Penn State vs. Northwestern Game Notes
Coming off a win in its first game of Big Ten conference play, Penn State’s winning streak is now at three as they welcome the 4-0 Northwestern Wildcats to Happy Valley. This will be Penn State’s biggest test thus far according to coach Bill O’Brien, as the Nittany Lions are facing a ranked opponent for the first time in 2012.
The Wildcats come into this week ranked No. 22 in the Coaches’ Poll and No. 24 in the AP Poll. They have certainly earned the national recognition due to their hot start. Like the Nittany Lions, the Wildcats opened their Big Ten schedule with a 44-29 victory over Indiana where they set a school record 704 yards of total offense (394 rushing, 308 passing).
In Penn State’s conference opener at Illinois, they scored quick and never looked back winning in convincing fashion, 35-7 in Champaign, Illinois. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti led his team with two interceptions, returning one for a school record 99 yards. His performance earned him Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week recognition. Mauti’s attitude and determination has driven the Nittany Lions to keep improving week by week.
Senior quarterback Matt McGloin keeps excelling under the new Bill O’Brien offense. Against the Illini, McGloin threw for 211 yards on 18-of-30 completions with one passing touchdown and two rushing. He continues to look like a completely different player than last year and is taking a big leadership role on this year’s club.
Penn State’s depth in the backfield was highlighted again in week 5. Bill Belton returned to the lineup after missing three straight games due to an ankle injury, but sophomore Zach Zwinak had a career day. Zwinak ran for 100 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. It was the first time in his career he ran for 100 yards.
O’Brien will keep going with the running back-by-committee approach because it has been running smoothly. There have been many contributors from week to week that have made this Penn State running game effective.
Another strategy that O’Brien will continue to ride is the no-huddle offense. Although since Northwestern also runs the no-huddle, O’Brien said he will have to be careful and pick his spots on when he uses it this week. Northwestern’s offense is dangerous and can beat its opponent in many ways. The key will be for Penn State’s defense to keep the Wildcats to attempting field goals because there is little margin for error.
Saturday’s game brings a lot of headlines with it. For Penn State, it’s the Big Ten home opener and 93rd Homecoming game, the students have arranged a whiteout and Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald acknowledged during the week what a tough place Beaver Stadium is to play. O’Brien has called for the students to be in their seats early ready to roar and give the Nittany Lions a home field advantage.
After dropping the first two games in 2012, everyone around the country was questioning how many wins Penn State could actually get. Riding the momentum of a three game win streak against its first ranked opponent should bring some extra fire to this game. A win would be huge to the program to show the country its fight this season after an eventful summer.
This will be the last meeting between these two teams until at least 2017. Penn State has had great success in the past against the Wildcats, winning 12 of 15 games (eight wins vacated). Saturday’s game marks O’Brien’s first chance to keep up the dominance of the Wildcats in recent years.
The game will kick-off at Noon Eastern Time from Beaver Stadium on ESPN. This will be the Nittany Lions’ sixth consecutive appearance on ESPN/ABC to open the season. ComRadio will broadcast the game live with the Tailgate and Pregame Show bringing you all the way until kick-off.
Tim Behan is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.