It’s time once again for a visit to the enigmatic Northwestern University Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten). The Nittany Lions (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten, 4-0 Patsies) appear to have another patsy on the schedule, but not so gull durned fast! The ‘cats tend to play the Lions well at home, including almost spoiling the best season Penn State has compiled in recent history.
This will be a somewhat abbreviated version of the weekly preview and prediction because I’m leaving for a camping trip immediately after I finish. I’ll miss the game broadcast on Saturday evening, but this great weather is too good to pass up.
At first blush, it would appear that the hapless Wildcats have no defense. Blush no farther — they stink. Ranking #76 in rushing defense and #108 in pass efficiency defense for a combined ranking of #101, they’re the ones who need to be blushing around here. This is a defense that is ready made for making Penn State’s anemic offense (passing efficiency ranking at #102) look good.
NWU has been more oriented toward the pass than the run. Pat Fitzgerald has a great, NFL caliber receiver in senior Jeremy Ebert. The very experienced Dan Persa is healthy again, which is going to be trouble for the Lions. The Wildcats make use of an excellent short passing game that should be able to move the ball against the Penn State soft Sandusky (still) zone — all the more reason why State needs to get some offense going.
For PSU, Derek Moye is will be out this game and possibly next, so once more Justin Brown and company will be asked to step up to fill the gap. We can count on Silas Redd, Curtis Dukes, and their compatriots to do their share — if the offensive line is up to the task. They need to be focused and motivated. I don’t want to see any lackadaisical standing around going on there. I want to see some good run blocking so Redd doesn’t have to dance around looking for holes and then have to push his own linemen out of his way. Northwestern has allowed an average of 172 yards rushing per game. I’d like to see Redd run for at least 120. State needs to play ball control offense to keep the ball away from Persa.
And, yes, since you mentioned it, Paterno is still playing a two-headed quarterback this week. Bolden and McGloin are listed as “OR” on the depth chart as starters. No brainer prediction: Bolden gets off the bus first and takes the first snap. I believe they’ll be able to move the ball through the air. Well, at least one of them, the one with the Irish flag colors on his mouthpiece. I’m tired of watching Bolden throw infield ground ball practice. Paterno has said that both guys bring their own set of skills to the table. Bolden seems to bring an exceptional arm but with subpar accuracy and not even a modicum of pocket presence. He looks uncomfortable in there. The road gets tougher for the last half of the season, and if Bolden is still spooked against the likes of Purdue, what is he going to do with Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin? Give the game away?
With this being a road game, I won’t get to comment about the attendance being off from prior years. I also won’t get to comment about noon starts on the road, because this one is a 7 PM kickoff. The boys should be ready to play. Again, I want to see some enthusiasm among the offense, a sign of life somewhere. Absent noon start excuses (which are unacceptable at best), how about them getting pumped up for a change?
I’ll repeat that if this bunch of Nittany Lions takes their opponents too lightly, they’re going to be beaten. Northwestern has put double-digit points on the board against all its opponents this year, the most recent three being Illinois (35), Michigan (24), and Iowa (31). Hell, the Lions could only manage 13 points against Iowa. So, Penn State has to actually show up and play this game. Throw the 2-4 record and the four game losing streak out the window. The Wildcats play a lot better than that.
Saturday looks like a perfect football day in Evanston, mostly sunny with a high of 60. No excuses for screw-ups there!
And now, it is time for the pre-camping edition of the Official Turkey Poop Prediction for this week. Northwestern’s defense really sucks, but so does Penn State’s offense. Hell, during the Iowa game, I was thinking, “Please, no! Not another 6-4 game! Fortunately, it wasn’t, but 13-3 was ridiculous enough. This week, PSU is once again without its premier play maker on the passing attack, which makes me a little shaky. Our gambling friends have set the spread at four points, with Penn State favored. The over/under is 47.5. It is going to be hard to do, but I think the Nittany Lions fail to cover the spread yet again, and I’m going to take the “under” once again. Penn State 20, Northwestern 17.