Behind Enemy Lines: Penn State

(Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

(Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The Northwestern Wildcats are coming off their bye week to host the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday.  Northwestern will look to keep the winning ways going to improve their bowl game selection. During the week Northwestern was ranked 21 by the College Football Playoff Committee.

Northwestern will face a 7-2 Nittany Lions team coming off two straight victories.  Penn State’s two losses are to 23 AP ranked Temple and 1 ranked Ohio State.  Along with Northwestern, Penn State will be looking to increase their chances for playing on New Years Eve.

Coming into Saturday’s game the two teams look to be pretty even from a statistical point-of-view. Penn State’s offense is ranked better than Northwestern’s, 12 and 14 in total offense in the Big Ten, respectfully. The biggest advantage Penn State has over Northwestern in offensive categories is in their pass effeciency. Penn State is ranked 5 in the conference, while Northwestern is ranked 13. The scouting report for Penn State is they don’t mind being in a shoot out and scoring a lot of points.  So far this season Penn State has out scored their opponents 231-154.

Northwestern is more known for their defense than their offense. Playmakers such as Dean Lowery, Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris  brought Northwestern into national spotlight. During Northwestern’s five-game winning streak, their defense was not only one of the best in the conference but in the nation. While the numbers may have fallen, because of two blowout losses, the players are still there and can be the difference maker any given Saturday.

Penn State and Northwestern’s close team stats don’t end on offense though. The two teams are neck-and-neck in almost every single defensive category. The only seperation between the two is in pass defense effeciency. Northwestern is ranked 2 in the Big Ten and Penn State is ranked 6.

On offense Penn State is lead by their quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Through nine games Hackenberg has averaged 198.6 yards per game at 54.4 percent and scoring 13 touchdowns. Hackenberg is matchup up against Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson.

These two quarterbacks are at almost completely different points in their careers. Thorson is just starting his and is trying to find his fit in the Northwestern offense, while Hackenberg is starting to think about the NFL. Both of these quarterbacks are the leaders of their offenses and need to play well in order for them to play well.

While the quarterback matchup is going to be a big factor the running game for both teams could help determine to outcome. Northwestern is third in rushing offense and Penn State’s defense is ranked sixth in the conference. Justin Jackson will have to have to play like he did in the beginning of the season.

The last time these two faced off Northwestern held Penn State to 266 yards and Anthony Walker had his break out game.