Golden Opportunity Awaits Against Wildcats
Bill O’Brien does not like to get carried away or look too far into the future.
Since he arrived in Happy Valley, he has referred to his offense as a “game plan offense,” designed to beat the opponent before worrying about the next one. He says that each of the twelve games is a one game season within itself in order to not get too high after a win or too low following a loss.
Despite the even-keeled mentality, Penn State’s head coach knows that tomorrow’s contest against No. 24 Northwestern is an important one. On Tuesday, he called the 5-0 Wildcats the best team Penn State will face to this point in the season. The Ohio Bobcats might dispute that, but there is one important difference — the Bobcats were not ranked when they came into Beaver Stadium and embarrassed the Nittany Lions. The Wildcats, ranked #24, will be O’Brien’s first chance to defeat a ranked team, and an opportunity for Penn State to defeat a ranked opponent at home for the first time since 2008.
One of the criticisms during the final years under the previous coaching staff was that the Nittany Lions never seemed adequately prepared to compete with high quality opponents. Since a victory against Michigan State to clinch a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2008, the Nittany Lions are 1-10 against nationally ranked opponents and 0-4 at home. Most of those home games were never competitive. Saturday can serve as an example of how things have changed under a new, energetic regime.
A brief look at a few Wildcats who will try to make it an unhappy homecoming at Beaver Stadium:
Kain Colter #2-The junior is officially listed as a quarterback, but he also lines up at receiver on some snaps and can burn teams with his legs. Colter has eight touchdowns through five games and has two more rushing yards than passing yards. Containing him during plays is the ultimate goal, but locating where he is lined up before the snap will also be important.
Trevor Siemian #13– When Colter is not playing quarterback, this 6-3 210 lb. sophomore is. While not a threat to run like Colter, Siemian has been an effective pocket passer completing 69% of his passes for 672 yards through five games.
Venric Mark #5– The 5-8 175 lb. junior running back does it all. A huge big play threat out of the backfield and as a returner, he has at least 77 rushing yards in every game this season, and a touchdown in every contest except one.
Chi Chi Ariguzo #44-The sophomore linebacker has been a big time play-maker for the Wildcats so far. He enters Saturday with a fumble recovery that went for a touchdown and a 49 yard interception return.
Jeff Budzien #37-Northwestern has a sizable advantage in the kicking game as Budzien has not missed a field goal attempt all season. Four of those attempts came from beyond 40 yards out.
A few things to watch for from the Penn State side of things:
Running Game Distribution-Zack Zwinak has led the way in carries in each of the last two weeks. Does that change as the Nittany Lions prepare to face a Northwestern run defense that has not yielded much on the ground?
Pete Massaro Returns– The senior defensive end should see his first game action since Virginia after missing time with a shoulder injury. How many snaps he plays remains to be seen, but he will be a helpful addition against a fast paced Wildcats offense.
Donovan Smith-The left tackle returned to action last week after missing time with an ankle injury. This week in practice, his wrist was heavily taped. Can he play the entire game, and how effective will he be against an experienced defensive line?
Matt McGloin-The senior quarterback has played some of his best football against the Wildcats. Over the past two seasons, he is 35-55 for 417 yards and six touchdowns against them. A repeat performance on Saturday would go a long way in continuing the three game winning streak.
Secondary Depth-Northwestern does not necessarily have one standout receiver, but they do have five players with over 100 receiving yards so far. The somewhat thin Nittany Lions secondary will be tested if the Wildcats run sets with three and four receivers. One guy to watch in particular will be freshman cornerback Da’Quan Davis.
This is not the first time Northwestern has started off a season hot. They easily could have lost a few games so far but have navigated their schedule unblemished up to this point. If they lose to Penn State, it is highly unlikely that they will still be ranked, but they will be listed within the top 25 polls come kickoff tomorrow. A Penn State victory would continue a winning streak and ruin an opponent’s undefeated season, but symbolically, it might mean even more.
By the Numbers: The Wildcats have scored in the first quarter of every game this season. The Nittany Lions have not allowed a first quarter point all season.
Blast from the Past: Northwestern last defeated Penn State on November 6, 2004 by a score of 14-7 at Beaver Stadium. Since then, Penn State is 5-0 in the series.