Gameday breakdown: Northwestern (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) at Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)
WHEN: Noon, Saturday
WHERE: Beaver Stadium
SERIES: Penn State leads, 13-3
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LAST MEETING: Penn State won 39-28 on Oct. 6, 2012
COACHES: Northwestern — Pat Fitzgerald, 9th season, 56-48 overall; Penn State — James Franklin, first season, 4-0 (28-15 overall)
TELEVISION: BTN (commentators: Eric Collins, J Leman and Tina Cervasio)
RADIO: WQWK 1450, WBUS 93.7 (announcers: Steve Jones, Jack Ham, Loren Crispell)
TIPS TO WIN:
For Penn State — Don’t give Northwestern any extra chances. The Wildcats have had to play catch-up for the majority of the season and haven’t done so well. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have yet to give up a first-quarter point and have outscored opponents 51-13 in the first half of games. As long as Penn State doesn’t turn the ball over early and provide the Wildcats with good field position — Northwestern has gotten into the red zone just eight times so far — the Nittany Lions should be fine.
For Northwestern — Run the football. It will be hard to do vs. Penn State, which has the top-ranked rushing defense in the nation. But the Wildcats will have to have some success somewhere, and a few big plays in the running game could do wonders to open up a passing attack that has been less than explosive thus far.
NORTHWESTERN PLAYER TO WATCH: Ifeadi Odenigbo has emerged as the Wildcats’ most dangerous defender. He was explosive last week against Western Illinois when he turned in two sacks and three forced fumbles, one of which he recovered. He must be accounted for whenever he’s on the field, especially on passing downs, as his prowess as a pass rusher is what gives the Wildcat defense its edge.
PENN STATE PLAYER TO WATCH: Christian Hackenberg didn’t produce his normally gaudy statline against UMass and was not sharp for much of the afternoon. He’s bounced back before and could put the Wildcats away early with a few big throws.
KEY MATCHUP: The Wildcats have a lot of experience along their offensive line — except at right tackle, where Eric Olson will make just his fourth start. He’s tall, at 6-foot-6, but is one of the lighter tackles (285 pounds) that Penn State’s ends will face off against. The Nittany Lions have used a few different defensive line shifts to exploit opponents’ weaknesses and create pressure, and this game could provide end Deion Barnes and linebacker Brandon Bell with plenty of pass-rush opportunities against Olson.