Big Ten Game of the Week – Northwestern at Penn State

By Josh Adams -
Penn State-Northwestern
Penn State hosts Northwestern for Homecoming 2012. Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

#24 Northwestern (5-0) at Penn State (3-2), 12:00 ET, ESPN

Series History: Penn State leads 12-3-0

This is a pivotal game for each team. Northwestern has gotten of to a great start, but holes in their defense could be their downfall. Penn State had early struggles against Ohio and Virginia, but regained their sea legs with a convincing win at Illinois last week. While Penn State has dominated the win-loss record for the series, most of the recent games have been back and forth. Here’s what to look for Saturday…

When Northwestern Has the Ball

Run, Run, Run: Northwestern is currently ranked 2nd in the Big Ten and 9th in the nation in rushing offense. The Wildcats are coming off an impressive showing against the Indiana Hoosiers where they rushed for the most yards as a team since 2003. The Wildcats 394 rushing yards against Indiana were split among RB Venric Mark, RB Mike Trumpy and QB Kain Colter. Mark and Colter each eclipsed the 100 yard mark against Indiana. Look for the Wildcats to continue pounding the ball and establishing control of the clock against the Nittany Lion defense.

When Penn State is on Defense

Turnover Please: The Penn State defense knows they’ll get a steady dose of running plays from Northwestern’s spread offense set. What the Penn State defense has excelled with this year is causing turnovers (13 in 5 games). Penn State has lived up to it’s tradition of “Linebacker U” with the trio of linebackers Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson, and Michael Mauti creating havoc in backfields. The defense has a bend but don’t break mentality: they are ranked 9th in the Big Ten in total defense but have only given up an average of 13.6 points a game.

When Penn State Has the Ball

The Long Game: Penn State has used a running back by committee system under Coach O’Brien in 2012. RB Zach Zwinak has bruised his way to 194 yards the last two weeks and will be used to control the clock. QB Matt McGloin took advantage of turnovers and good field position last week and used his legs to score, and had several successful 3rd down conversions with short routes. Look for Penn State to use the same game plan that was successful against Illinois, which was a steady diet of multiple running backs getting 3-4 yards a carry, and McGloin converting short yard situations with quick out patterns to his tight ends.

When Northwestern is on Defense

A tale of two halves: Lost in the Wildcats offensive explosion last weekend against Indiana was the poor play of their defense in the 2nd half. The Hoosiers scored a touchdown on four consecutive drives in the 2nd half. The achilles’ heel of the defense has been the point differential between halves. They also gave up 28 points in the second half against Syracuse in the second half of their season opener. Look for the Wildcats D to play conservatively in the 2nd half if they have a lead. They’ll give up their fair share of yards to the running game, but will focus on slowing down Penn State’s offense by making multiple substitutions and playing prevent defense in order to take away the big gain.

Laying the Wood (Facts That Will Knock You For A Loop)

  • Northwestern leads the Big Ten in red zone offense with a 92 percent conversion rate. Penn State leads the Big Ten in red zone defense while only allowing six touchdowns in the red zone in 2012.
  • Northwestern has had the lead at halftime the last three games they’ve played at Penn State. This year, the Nittany Lions have allowed just 9 points in five games in the first half.
  • Northwestern is trying to go 6-0 for the first time since 1962 (Twelve years before their head coach, Pat Fitzgerald was born).
  • Penn State has only converted 2 out of 8 field goal tries this year.
  • This is the first homecoming at Penn State since the Sandusky scandal. Should be an emotional crowd.

The Football Mentalist Predicts

Homecoming crowd, rain in the forecast. Penn State running game will eat up the clock.

Penn State 21, Northwestern 14

Josh Adams is a contributor to Follow him @Joshthescribe.

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