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ND: The definition of a "trap" game is when you have a good but not great opponent sandwiched into between two high profile games. With Michigan now in the rear-view mirror and the battle with Ohio State looming, the Lions cannot overlook Northwestern or everything that was gained from last week's huge win will be lost. In the meantime, the team pushes ahead to get Coach Paterno his 400th win.
MH: I think Penn State realizes they cannot take any opponent for granted this season. The Michigan win was solid, but I get the impression that the PSU squad has some perspective around it and that they realize that U-M simply doesn't play defense, so there's no resulting ego inflation from this win. It was a good victory for the program though. Nice to see PSU's win-streak over U-M continue…
Who: Northwestern at Penn State
When: November 6, 2010, 3:30 PM ET and 12:30 pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium at University Park, PA
Series: Penn State leads 10-3
TV: ABC and mirrored on ESPN2
Line: Penn State favored by 6 points
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: This week, I'm going to be watching the Utah and TCU game. The folks in Boise are probably hoping that Utah wins this game because TCU is going to get a huge bump in the polls and in the computers with a win over the Utes and the Broncos can't afford another non-AQ conference jumping over them. Both teams do a real good job on offense but their defenses are both excellent. I like TCU in this one because their front four on defense are fantastic and I think they will make enough plays behind the line of scrimmage to help the Frogs get a big win on the road.
MH: I think No. 6 Alabama at No. 10 LSU should be interesting. Both teams are solid, but have to run the table in order to have a shot at the title, so we'll see which one shows up. Also, No. 21 Baylor goes to No. 17 Oklahoma State. This is not exactly the sexiest game on namesake, but it should be interesting to see how it shakes out given the high-flying offenses of both squads.
ND: Mark, we did a great job last year with our upsets. We both nailed them with Iowa beating the Spartans and you got that Tulsa win over Notre Dame. This week, I like Arkansas going into Columbia to beat South Carolina. Arkansas may have lost a couple of games but their passing offense is absolutely amazing. I think South Carolina will struggle to slow down the Razorbacks and will get beat handily at home. The question is at which point will the visor get thrown?
MH: I think Utah could shock TCU given that it's a home game and that TCU seems to be sky-high. TCU has a staunch defense, but I like Utah's offense and think that Wynn could have a big game under center for the Utes.
ND: The Lions looked really good against Michigan. The ability to move people off of the line of scrimmage, make key catches and convert on third down was huge. The Lions square off against a Northwestern team that is not much better in the secondary than the Wolverines were. Northwestern has had some injuries and their all pretty young. What we don't know at this point is who the Penn State quarterback is going to be. McGloin was able to rally the team to score points and he showed some moxie that kept the team fired up. But, Bolden is a more precise QB despite not having the type of exuberance that McGloin does. The coaches will be watching practice to see who the starter is and I imagine we'll find out at about 3:29 pm on Saturday. But, the key is that the QB get some protection. Vince Browne is a classic speed rusher. He is moderately built but he is quick off of the edge. He has six sacks and forced fumbles this year. But, the guy really to watch is Quentin Davie. He is listed as their outside linebacker but in reality, he plays everywhere. He'll lineup at his traditional LB spot, covering slots receivers in press coverage like a safety or with his hand in the dirt as a pass rusher. He is what they call a stat stuffer. He's got 4 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 6 passes defended and 1 forced fumble. The offense will have to account for him on every single down.
Royster and the offensive line looked really good against Michigan and I think the difference was a tenacity and explosiveness that hasn't been there this year. Royster was blasting through the hole and finishing his runs hard while Wiz and Troutman were running better than they have all year when pulling to clear a path for Royster. Now, the question is if this team can get the same type of passionate production against a team like Northwestern, who doesn't have the same type of notoriety that Michigan does.
Northwestern does have a very good run defense thanks to big bodies in the middle and experience at the LB position so I think the Lions will return to struggling to run the football but it seems like the passing game is really starting to make big strides so I like the Lions exploiting the Wildcat secondary.
MH: I have little doubt that Bolden will be the starter; McGloin deserves a ton of credit for the win when few, including us, thought he had it in him, but Bolden has the greater upside and deserves the shot to get back under center. I suspect that the coaches will be cautious with Bolden and not look to run him much at all in this game, but I would like to see him take a few early runs just to keep the Northwestern defense in check and looking for him to go mobile.
The offensive line did look much-improved against U-M's 3-4 front. However, we shouldn't get too excited. They were quicker off the blocks and it seems like something "clicked," but Michigan's defense is horrid. PSU needs to get another solid game from Royster; he doesn't need to rush for 150 yards, but he needs a solid outing, just enough to keep the Wildcat defense guessing.
Personally, I'd like to see some more rollouts and screens with Bolden, allowing him to hit some of his big targets with Brett Brackett, Derek Moye and Justin Brown. They should also get Devon Smith into some situations to open things up with his legs. It was also nice to see Graham Zug with a nice touchdown grab against U-M.
