29 September 2006

Northwestern vs. Penn State

After two very tough games over the last three weeks, Penn State finally has a game they can look forward to. Northwestern comes to Beaver Stadium to open the Wildcats' Big Ten season, but their 2-2 record doesn't match Penn State's: their two losses were to Division IAA New Hampshire (17-34) and Nevada (21-31). That would be the equivalent of Penn State losing to both Youngstown State and Akron. Northwestern beat Miami (OH) 21-3 in a tribute to former coach Randy Walker who died suddenly over the summer (Walker was previously the coach at Miami), and the Wildcats won 14-6 over Eastern Michigan. Two very different roads to a 2-2 record (Northwestern's closing schedule is brutal: at Michigan, at Iowa, and then hosting Ohio State).

Even given Penn State's youth and inexperience, this game should not be close as last year's was (34-29 on a Michael Robinson pass to Derrick Williams with under a minute to play). This should be a good game for Anthony Morelli to get comfortable and spread around the football to the many offensive weapons we have. Perhaps we can even convince the Morelli-haters that he is our quarterback of the future (calling for his head after four starts is just plain sad).

The offensive line is beginning to gel and we could see another big day from the solid Tony Hunt. Overshadowed in last week's loss was Hunt's big day against a solid Ohio State defense. Teamwise I'm thinking 200+ total rushing yards is in order this Saturday.

Morelli must get the wideouts involved early, including touches for Derrick Williams and A.J. Wallace. Throwing a couple deep balls the way of Deon Butler would help to soften up the defense, too. Note to Galen Hall: please stop calling options and quarterback draws. Just let Morelli throw the ball.

The defense has a chance to be very aggressive and go after whomever Pat Fitzgerald decides to start (redshirt freshman Mike Kafka was banged up in the Nevada game). Also, Northwestern has turned the ball over 10 times this season, while only getting three turnovers itself. This -7 turnover margin compares with the +9 from last season (good for 16th in the nation). Sacks, fumbles, interceptions, we could (and should) see it all on Saturday.

Finally, I know Kevin Kelly is much better than how he's played this season. Chalk it up to his bad back or whatever, but his play needs to become more consistently. We may well need that leg in a few weeks against Michigan.

Penn State can probably afford to make some mistakes here and still come out on top. However, I'd like to see them play a solid game from beginning to end. Also, I'd like to see an end to this painful red-zone ineptness that started all the way back in the Blue-White game this past spring. This could and should be the game that Penn State shows itself and its fans what this team is made of. As with the Youngstown State game I'm going a bit conservative. Penn State should score more, but we've seen what they've done so far this season in the red zone: Penn State 31, Northwestern 10.
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