: The Wildcats gained 161 yards rushing, but as a result of Penn State's seven sacks, 5.5 accounted for by this group, Northwestern ended up netting just 94 yards on the ground for the evening. The Wildcats' Dan Persa was able to slip through the line on a number of occasions, making life hard on the linebackers and guys in the secondary in the first half, but the line made some huge plays when it had to as it has all year, so it's hard to be too critical. Grade: B

Linebackers: Gerald Hodges was a menace in this one. He racked up 14 tackles to lead the team, was credited with 1.5 sacks and picked off a tipped pass from Persa, which he returned 63 yards to set up a Silas Redd touchdown. His performance alone was good enough to give this unit high grades, but Nathan Stupar also contributed with eight tackles, making this a solid all-around night for Ron Vanderlinden's boys Grade: B+

Secondary: This group played well enough to win, but it has played better. The Wildcats were able to rack up 312 yards against Penn State through the air, and part of that has to fall on the secondary. Granted, Persa was slippery all night and made some passes happen with his feet that a secondary can't hope to cover, but we've seen more from these guys so far, so it's hard to give them a top grade for this performance. Grade: C+

Special Teams: Chaz Powell fumbled the game's opening kickoff away to Northwestern, and while he did earn a 51-yard return later, this was still a big mistake that ended up being very costly, as the WIldcats converted the mistake into a touchdown. Anthony Fera hit a pair of field goals, which was good, but the Lions didn't do much with punt returns, which was bad. Grade: C

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.