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5 keys vs. NW: Lions usually able to wear down Wildcats

October 5, 2012 - Cory Giger
Five things to look for as Penn State tries to win its fourth straight game -- and first against a good team -- when it welcomes Northwestern for homecoming.

SUBHD: No. 1: Play four quarters

The numbers are staggering: Northwestern has not scored a single point in the second half against Penn State during Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach. Zip. Zilch. It's 76-0 in favor of the Nittany Lions in four games since 2006.

When you consider that Northwestern has outscored the Lions 65-60 in the first half of those games, it's been obvious that PSU's adjustments and physical dominance have allowed it to take control and wear down the Wildcats.

Fitzgerald is no slouch of a coach, either. He's been in charge at Northwestern since 2006, which believe it or not, ties him with Wisconsin's Bret Bielema for the second-longest tenure in the Big Ten behind Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (1999).

No matter what happens against Northwestern, such as getting down 21-0 in 2010, history tells us the Lions will be able to bite back against the Wildcats when the game's on the line.

SUBHD: No. 2: Defend red zone

Northwestern will dink and dunk its way up and down the field with its efficient passing game (completing 68 percent) and strong rushing attack (averaging 256 yards). This is a big challenge for the PSU pass coverage, both the secondary and linebackers, and they'll have a tough time keeping Northwestern from piling up first downs.

The Wildcats, though, generally haven't had enough size or strength to finish the deal in the red zone against PSU, and that could be the case again today.

Northwestern's Mr. Everything, Kain Colter, can throw, run and catch, and the Lion defense has to be aware of him at all times. Trevor Siemian also runs the team well at quarterback but is nowhere near as good of a runner as Colter.

When the Wildcats have a chance to score, look for Penn State's strong front seven to tighten up and maybe even blitz more to disrupt the quick timing routes Northwestern utilizes so well.

The Wildcats have a good place-kicker in Jeff Budzien (11-for-11), but they won't beat Penn State with a bunch of field goals.

SUBHD: No. 3: Who's for real?

No one can say with any certainty that either PSU or Northwestern is a very good team. The Lions have beaten three bad opponents in a row, while not one of the five teams the Wildcats have beaten had itself knocked off a Division I-A opponent, until Syracuse beat Pitt on Friday.

But even though neither team has a quality win yet, they both enter today's game with a lot of confidence. It's telling that even though Northwestern is undefeated and ranked in the Top 25, the Wildcats are still 2 1/2-point underdogs.

SUBHD: No. 4: Be ready for anything

It's a little surprising Fitzgerald chose last week's game against Indiana to break out his Colter-is-everywhere game plan instead of saving it for a tougher opponent like Penn State. The Wildcats probably could have beaten Indiana anyway without tipping their hand.

Then again, last week's game showed PSU's defense that it must be ready for anything, and it will be interesting to see if Fitzgerald has some other tricks up his sleeve.

SUBHD: No. 5: Player to watch

Matt McGloin has had two very good games against Northwestern and could be in line for another facing a defense that gives up 289 yards passing per game.

McGloin has completed 35-of-55 passes (64 percent) for 417 yards and six TDs in his two games against the Wildcats, including the memorable four-TD performance that led PSU back from a 21-0 deficit in a 35-21 victory in 2010.

McGloin could be in the neighborhood of 22-of-34 for 275 yards and three TDs today. And the Lions might need all of it in what could be a shootout.

Prediction: Penn State 34, Northwestern 30

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.


PSU (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (5-0, 1-0)

Where: Beaver Stadium

Kickoff: Noon


Line: PSU by 2 1/2

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