Cats wary of Paterno’s kittens

Tania Ganguli

With a 2-6 record and no wins yet in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions will finish this season without a bowl game or a winning record.

But the Wildcats aren’t willing to count them out just yet.

“You can’t take anything for granted in this league,” running back Noah Herron said.

It might be because the Cats remember what happened the last time they went to State College, Pa. — two years ago, when they lost 49-0.

The Cats also may have heard about the Penn State defense.

Statistically the Nittany Lions have one of their best defenses since 1978. They are ranked seventh in the country in total defense, allowing 275.4 yards per game. They averaged 203.9 in 1978, but unlike the 2004 unit, that defense was part of an undefeated team.

But the Nittany Lions will have to overcome a blow to their defense — the loss of their leading tackler and top safety Andrew Guman. Guman has a partially collapsed lung, suffered during Penn State’s 21-10 loss to Ohio State, which will keep him out of the game against Northwestern.

“He did not come back with us on the plane because the doctor felt that he should be watched,” Paterno said. “Andy’s dad and mom drove him back to the campus from Columbus (Ohio) so they could be with him.”

In the ground-heavy Big Ten, the real key for Penn State’s defense has been stopping the run. The Nittany Lions have not won a game this season in which they’ve given up more than 100 yards.

With running backs Noah Herron and Terrell Jordan in NU’s backfield, the Cats have potential to go above that mark.

The two-back set, which Walker seemed cautious about using early in the season, was productive against Purdue as Herron and Jordan combined for 108 yards.

“I like it, that’s what got me on the field last year,” Herron said. “The coaches scheme that, and it works.”

Although it was the Cats’ balanced attack that worried Penn State coach Joe Paterno, NU’s pass attack was dealt a considerable blow on Saturday when it lost leading receiver Mark Philmore. Philmore is sidelined with an injured right knee after last week’s matchup against Purdue. Although Walker lamented the loss, he said he was confident with the depth of the receiving corps.

And while the season may be all but over for the Nittany Lions, Paterno isn’t quite ready to count out his players.

“They are kids that dreamed about playing college football,” Paterno said. “Now the seniors only have three left. The underclassmen want to get to where they can walk off the field and win some games.”

Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected]