Does this look familiar? Solomon Vault took a kickoff back against Duke, and he just did the same thing against Penn State. Wildcats lead at halftime.
Does this look familiar? Solomon Vault took a kickoff back against Duke, and he just did the same thing against Penn State. Wildcats lead at halftime.

It’s halftime, and Northwestern leads Penn State,  20-7. The Wildcats lost two starters to injury, including quarterback Clayton Thorson, but have quieted NFL Draft prospect Christian Hackenberg.

Here are Michael Stern’s notes from the first half of the game:

  • Jaylen Prater came off the field after the first snap of the game and was carted off the sideline. His return is listed as questionable with a lower body injury. Nate Hall replaced Prater.
  • Christian Hackenberg hit the referee on his first pass attempt of the game, then threw wide of his intended target on his second. Remember, the Lions only pick up 30 percent of their third downs, one of the lowest percentages in the FBS.
  • The Wildcats caught a break when Cameron Dickerson fell on a muffed punt. It’s the second straight week with a return game miscue for Shuler, who fair caught a punt which was headed for a touchback last week in Lincoln.
  • Thorson connected with super-backs Dan Vitale and Garett Dickerson early, then Dickerson dropped a wide-open pass on the Penn State 10. Thorson is avoiding the Penn State pressure by getting rid of the ball quickly out of a five-wide set
  • The Wildcats dodged a bullet when Grant Haley dropped an interception on third down, but NU was unable to take advantage when Jack Mitchell missed a 39-yard field goal. It was only his second miss from inside 40 yards this year.
  • Penn State is now 0-2 on third downs.
  • The Wildcats are experimenting at running back. Jackson, Long, and Vault all saw first-quarter carries.
  • Coach Fitzgerald lost his mind after Koa Farmer appear to signaled for a fair catch and returned the punt anyway.
  • Dean Lowry was flagged for unnecessary roughness after bringing Hackenberg to the ground violently on third and 13.
  • It hasn’t been a good day for the Penn State offense. Dropped passes, poor throws, the only first down they’ve picked up so far is on a penalty.
  • Penn State is now 0-3 on third downs. Hackenberg tested Matt Harris, but Harris is back and was in solid position.
  • Miles Shuler learned his lesson in Lincoln. He signaled for a fair catch on a punt, and the punt rolled into the end zone.
  • Another almost-interception for Thorson. This one could have been had by Marcus Allen.
  • Jordan Thompson making an impact on defense. The freshman batted down a Hackenberg pass in the first.
  • Penn State tried to run out of the Wildcat, but it didn’t work. Then the Lions became 0-4 on third down.
  • Calyton Thorson took a shot on a third-down completion to Christian Jones and left the game. Zack Oliver came in and threw two straight screens to Jelani Roberts. Thorson was called questionable to return with a lower body injury.
  • Back to Penn State on offense. Another drop, then a false start on third-and-one, then a missed third down, 0-5.
  • Ummm…Warren Long and Zack Oliver lead Northwestern to the game’s first score. Oliver hits Christian Jones for a 14-yard touchdown and the ‘Cats lead 7-0.
  • Hackenberg’s first completed deep ball is thrown a little high, but caught nicely at midfield by Chris Godwin.
  • Penn State converted their first third down five minutes into the second quarter.
  • Nick VanHoose came up nicely in coverage to stop a short pass from reaching the line to gain. Lions haven’t been able to get their screen game going.
  • Justin Jackson is back! The ball-carrier took a read option handoff down the sideline for 48 yards. After a pass interference penalty, Jackson took the ball down to the one, then Zack Oliver punched it in.
  • Jack Mitchell missed a PAT, so it’s 13-0 ‘Cats. Mitchell missed two PATs in Happy Valley last year.
  • That’s three notable drops from Hackenberg’s receivers, who gets some heat on the ball.
  • Nice play by Penn State, as Barkley burns backup linebacker Nate Hall on a wheel route.
  • Then Barkley runs wildcat on the Wildcats, scores, and the Lions are within six.
  • SOLOMON VAULT again. His second kickoff return TD of the season. He benefitted from dropping the ball and giving blockers time to set up.