The Wildcats are looking good five weeks into the season with a Big Ten home win behind them, but the hype isn’t going to their heads.
“Just because we have this ranking now, doesn’t mean ... we have an automatic win,” senior outside linebacker David Nwabuisi said at Monday’s press conference. “The other team is going to be bringing it week in and week out.”
This Saturday, the Wildcats look to continue their winning streak against a tough Penn State squad. The Nittany Lions are coming off a 35-7 rout over Illinois and are showing no sign of slowing down. They have found players to step up after the departure of running back Silas Redd and wide receivers Devon Smith and Justin Brown following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Nittany Lions' Weapons
After starting the season 0-2, the Nittany Lions took off, winning three straight games against Navy, Temple and Illinois. Redshirt senior quarterback Matt McGloin, running back Zach Zwinak and receiver Allen Robinson have stepped up to become key players in the Lions' offensive arsenal.
Penn State has dominated on offense, winning by an average of 22 points in its three wins. Their ground game has improved substantially as McGloin and Zwinak have recorded a combined six rushing touchdowns in the past two games compared to zero in the first two games.
Penn State has held opponents to 13 points or less in their three wins. They have also held their opponents to 3.57 yards per rushing attempt. A big factor on defense for the Lions is their senior linebacker Michael Mauti, who has recorded 48 tackles this season along with two sacks and two interceptions, both interceptions coming in their win against Illinois.
Northwestern’s Venric Mark has hit his stride this season, accumulating 538 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns this season. The versatile Kain Colter has also proven dangerous on the ground, adding to Northwestern’s impressive running game. While Northwestern’s passing game is ranked 88th in average yards per game in the FBS rankings, redshirt sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian has given the offense some hope after he threw for 308 yards against Indiana.
On defense, Northwestern has given up 1,445 passing yards this season against their opponents, 289 yards per game. It has been a bounce back from their opening week effort against Syracuse, when quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for 482 yards on the Wildcat secondary.
“You’re gonna get scored on sometimes. Offenses are good, and wide receivers are good,” said freshman cornerback Nick VanHoose, who had his first interception of the season last Saturday. “You have to have a short memory.”
The Cats have also stifled run offenses, allowing only four rushing touchdowns all season.
Penn State has shown its offensive versatility on the ground and through the air. While Zwinak has proven useful to the Lions, the Wildcats' defense will be a challenge for him this Saturday. This also means that McGloin will have to trust his offensive line to give him time to pass as he will not be able to run either.
Northwestern will have to stay vigilant of the passing game and try to pressure McGloin on every down. Look for a strong Wildcat running game to dominate the field throughout the game, as Venric Mark and Kain Colter have shown their ability to punch the ball into the end zone with their legs. Siemian will also probably be in the spotlight as the ‘Cats look to improve their passing game and get the ball to top receivers Tony Jones and Demetrius Fields.
Northwestern 31, Penn State 30