Penn State's "NASCAR" no-huddle offense might be stalled in the pits Saturday against Northwestern because Bill O'Brien knows he has to keep the ball away from the Wildcats' similarly-paced fast offense.
"When you play a team like Northwestern, you have to be careful about going NASCAR because they're a NASCAR team," O'Brien said Thursday night on his weekly radio show. "If you go NASCAR on three plays and don't gain anything, then your defense is right back on the field."
The Nittany Lions have had great offensive success in recent years against Northwestern, scoring 34, 35, 34, 33, and 34 points in the past five games -- all wins.
In those five games, PSU has outscored the Wildcats by a mind-boggling total of 96-6 in the second half.
The previous coaching staff certainly found a good formula for beating Northwestern, and now O'Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof will get their chance.
Roof said Northwestern's offense makes teams "defend the entire width of the football field" while also stretching things horizontally. Like the Lions, the Wildcats try to get their receivers open in space and let them run after the catch.
One result often is that linebackers are alone in coverage against Northwestern's receivers. Roof said his linebackers have "done a good job overall" in pass coverage but added they've got to get "a lot better."
"Sometimes there's some matchup concerns, but at the same time, from a team defense concept, that's when you need your pass rush to help you right there," Roof said.
It will be very difficult to stop the Wildcats altogether on offense, but in the past Penn State's defense has done a good job in the red zone.
"That's a critical, critical element because what the goal is, is to try and force them to attempt a field goal so when they get down there, you're not giving up seven, you're giving up attempts for three," Roof said. "That's a big deal, especially when we don't have a lot of margin for error."
One thing Roof has tried in recent weeks has been moving cornerback Adrian Amos to safety and getting linebacker Mike Hull on the field. He calls it "a big nickel or a little linebacker" package, and the goal is to "put our most athletic people out there."
That should be the idea facing such a versatile player like Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and an offense that amassed 704 yards last week against Indiana.
"It presents a lot of problems, a lot of challenges, and it's certainly unique," Roof said. "They're doing a good job with their system."