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Penn State Nittany Lions vs Northwestern Wildcats Football Preview

 

Opportunity beckons for one team, and history awaits for another this weekend, when the Northwestern Wildcats visit the Penn State Nittany Lions. Either the Big Ten’s feel-good football school will clinch a winning season, or the conference’s legendary coach (who toiled for many years before his school joined the league) will etch his name in the great book of time.

Yes, it’s true that Northwestern – currently sitting at six wins in 2010 – can gain win number seven on the first weekend of November. The Wildcats – rarely if ever a team that can be called a powerhouse (though they played a lot like it in 1995 and 1996, when they won two Big Ten titles) – usually find themselves outclassed when they travel to Penn State to play a football game. However, with PSU struggling this year and trying to find its way through autumn due to a thin offensive line and a young pair of quarterbacks, the Wildcats really and truly could pull out a victory in the Keystone State. A seventh win before the closing stretch would enhance the profile of the Northwestern program and improve the team’s ultimate bowl destination. There’s a lot that the Wildcats are playing for in this game.

Penn State merchandise Then again, Penn State’s playing for something even more special. Just consider what’s on the line for a man named Joseph Vincent Paterno.

JoePa, the college football icon, began his tenure as Penn State’s head coach in 1966. This is 27 years before the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993. Yet, in 17 years, the bespectacled figure has continued to win games and admirers, even while his age (83 going on 84) makes members of the press question his fitness for the job. This Saturday, Paterno’s longevity could be rewarded with an accomplishment that will reverberate throughout the pages of memory.

Paterno, sitting at 399 career wins, could become the first FBS coach to win 400 games. Only John Gagliardi (Division III) and Eddie Robinson (at the Division I-AA, now FCS, level) have won more games in the history of college football. A victory would mean so much more than a Big Ten win in this matchup between a pair of 2-2 Big Ten teams.

Eventually, though, a game has to be played, so let’s look at the matchup: Northwestern broke a two-game losing streak last week with a 20-17 win at Indiana.  The win was the Wildcats’ sixth consecutive road victory. Quarterback Dan Persa suffered a concussion last week, but will start against the Nittany Lions after passing all of the precautionary tests.  Persa, in his first year as the Wildcats’ starter, completed 18 of 28 passes for 212 and two touchdowns last week.  He ranks second in the nation in completion percentage (74.4).  Running back Mike Trumpy carried 21 times for 110 yards, and caught three passes for 54 yards.  Backup quarterback Evan Watkins entered the game with 8:53 left and NU leading 17-10, and led the Wildcats to a field goal that proved to be the game-winner.

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Penn State isn’t sure who its quarterback will be on Saturday.  Matt McGloin made his first career start last week, and led the Lions to a 41-31 win over Michigan.  Freshman Rob Bolden, who started Penn State’s first seven games, suffered a concussion two weeks ago at Minnesota and was held out of action against Michigan.  The two quarterbacks are competing for the starting job, and both may play on Saturday.

McGloin completed 17 of 28 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown against the Wolverines.  Running back Evan Royster carried 29 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns.  Penn State controlled the clock, possessing the ball for over 37 minutes. The Nittany Lions would love to do that again on Saturday, but they must know that Northwestern's defense is a lot better than Michigan's. We'll see how good Penn State's offense can be as the Nittany Lions try to make a little history for the coach they love so deeply.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

 

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