ND: Somehow, Northwestern's QB has been cleared to play. Dan Persa had his bell run in the fourth quarter against Indiana and was pull from the game. But, he's been named the starter for the Penn State game. Persa has quickly evolved into the standard Northwestern QB. He is incredibly efficient with the football and is completing an astounding 74.4% of his passes. The key is that he is working in a system that spreads defenses out and where receivers look for gaps in zones to make plays. Northwestern rarely throws the ball down the field but they will exploit the gap between the LBs drop and the safeties. Persa's favorite target this year has been Jeremy Ebert. He's that prototypical Northwestern receiver in that he's not very tall, shifty and really clever. The guy just seems to make plays in every ball game. He's got seven TDs this year and is averaging 84.8 yards per game. It'll be interesting to see how the Lions attack Ebert. D'Anton Lynn is developing into an excellent corner but I really like Chaz Powell on Ebert. Powell was very physical last week against Michigan. But, more importantly, Ebert uses a ton of double-moves and I think Powell's experience as a receiver will really help him defend against Ebert.
Mark, I'm really interested to see what happens on the ground in this game. Persa has been the leading rusher for the Wildcats this year. However, since he is coming off of a head injury, I'm just not sure that the coaches will want him running the ball too often. But, that is what has helped them win ball games and position themselves for yet another bowl game. So, it'll be interesting to see what happens. Persa is not particularly fast but he's shifty and he runs that option read with perfection. I like Mike Trumpy, the Northwestern TB. This kid has been getting more opportunities and he's done well running and receiving. The fact that the Lions just faced a similar running attack with a far more explosive QB in Denard Robinson is a good thing and could translate into the LBs making their reads fast and attacking the football. I like the defensive rotation that the Lions are using at the LB position. Mauti is getting more looks and Hodges is getting quite a bit of playing time too.
The Lions ability to slow the run and tackle in space will be key in this game. I still firmly believe that the Lions would have lost to Northwestern last year had Kafka stayed in the game because he was able to run and throw without much resistance. The Lions can't allow that to happen again or it could be a long afternoon.
MH: Persa was complaining of wooziness and headaches, so I am frankly surprised he was cleared, but I agree that although he will play I doubt the Wildcat coaches will be running him much since a tough hit could really set him back. That means that Persa will use his arm, which is not a bad option for NW. Persa is good at reading and delivering balls to the zone gaps.
I think the secondary played a solid game last week and I think the Lynn/Powell/Astorino/Willis combination is a decent unit. Bradley will have to look at this game like he has in recent years against Illinois and Indiana where they have a solid main receiver like Benn or Hardy. The secondary has to be ready to be tested in this one, since Persa will likely go to the air early and often.
I think we'll see Persa work in some screens and dumps to allow him to keep drives alive and draw in the linebackers in order to pull off the support in the gaps. Penn State did a solid job against Robinson, but he is not half the passer Persa is and Persa seems to have a lot more reliable weapons around him, so there's more for PSU's defense to account for.
ND: The Lions kickoff coverage seemed to conjure up the performances that were seen in 2009. Northwestern doesn't have anyone spectacular returning kicks but any player in this league has the ability to take the ball to the house. Northwestern doesn't have anything special kicking the ball or punting. Stefan Demos is 12 of 17 this year on field goal attempts with only a 50% success rate over 40 yards. But, more importantly, the Wildcats have had two kicks blocked this year. I've been calling for a more aggressive approach on special teams and I hope the Lions try to take advantage of what looks like a suspect kicking and punting game.
MH: Well, PSU showed flashes of that aggression with the fake field goal, but I'd be surprised if you see Paterno releasing the hounds on the kickers. You know I love the battle for field position, so hopefully the special teams give PSU an edge like they did against Michigan.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: I really like Quentin Davie, the do-everything LB for the Wildcats. I think the matchup between him and the entire offense will be really fun to watch. As I mentioned, this guy lines up all over the place so every player will have to prepared for their matchup with him. In fact, I think how they handle Davie could dictate how well the offense will move the football.
MH: I think the matchup of Penn State's front four against Persa will be enjoyable to watch. If he's limited on the run can he rely almost solely on his arm to tie together drives? And can Penn State's defensive line get adequate pressure on the pocket? Devon Still did well against U-M, so if they can get some pressure on the pocket I think it can force some ill-advised decisions from the NW offense.
Keys to the Game:
ND: Lost in the performance of McGloin, Royster and the Offensive Line is the fact that the Lions did not turn the football over and only committed one penalty. I think the Lions need to have a similar performance in order to keep the ball moving against the Wildcats and to get the ball into the endzone.
MH: I think this one comes down to emotion. Penn State was clearly fired up and emotional against Michigan and Royster in particular looked like a new running back. They need to come out fired up and carry-over the aggression from last weekend.
ND: As has been the case in recent years with Northwestern, I think the Lions will struggle in the first quarter or so and then Bradley will come up with an approach to slow down their offense and the running attack will help control the ball in the second half.
Penn State 30 Northwestern 20
MH: I think we see a slow first half, but as the game progresses Penn State mounts some drives and gets enough to give Joe his 400th win, the first D1A coach to ever reach the mark.
Penn State 27, Northwestern 16
Until next time,
Fight On State!