Penn State and visiting Northwestern return to Big Ten play Saturday at State College, Pa., after differing results against Mid-American Conference foes last week.
While No. 11 Penn State overcame early sluggishness to defeat Central Michigan 33-14, Northwestern sputtered to a 17-14 defeat against visiting Miami (Ohio).
Northwestern (1-3, 1-0 Big Ten) knows it must do its best to disrupt Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who was 22 of 34 for 217 yards and three touchdowns through the air against Central Michigan, and gained 23 yards rushing with another score.
Nittany Lions coach James Franklin has lauded Clifford, a sixth-year senior, for being "much more even keeled" for Penn State (4-0, 1-0).
"He's not getting too high when things are good, he's not getting too low when we'd like a play back," Franklin said.
Still, Franklin is eyeing opportunities to play freshman quarterback Drew Allar in at least one series per game when feasible, "putting a priority on depth, based on previous experiences, based on what we need to do in 2022," he said.
Allar completed two of his five passes against Central Michigan for 20 yards.
Northwestern is winless since opening the season by defeating Nebraska 31-28 in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27.
The Wildcats' latest defeat wasn't decided until the final 21 seconds Saturday, when Graham Nicholson of Miami (Ohio) connected on a go-ahead, 36-yard field goal to cap a 17-14 road victory for the RedHawks. Northwestern has lost each of its games by one possession.
"For the team, you've got to use the frustration as motivation," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I mean, I talked to them again about, 'You had two fourth-quarter turnovers in a one-score game. You can't do that.' You can't have a breakdown at the end of the game (and) ... expect to win a one-score game.
"Now, we had ample opportunities early in all three of those games to seize momentum, and we haven't. That's something we've got to continue to stress. And just keep grinding. I really like this group of guys. I think they've got a confidence about them."
While quarterback Ryan Hilinski passed for 257 yards and had a 1-yard rushing touchdown against Miami (Ohio), the Wildcats are looking for more urgency from their offense. They have averaged just 20.3 points a contest since the season opener.
Northwestern running back Evan Hull leads the nation with an average of 181 all-purpose yards a game, including 92.5 yards on the ground. He'll be looking to get on track against the Nittany Lions after being limited to 62 yards on 21 carries against Miami (Ohio) with just 10 yards on two receptions.
Franklin sees one key matchup as the Nittany Lions defensive front against Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski, who is projected as a possible first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
"I think our defensive ends are excited about it," Franklin said. "This is why you come to a place like Penn State, to compete and play against this type of talent."
Penn State has a 14-5 advantage in the all-time series.
--Field Level Media