Published October 04, 2012
No. 24 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at Penn State (3-2, 1-0), Noon (ESPN)
Line: Penn State by 2 ½.
Series Record: Penn State leads 12-3.
WHAT'S AT STAKE:
Back in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008, Northwestern is trying for its first 6-0 start since 1962. Beat a streaking Penn State team on the road and the Wildcats might need to be taken more seriously as a Legends Division title contender. Penn State is trying for its fourth straight win under new coach Bill O'Brien. A homecoming weekend victory against Northwestern's tricky offense would give O'Brien's Lions a confidence boost heading into their bye week.
Northwestern front seven vs. Penn State running game. The Wildcats can move the ball. That's a given. Defense is another story. Northwestern is last in the Big Ten against the pass but first against the run, albeit against some questionable competition. With their running game finding its stride behind bruising 6-foot-1 sophomore Zach Zwinak, the Nittany Lions might try to play keep-away from the Wildcats' exhausting offense with their own long, sustained drives.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Northwestern: QB Kain Colter. The "slash" is back for the Northwestern offense. After playing strictly quarterback over the season's first four games, Colter returned to the quarterback-receiver role he played in 2011 in last week's 44-29 win over Indiana. The result? Nearly 300 all-purpose yards and four rushing touchdowns. Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his players will have to keep close watch on where Colter is lined up at all times.
Penn State: OLBs Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. Northwestern's spread offense forces defenders to make open-field stops in space. The athletic Hodges and the fiery, heady Mauti are two of the top linebackers in the Big Ten and play nearly every down. They'll be counted on to keep up with Colter and again spark Penn State's opportunistic defense (11 turnovers).
FACTS & FIGURES
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object: Northwestern leads the Big Ten in red zone offense with a 92 percent conversion rate (13 touchdowns); Penn State leads the league in red zone defense (61 percent, six touchdowns). ... The Wildcats had a school-record 704 yards of total offense last week against the Hoosiers. ... Northwestern had first-half leads over Penn State in the teams' previous three meetings before being turned away late by the NIittany Lions. ... Penn State has outscored opponents 49-0 in the first quarter this season and 76-9 in the first half. ... QB Matt McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing (243 yards per game). He's also scored on four quarterback sneaks to lead the team in rushing touchdowns.