Beware my friends, there is danger up ahead. A trap is set on the outskirts of Chi-Town and it has our name written all over it. He’s a pesky old foe adorned in purple, just laying in wait to crush our dreams and smother those lofty expectations. We’ve been down this treacherous road before, all high and mighty, just to be left barely standing and licking our wounds in the gory aftermath. It’s Penn State versus Northwestern once again, and this one has been pegged on the calendar for months. For all the wrong reasons I might add. Yep, the dreaded trap game is upon us.
Who can forget, as much as we’d like to, that late September Homecoming Game in 2014? Penn State was riding high at 3-0 to kick off the James Franklin era, the bowl ban had just been lifted and scholarships reinstated. All that stood in our way of a certain re-appearance in the Top 25 was a Northwestern squad that was 1-2 and going nowhere fast. Little did we know the trap was set as the Wildcats punched us in the mouth and walked away giving our beloved Nittany Lions a 29-6 butt whooping. A year later in Evanston, the trap reared its ugly head again. The Nittany Lions were 7-2 and had a chance at redemption by ending the season playing four teams they lost to the year before. In what was one of the most inept offensive games this side of the ‘04 4-6 loss to Iowa, the Wildcats marched downfield late in the fourth quarter and kicked a field goal to win 23-21. Ugly doesn’t even begin to describe it as that loss set the Lions on a four-game tailspin and redemption got washed down the drain. Yup, blame it on the trap.
As much as we’d like to bury those memories and burn them, they’ve been percolating deep in the back of our brains ever since. The 5-0 record and the high ranking was fully expected. Fear of the trap has been expected as well, with a rematch with the Wildcats staring us dead in the eye. Dating back to his time at Vanderbilt, James Franklin is a robust 0-3 against this week’s counterpart, Pat Fitzgerald. He may not admit it, but ‘ol FrankLion knows all too well about that menacing trap when it comes to going head-to-head with Northwestern. Signature wins have long been checked off his “to-do” list, but getting over this hump hasn’t been so easy. If Kirk Ferentz was JoePa’s kryptonite, Fitzgerald just may very well be Franklin’s.
Of course, much has changed since those early days of the FrankLion era. Penn State is no longer scratching and clawing for a shred of respect, it’s now in a dogfight defending its Big Ten Championship. In 2014, a young linebacker named Cabinda made his first appearance in Blue and White. A year later, a young defenstive back named Grant Haley let a sure interception slip through his fingers on that game-winning drive. And of course, the X-factor that Fitzgerald has never had to face or prepare for is a guy named Joe Moorhead, mastermind of the spread. This is no longer the vanilla O that falls prey to traps, but one that hangs 45 on the board and gets nit-picked for not putting up more. It’s a defense that has held opponents scoreless in the first quarter through five games and gets stingier every week. Jason Cabinda now goes by the name ‘Captain’ and Haley is an interception machine. Go ahead, set your trap Northwestern, we know you will. Put your kryptonite on the table as you always do. We now have a Wizard to counter and a Superman that goes by Saquon to foil your plan. We see that trap from miles away and with a week of rest as the ultimate reward, I take the boys in White 31-9.