Friday, September 23, 2005

Week Four: Penn State (3-0, 0-0) vs Northwestern (2-1, 0-0)

Here we are, the cupcake games are over and now the Big Ten season starts with an ideal match up for Penn State. The Nittany Lions travel to Evanston, Illinois to face the homestanding Northwestern Wildcats, a team that has squeaked out victories over Penn State the past two seasons. Penn State's last victory over Northwestern was in 2002 when the Lions spanked the Wildcats 49-7 in Happy Valley. However, there are many factors that give Penn State a disctinct advantage in this game and I advise any sports bettors out there to take Penn State at -6.5. This Northwestern defense is horrible. Just plain horrible. Northwestern was an extra point away from losing to Northern Illinois at home, squeaking out a 38-37 victory when Huskies' coach Joe Novak decided to go for two and win the game on a last minute touchdown instead of kicking the PAT. The Wildcats then traveled down to Arizona State and allowed the Sun Devil offense to run all over them for nearly 800 yards of total offense. Through their first three games, the Wildcats rank 115th in the 1-A in yards per game against. More importantly for Penn State, Northwestern is 116th in passing yards per game against. The only team PSU has faced that is worse than NW is Central Michigan, ranked 118th. On offense, the Wildcats feature a spread attack led by QB Brett Basaenz and RB Tyrell Sutton. The Wildcats currently rank 15th in the nation in passing yards. Tyrell Sutton, a true freshman, has scored six touchdowns. However, after those two the rest of the offense is a bit shakey. Wide receiver Shaun Herbert (21, 212, 4 TD) is the only other real threat on offense. Northwestern, as usual, has a solid offensive line and is led by Zach Strief. Basanez has yet to throw and interception.

It's hard to not see the improvement that Penn State has made from game 1 to game 2 to game 3. After a shakey 23-13 win against South Florida to open the season, the offense exploded the next weekend against Cincinnati, jumping out to a 42-10 lead. However, the Bearcats got two touchdowns in the final minute against the reserves and then an emotionless and lethargic 1st team to break Penn State's streak of holding opponents to 21 points or less after 12 games and make the final 42-24. The team then finally came together last weekend against a Central Michigan team that had defeated MAC heavyweight Miami of Ohio the previous Saturday and had nearly beaten Indiana in week one. Penn State was sharp on both sides of the ball, whipping the Chippewas 40-3. It was Penn State's best overall performance of the three early games and basically showed people what this team is capable of. I'm still skeptical of Paterno opening up the passing game and running the spread as much as the Lions did in the first three games but it's hard not to believe. Michael Robinson looked much better, Deon Butler is emerging as a big play threat and Derrick Williams is as good as advertised. Earlier this week, there was a blurb about Williams not living up to expectations. Someone needs to point out to the author of that piece that Williams currently has better stats than Ted Ginn Jr. Anthony Morelli has had two consecutive stelar performances in mop up duty, including his first career touchdown pass. I'm absolutely salivating at the thought on Morelli at QB and this corps of wide receivers next season. It won't hurt to have Mark Rubin back either. I don't hesitiate in saying that Morelli is Penn State's best QB since Kerry Collins. Michael Robinson and Anthony Morelli are arguably the best one-two QB tandem in the Big Ten. If the offense is for real, Penn State could join Michigan State as a sleeper in the Big Ten this season.

I'm sorry to any Northwestern fans reading this but Penn State is going to beat the crap out the Wildcats defense tomorrow. If Penn State can pass effectively and minimize turnovers, the Nittany Lions will have no problem hanging 35 on Northwestern. I'm predicting 35-14, with NW's final TD coming in mop up time. The only reason PSU won't score more than 35 is that Joe will call off the dogs in the third quarter and save the guys for Minnesota. If Penn State wins, especially if they win big, will indicate nothing. It will pretty much just be looked at as the fourth cupcake game. Next week against Minnesota will be when we finaly learn how good (or bad for that matter) this team is.

My Prediction- Penn State 35, Northwestern 14


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