FACTS & STATS: Site: Beaver Stadium (106,572) — University Park,
Pennsylvania. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: NU 1-2, PSU 2-0. Away
Record: NU 0-0, PSU 1-0. Neutral Record: NU 0-0, PSU 1-0. Conference Record:
NU 0-0, PSU 1-0. Series Record: Penn State leads, 13-3.
GAME NOTES: The Penn State Nittany Lions hope to remain unbeaten when they
celebrate Homecoming on Saturday afternoon against the Northwestern Wildcats
in a Big Ten Conference clash at Beaver Stadium.
After scratching and clawing their way to three narrow victories to start the
season, the Nittany Lions turned in their most complete effort in last week’s
48-7 trouncing of Massachusetts. Penn State could certainly use another
victory in this weekend’s Big Ten home opener before taking on Michigan (in
Ann Arbor), and Ohio State in its next two games.
This tilt marks both the road and conference opener for Northwestern. The
Wildcats notched their first win of the season — albeit at home against an
FCS school — in last weekend’s 24-7 triumph over Western Illinois.
Penn State owns a 13-3 advantage in the all-time series, and that includes a
7-1 record against the Wildcats at Beaver Stadium.
The Wildcats turned to a couple of true freshman tailbacks to knock off
Western Illinois last week. Justin Jackson carried 21 times for a career-best
92 yards (4.4 ypc), while Solomon Vault added 31 yards on six totes. That duo
accounted for all three of the team’s touchdowns in the victory.
Through three games, Jackson has rushed for a team-best 184 yards and two
scores, followed by Treyvon Green with 101 yards. With the ground game
working, quarterback Trevor Siemian finished with only 117 yards on 15-of-25
passing. Siemian has thrown for 614 yards and a pair of TDs in three games.
The Northwestern defense bottled up the Leathernecks running backs to a team
average of just 2.3 yards on 36 attempts. Linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo led the
way with a game-high 12 tackles to go along with a fumble recovery. Ariguzo
paces the squad and ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 9.5 stops per game.
But the biggest playmaker for NU’s defense last Saturday was sophomore
defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who tied a Big Ten record with three forced
fumbles in a single game. But his stat line did not stop there, as Odenigbo
also finished with two sacks and a fumble recovery. Expect Penn State to
deploy some double teams on Odenigbo in obvious passing situations.
Keeping Christian Hackenberg upright is a top priority for the Nittany Lions,
considering the sophomore quarterback leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth in
the nation in passing yards (1,261). Last week against UMass was the first
time this season that Hackenberg did not have to carry the offense, as he
threw for only 179 yards on 12-of-23 passing.
His favorite target, DaeSean Hamilton, leads the league with 7.5 receptions
per game and ranks second with 402 receiving yards. Running backs Bill Belton
and Zach Zwinak each scored twice against UMass as the Nittany Lions finally
got their ground game going with 228 rushing yards on the day.
With their rushing attack controlling the tempo against the Minutemen, the
Nittany Lions defense racked up 10 tackles for loss and yielded only 13 first
downs and 266 total yards for the game, including just three rushing yards on
28 attempts (0.1 ypc). That marked the team’s best effort against the run
since holding Notre Dame without a rushing yard in a 2007 meeting.
On the season, PSU ranks first in the nation in rushing defense (49.5), sixth
in scoring defense (11.0 ppg) and 10th in total defense (270.8). The defense
has yielded just two offensive touchdowns over the last 12 quarters.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is winless in five tries against Penn State.
Unless his offense suddenly erupts, on the road, against this stingy defense,
that record will drop to 0-6 after this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 42, Northwestern 10