FACTS & STATS: Site: Beaver Stadium (107,282) -- University Park, Pennsylvania. Television: ABC-7 in Chicago. Home Record: Northwestern 2-2, PSU 4-1. Away Record: Northwestern 4-0, PSU 1-2. Neutral Record: Northwestern 0-0, PSU 0-0. Conference Record: Northwestern 2-2, PSU 2-2. Series Record: Penn State leads, 10-3.
GAME NOTES: The Penn State Nittany Lions will try to deliver Joe Paterno his 400th career victory this weekend, as they host the Northwestern Wildcats in a Big Ten showdown at Beaver Stadium.
Paterno, who owns a 399-132-3 career record, moved one step closer to becoming the first coach in NCAA FBS history to win 400 games following the Lions' 41-31 triumph of Michigan last weekend. It marked the second consecutive victory for PSU, which is now one win away from bowl eligibility.
As for the Wildcats, they nipped Indiana, 20-17, last weekend to become bowl eligible for the fourth year in a row. The victory was also the fourth in as many games away from home for Northwestern, which is riding a six-game road winning streak dating back to last season. That is the program's longest such streak since 1931, and the Wildcats have gone 8-2 on the road in Big Ten play since the start of the 2008 season.
With respect to the all-time series, PSU holds a 10-3 lead over Northwestern and the Lions have won the past three meetings, including a 34-13 victory in Evanston last season.
The Wildcats gained 380 total yards without committing a single turnover, as they topped Indiana over the weekend. Protecting the football has been a real strength of Northwestern, which has turned the ball over just 11 times while averaging a healthy 414.9 total ypg. QB Dan Persa has been the biggest reason for the low turnover total, as he has tossed just three INTs. A dual-threat, Persa is also completing an efficient 74.7 percent of his throws, while pacing the ground game with 360 yards and six TDs. He didn't do much on the ground last weekend, but did have a solid game with his arm, throwing for 212 yards and two TDs on 18-of-28 attempts. His main target was Jeremy Ebert, who snared five balls for 98 yards and two TDs. It was another strong game by Ebert, the team's leading receiver with 42 catches, 678 yards and seven TDs.
Northwestern isn't giving up a ton of points this season, yielding 20.2 ppg, but its pass defense could certainly use an improvement, allowing 244.8 ypg. Despite surrendering 308 yards through the air last weekend, the Wildcats did a nice job keeping Indiana to only 17 points. Northwestern also added an INT, bringing its total to 11, while keeping Indiana to just 65 rushing yards. The Wildcats have done a decent job versus the run this season, as opponents are only being allowed to gain 126.6 ypg. Quentin Davie and Vince Browne are two solid producers for this defense, with Davie logging a squad-best three INTs and Browne posting team-highs of nine TFLs and six sacks.
Evan Royster ran for 150 yards and two TDs, as PSU overcame Michigan despite playing without its starting QB. With his effort, Royster became the school's all-time leading rusher with 3,517 yards. He has overcame a slow start to the season and has now rushed for 600 yards behind a 5.1 yard per carry average. QB Matt McGloin was in charge of handing the ball off to Royster last weekend, as he filled in for injured starter Rob Bolden. The former walk-on stepped up nicely and threw for 250 yards and a TD, in addition to running for another score. Bolden, a freshman, is expected to regain his starting job when he is fully healthy and that could be this weekend. If not, the Lions would have no problem turning the chores over to McGloin after last weekend's performance.
Much like every other team, the Lions had no luck in slowing down Michigan's Denard Robinson, who totaled 381 yards of offense and four TDs. PSU gave up 233 yards on the ground and it has been vulnerable to the run this season, surrendering 155.0 ypg. The Lions have been stingier versus the pass, allowing 188.1 ypg, but could use a few more big plays with only 11 takeaways and nine sacks to their credit. The defense failed to come up with a single turnover or sack last weekend, while allowing Michigan's offense to rack up 423 total yards in just over 22 minutes of field time. Chris Colasanti had seven tackles in the victory and his 72 stops on the year top the roster.
The Lions are starting to gain some momentum and they should be able to continue that with the support of a frenzied crowd expecting to see Paterno win his 400th game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 27, Northwestern 20