Revenge aside, for NU it’s ‘Just win, baby’

Dan Ryan

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Forget about revenge, or not giving up another milestone win to Penn State coach Joe Paterno.

The Wildcats need this one, plain and simple.

Losers of four straight, the Cats (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) have been plagued by the second half woes that started last year when they blew a 21-point lead in Happy Valley. Three weeks ago, NU watched as Illinois put up 21 points in the fourth quarter, resulting in a 38-35 loss. One week later, Michigan obliterated NU’s 24-14 first half lead, escaping a sold-out Ryan Field with a 42-24 victory.

“We have high expectations and we’re not living up to those,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When you’re playing 90 percent, 85 percent of the game well, and 10 to 15 percent is getting you killed, it’s unacceptable.”

Against No. 21 Penn State (6-1, 2-0 Big Ten), however, NU should be more worried about falling behind.

Entering Saturday’s contest, the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 4 in total defense, No. 5 in scoring defense, and No. 5 in passing defense in the FBS.

“They’re just really disciplined,” senior quarterback Dan Persa said. “Iowa was the same way, really disciplined. They play the same stuff, but their players just do a good job of keeping stuff in front of them, don’t give up big plays. They force offenses to drop the ball instead of having quick play drives.”

Despite its intimidating defensive numbers, Penn State ranks last in the FBS in red zone defense, allowing its opponents to score all 15 times they’ve made it to the 20-yard-line. The Cats will need to convert on the opportunities they can manage against the Nittany Lions, but finishing drives has been a challenge for NU, which ranks 91st in the FBS in red zone offense.

“I hate to sound like a broken record,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got to put our guys in good position. We’ve got to simplify. And when they’re in the moment, they’ve got to make plays.”

On the other side of the ball, Penn State is still looking for continuity at the quarterbacking position. Sophomore Rob Bolden typically begins the game under center for the Nittany Lions, but Paterno has instituted a platoon at the position, playing both Bolden and senior Matthew McGloin in all seven games thus far. Neither Bolden nor McGloin has proven himself as an elite passer, and the pair has combined for six touchdowns and six interceptions this year.

Despite the Nittany Lions’ quarterback quandry, senior cornerback Jordan Mabin was quick to highlight Penn State’s offensive talent.

“Oh man, Penn State, they have a dynamic running back,” Mabin said of tailback Silas Redd, who is averaging 101 yards-per-game on the ground. “He’s big. He’s physical. He can run behind his pads, and he can run by you, too. So containing him is going to be a job for our defense as a whole. And then along with that, they have some tall receivers, and they have pretty good speed, too. The quarterback trusts them to go up and make plays. As a defense, it’s going to be another tough job.”

This weekend will mark the final homecoming of Mabin and Persa’s careers, as well as the 19 other seniors on NU’s roster. But rather than look at the game from a personal perspective, Persa was all business when asked to reflect on the moment.

“At this point in the season, we have to start winning games if we want to have a chance to play in the postseason,” Persa said. “Any time you’re playing a Big Ten opponent, it’s a big game.”

danielryan2014@u.northwestern.edu

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