No. 4 Penn State at Northwestern: Trying to stay perfect before facing the big boys

No. 4 Penn State at Northwestern: Trying to stay perfect before facing the big boys

No. 4 Penn State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten)
Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
Saturday, noon, ABC

Scouting Penn State
The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions drubbed Indiana, 45-14, last week, as Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, helping PSU establish a 28-0 first-quarter lead. Barkley, tops in the FBS in all-purpose yards per game (243.6), had 205 in the game. The Lions, however, managed just 39 yards on the ground on 37 attempts, and are seventh in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (179.0). They also allowed five sacks last week and have surrendered 11 to date, putting them in the middle of the conference pack in that department. Right tackle has been the trouble spot. Chasz Wright and Andrew Nelson have been slowed by injuries, leaving the position in the hands of redshirt freshman Will Fries, who began the season as the backup on the left side. 

Scouting Northwestern
The Wildcats, down 31-10 with 9:54 left in last week’s game at Wisconsin, cut the gap to seven but could get no closer in a 33-24 loss. Clayton Thorson threw for 219 yards and three touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice and sacked for a safety late in the game, sealing the verdict. Star running back Justin Jackson, who rushed for 1,524 yards last year but has picked up just 273 (4.3 per carry) this fall, left the game with a leg injury but is expected to play this week. Linebacker Paddy Fisher has 37 tackles and safety Godwin Igwbuike has contributed 29, as well as an interception. The Wildcats are, however, 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (25.3), 11th in yards allowed (384.3) and 11th in rushing yards allowed (145.0).

History
Penn State leads the all-time series, 13-5, but the Wildcats have won the last two meetings, in 2014 and ’15. PSU coach James Franklin is, in fact, 0-3 against Northwestern, having also dropped a meeting while the head man at Vanderbilt. 

Storyline to watch
The weather. Rain is in the forecast today in Evanston, and that could serve as something of an equalizer.

What's at stake
The Lions are looking to keep their ducks in a row heading into their bye week, with games against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State to follow.

Prediction
Penn State 28, Northwestern 16

Penn State moves to No. 2 in AP poll thanks to Clemson loss

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Penn State moves to No. 2 in AP poll thanks to Clemson loss

They didn't play this week, but Penn State football still moved up in the AP poll.

Four of last week's top 10 fell Saturday, including No. 2 Clemson. The Tigers were shocked by Syracuse on Saturday, losing 27-24 in the Carrier Dome.

As a result, Penn State, 31-7 winners over Northwestern last Saturday, take Clemson's spot. Alabama remains the only team ahead of the Nittany Lions. The Crimson Tide, who trounced Arkansas, 41-9, Saturday night, is the unanimous No. 1, receiving all 61 first-place votes. Georgia slides up a spot to No. 3, while No. 4 TCU and No. 5 Wisconsin round out the top five. 

Penn State was last ranked as high as No. 2 on Oct. 31, 1999. The Nittany Lions next play 5-1 Michigan, ranked No. 19, Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. on ABC. 

For this week's full AP poll, click here

Penn State moves up to No. 3 in latest AP poll

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Penn State moves up to No. 3 in latest AP poll

It took a few weeks, but Penn State is finally moving on up in the AP poll.

By virtue of Saturday's 31-7 victory at Northwestern and Oklahoma's stunning loss at home to unranked heavy underdog Iowa State, Penn State has climbed up to No. 3 in the nation.

Penn State had been holding steady at No. 4 for the previous three weeks.

The Nittany Lions are behind only No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson, last season's National Championship Game participants.

Head coach James Franklin's team has a bye this coming week, and the Lions will need all the rest they can get as they'll return for back-to-back titanic matchups, first at home on Oct. 21 vs. No. 16 Michigan and then at The Horseshoe vs. No. 8 Ohio State on Oct. 28.

No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Georgia round out this week's Top 5.

For this week's full AP Poll, click here.