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