Inside Slant: Penn State

The Sports Xchange takes you inside Northwestern's next opponent, the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State's first half against Northwestern last season was nearly an entire disaster.

Nearly, but not quite.

The Nittany Lions were able to get on the board with a Brett Brackett touchdown reception with three seconds left in the half, which made the halftime score 21-7 instead of 21-0.

"That first touchdown before the half definitely gave us momentum and confidence," offensive tackle Quinn Barham said. "It really just sparked the offense and the entire team as a whole. At halftime, we weren't in there moping, we wanted to get right back out there on the field."

That first-half touchdown turned out to be the first seven of 35 unanswered points as Penn State gave coach Joe Paterno his 400th career victory.

A year later, the Nittany Lions (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten), will face a Northwestern team with several of those same offensive weapons (quarterback Dan Persa, superback Drake Dunsmore and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert) and will try to avoid falling into a similar hole.

Penn State's defense, ranked sixth in the nation in both total yardage and scoring defense, is a lot more stout this season. But though the offense has been putting up big yardage numbers the past few weeks, it hasn't scored more than two touchdowns in any of its three conference games. That could change this week against a Northwestern defense allowing more than 30 points per game.

"We know we're a very capable offense and we know their defense is not invincible," Barham said. "It's doing those (little) things and doing them at the right time and being consistent."

Penn State has a chance to help Paterno reach another milestone Saturday. A victory would be the 408th for Paterno, which would equal the mark set by former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson.

NOTES, QUOTES:

--Penn State coach Joe Paterno is seeking his 408th career victory, which would tie him with former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson for second all-time in college football history.

--Penn State has won 10 of its last 13 Big Ten road games.

--Penn State, which plays Northwestern at 7 p.m. on Oct. 22, is 17-8 on the road in night games.

SERIES HISTORY: Penn State leads the series 10-3-1 and beat Northwestern 35-21 in 2010.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: More consistent play from the offensive line has helped tailbacks Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes to big gains over the last few weeks. Penn State will play without top wide receiver Derek Moye for the second straight week as he recovers from a foot injury but receivers Justin Brown and Brandon Moseby-Felder made some big plays in the win against Purdue last week. Quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin continue to struggle with accuracy and consistency, especially in the red zone.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Penn State allowed five plays of 20 yards or more last week against Purdue but was able to shut down the Boilermakers when the game was in the balance and came up with three interceptions. Linebackers Gerald Hodges, Nate Stupar and Glenn Carson have been steady and tackles Jordan Hill and Devon Still continue to eat up blockers. The Nittany Lion secondary got cornerback D'Anton Lynn back from an injury last week but will need to be more than sound this week against a dangerous Northwestern passing attack.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have been reluctant to change it. If you change it, you don't know what you're going to get. The thing has worked out all right." -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno, on continuing to rotate quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Penn State at Northwestern, Oct. 22 -- The Nittany Lions will try to shut down an explosive Northwestern offense and finish its scoring drives against a Wildcat defense that hasn't been able to stop anyone this season.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Nittany Lions need to limit Northwestern's yards after the catch and continue to change coverages and blitzes against crafty senior quarterback Dan Persa. Quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin must be patient against a Northwestern defense that will give up plenty of yards and the Penn State special teams need to build on their strong performance in last week's defeat of Purdue.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

TE Andrew Szczerba -- The 6-foot-5 senior dropped a tough but catchable touchdown pass last week and has had trouble with false starts for much of the season. If Szczerba doesn't pick up his play soon, sophomore TE Kevin Haplea could start getting more first-team snaps.

DT Devon Still -- Penn State's top defensive lineman has created headaches for opposing offenses all year. How Northwestern chooses to block him up front could determine what kind of pressure the other Nittany Lions are able to apply to quarterback Dan Persa, which could ultimately determine the outcome.

FS Nick Sukay -- The senior had his third interception of the season last week against Purdue but was late a couple of times in coverage and had a bad afternoon of tackling. Northwestern will test Penn State's secondary early and often and how Sukay plays will be a big factor in how much damage the Wildcats are able to do.

ROSTER REPORT

--QB Matt McGloin took a couple of shots to the head during the win over Purdue but was able to practice Monday and is not expected to miss Saturday's game at Northwestern.

--LG Johnnie Troutman suffered a minor knee injury in last week's win against Purdue but was able to practice Monday and should be ready to go this week at Northwestern.

--WR Curtis Drake is still not 100 percent recovered from the broken bone in his left leg he suffered last year, coach Joe Paterno said Tuesday.

--WR Derek Moye will miss his second straight game with a broken bone in his left foot.


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