Will Penn State Be First Team to Stop Northwestern's Two QB Offense?

Will Penn State Be First Team to Stop Northwestern's Two QB Offense?

Earlier this week Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien said No. 24 Northwestern will bring the best offense his team has seen all season. He may be right, although Ohio is averaging just about six more yards per game than the 5-0 Wildcats, who look to score their first victory in Beaver Stadium since 2004, and just their second win at Penn State since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993 (Noon / ESPN).

So what is it about these Wildcats that has O’Brien so impressed?

It starts, as usual, with the quarterback Kain Colter. The junior from Denver was named co-offensive player of the week in the Big Ten last week, but wasn’t praised for his passing production (1-for-3 for 2 yards and an interception). Instead Colter did some damage on the ground with 161 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and nine receptions for 131 yards, while QB Trevor Siemian delivered him the ball. Colter’s on offense gives Northwestern offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike McCall some options to play with. That is not a fact that escapes O’Brien, who looks to become the fifth coach in the conference to win the first two Big Ten games of his career.

“Well, that's a guy that you have to understand on every single snap where he is,” O’Brien said this week. “Here is a guy that they are doing a great job with of putting him in position to make plays. Obviously a quarterback, but then when they move him to wide receiver, with his skill set, he's quick. He's got good ball skills and a very bright guy obviously.

Of course, Northwestern also has a talented coaching staff led by former Northwestern standout linebacker Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has a knack for getting players unlike those who go to Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State but who generally hold their own nonetheless.

Penn State has a size advantage, as well with depth and stamina, but that has not stopped Northwestern from giving Penn State some big scares in recent seasons.

The last time Northwestern visited Beaver Stadium, two seasons ago, the Wildcats built a 21-0 lead with 56 seconds to play before the half. But Matt McGloin put up 225 passing yards and four touchdowns, Evan Royster and Silas Redd each ran for 130+ yards and Penn State muscled their way back for a wild victory with 35 unanswered points. The thrill of victory was sweet enough, but that was also the 400th career win for former head coach Joe Paterno.

Last season saw Penn State make the trip to Evanston, Ill., Paterno made history again. Penn State and Northwestern exchanged blows in a 27-24 first half, but it was a different story in the second, when the defense put the clamps down on Northwestern’s offense, outscoring the home team 7-0 to pull away with the win that tied Paterno for the Division 1 career wins mark with Eddie Robinson. Paterno would break the record the following week at home against Illinois before all Hell broke lose on the campus and, well, you know the story.

There is not nearly the kind of college football history resting on this game, with O’Brien looking for his fourth career victory and Fitzgerald looking for his 46th career win.

So here we are, about a year later and Northwestern is enjoying some nice publicity with a 5-0 record, although their opponents have combined for just one win against FBS competition. To be fair, Penn State’s victories have come against teams with a combined one FBS win as well. But the Wildcats have cracked the Top 25 and now they head on the road for the toughest game of their season to date. As O’Brien said, Northwestern has the best offense Penn State has seen so far. But Penn State also has the best defense Northwestern has seen so far. O’Brien knows that his counterpart, Fitzgerald, will have his Wildcats prepared for the challenge.

“Pat's done an excellent job there of just putting an excellent team together, an undefeated team,” O’Brien said. “We have got a huge challenge ahead of us on Saturday.”

The key for Penn State will be to create problems for Colter, wherever he may be lining up on the field. Northwestern lacks a lethal passing game and has piled up some good numbers on the ground. Fortunately for Penn State, when teams have to rely on the run so much they tend to have an edge with a defense led by Michael Mauti that is so good at tracking down the football on the ground.

Penn State enters this week 46th against the run, allowing an average of 129.80 rushing yards per game. That average is inflated slightly by allowing run heavy Navy, who accumulated 255 rush yards. Ohio was able to put together 175 rushing yards in week one and Temple put up 113 rushing yards a couple of weeks ago. Overall, though Penn State has seen steady improvement on both sides of the football on a weekly basis, one of the few teams around the country that can probably say that.

Against Northwestern though, in front of what could be a solid homecoming crowd, it will be necessary to stay sharp early on and keep chugging away. That is because Northwestern may be outmatched in physicality, but they will match anyone head-to-head with mental toughness.

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As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”