Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 5/5/14

The Penn State Nittany Lions (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) put their perfect conference record on the line when they travel to Evanston to face the Northwestern Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. Saturday night.

While the Wildcats don’t appear to pose a threat based off their record, they boast a solid offense led by dual-threat quarterback Dan Persa that averages 400 yards per game. They also average 180 yards rushing per game, but face a tough test this week against an outstanding Penn State defense.

The Lions will look to keep pace atop the Leaders division in the Big Ten with Wisconsin as the only two teams in the division that are undefeated. The No. 4 Badgers face a road test at No. 16 Michigan State at 8 p.m.

It will be more of the same from the Penn State offense this week, expect a heavy dose of Silas Redd and the running game early to open up a bad Wildcats defense that is giving up 30 points per game this season.

The Lions will also look to their outstanding defense, which ranks sixth in the nation in both yards per game allowed at 264 and scoring defense at just 11 points per game. Penn State’s defense has playmakers at every level, senior Devon Still at defensive tackle, junior Nathan Stupar at linebacker and senior safety Drew Astorino in the secondary.

If the Lions win at Northwestern and the Spartans find a way to upset the Badgers at home, Penn State will gain sole possession of first-place in the Leaders division.

The Lions are 10-3-1 all-time against the Wildcats, whose coach Pat Fitzgerald is looking for his first win over Joe Paterno (0-3).

Impact players:

  • Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern: Persa is an accurate passer at close to 75% this season as well as last season, his arm could keep the Lions defense off balance and open up the running game for the Wildcats.
  • Justin Brown, WR, Penn State: Brown is the go-to-guy again this week filling in for injured senior Derek Moye. Brown stepped up last week against Purdue, catching four passes for 86 yards. The Lions will need another strong effort from Brown if they want to get anything going in the passing game.
  • Silas Redd, RB, Penn State: The Wildcats are giving up well over 400 yards per game, with a big chunk of that coming via the ground game, look for Silas Redd, as well as Curtis Dukes to have a breakout game running all over the porous Wildcats defense.
  • Nathan Stupar, LB, Penn State: Stupar has filled in tremendously for injured linebacker Michael Mauti, and has given the Lions some playmaking from the position, notching a couple of interceptions last week for the Lions defense.
Key matchups:
  • Penn State secondary vs. Dan Persa: Persa is a talented QB who can get hot and put up some points. He’ll be facing a Penn State secondary that really hasn’t been tested all that much this season, Persa will get his based off of his pinpoint accuracy, but the Lions defense needs to avoid the big play in order to avoid the upset on the road. Look for D’Anton Lynn and Drew Astorino to have big games for the Lions as they try to halt Northwestern’s offense.
  • Penn State’s QB’s vs. Northwestern’s defense: With a potent Wildcats offense, the Lions can’t expect to win another 13-3 game this week. The onus is on the QB’s to move the ball and avoid turnovers. If McGloin and Bolden turn the ball over, it could be a long night in Evanston for the No.21 Lions.
Prediction: Penn State 24 Northwestern 14
  • I like the Wildcats to move the ball on offense with Dan Persa, but I can’t overlook the porous Wildcats defense, who will be facing a hot running back in Silas Redd and a team hungry to play after last week’s near disaster at home to Purdue. Look for the Lions to get out to an early lead and protect it late with outstanding defense and special teams, a staple of any Joe Paterno coached teams.
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