After three sluggish games, Northwestern will travel to State College for the Big Ten Opener against Penn State. The Nittany Lions are averaging about 98,000 fans per home game. Northwestern drew 108,000 total for its three home games thus far.
The Wildcat offense has struggled thus far in losses to California and Northern Illinois and a win two weeks ago against Western Illinois. NU is currently in the bottom five Big Ten in most of the team statistical categories.
Penn State is third in the Big Ten in defense, first in scoring defense and first in rush defense. Their 329 passing yards per game lead the Big Ten. Penn State Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions. The Nittany Lions are first nationally in rush defense.
The Wildcats offense has struggled mightily this season. The Wildcats have been outscored 21-7 in the first quarter this season. They rank last in the Big Ten in scoring, 13th in total offense and 12th in rushing offense.
Trevor Simien threw for only 117 yards in Northwestern’s 24-7 win over WIU. The rushing offense showed some signs of life.
Treyvon Green who took over when Venric Mark was hurt last season, seems to have been supplanted by a pair of freshman. Green is averaging only 3.3 YPC this season. He has 101 yards on 33 carries.
Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault have showed some signs of being able to give NU a chance at a balanced offense. Jackson has 184 yards on 41 carries (4.5 YPC) with two touchdowns. Vault has 74 yards on 16 carries (4.6 YPC) and has also scored twice.
This is a very bad matchup for Northwestern. A struggling offense facing the nations best rush defense on the road is tough scenario for Northwestern. If they are going to have a chance, they need to get a good pass rush against Hackenberg and have Trevor Simien and the passing game move the ball.
Simien has just two touchdowns and three interceptions on the season and is averaging 204,7 YPG.
The Northwestern pass rush and special teams picked things up against the Leathernecks. Defensive End Ifeadi Odenigbo forced three fumbles recovering one and had two sacks. They are going to need that kind of production against Hackenberg.
Northwestern Punter Chris Gradone earned Big Ten player of the week. Gradone averaged 44.1 yards on seven punts landing six inside the 20. He figures to be busy Saturday.
Opening the Big Ten schedule at Penn State is a tough way to begin the conference season. Coaching in his first Big Ten game, Nittany Lion Head Coach James Franklin figures to get his first Big Ten Victory in his inaugural appearance.
11 a.m. Saturday; BTN; Eric Collins, J Leman and Tina Ceravasio.
WGN-AM 720., Dave Eanet, Ted Albrecht and Jordan Bernfield
Line: Penn State by 11.
Records: Northwestern 1-2, 0-0 Big Ten; Penn State 4-0, 1-0.