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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NFL Notes: Luck has successful right shoulder surgery, owner says

NFL Notes: Luck has successful right shoulder surgery, owner says

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has undergone surgery on the right shoulder that's bothered him the past two seasons.

Colts owner Jim Irsay announced Thursday on Twitter that Luck was recovering from successful outpatient surgery. Irsay says Luck will be ready for the 2017 season.

Luck was listed on the Colts injury report throughout this season and missed several practices, with coach Chuck Pagano saying the team had a plan for keeping Luck healthy while he dealt with a sore throwing shoulder.

Luck missed two games early in the 2015 season because of the shoulder injury. He threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns this past season after signing a six-year, $140 million contract in June.

Roethlisberger chasing Brady 
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger intended for the moment to be private. The camera following him to midfield and the microphone tucked inside Tom Brady's shoulder pads ended up making that impossible.

Their brief exchange before Brady and the New England Patriots visited the Pittsburgh Steelers in October provided a snapshot into a rivalry that never was. They bro-hugged. They lamented the left knee injury that forced Roethlisberger out the lineup on that warm late fall afternoon.

And then Roethlisberger made an uncharacteristic request : a signed Brady jersey to hang on the wall in Roethlisberger's home office next to Hall of Famers Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly.

"I consider him one, if not the best of all-time," Roethlisberger said.

A group Roethlisberger does not include himself in.

Not even with as many championships as Brady's longtime friend and occasional foil Peyton Manning (two). Not even with a spot in the top 10 in just about every major statistical category out there on Roethlisberger's still growing resume. Not even with a bust in Canton one day alongside Brady and the rest of the guys whose jerseys adorn the walls of his home almost assured regardless of what happens in Sunday's AFC title game.

The reason is simple: rings. Brady has four, including two he earned while carving a path through the playoffs that included victories in Pittsburgh in 2001 and 2004. Roethlisberger has two, neither of which required Roethlisberger or the Steelers to take out Brady along the way.

It's why Roethlisberger just shakes his head when asked if he's part of the "gold standard" label that he so eagerly attaches to Brady.

"Not as (his) level," Roethlisberger said. "Obviously, with all the Super Bowls he has."

This weekend provides Roethlisberger his best - and maybe his last - chance to do to Brady what Brady has done to so many others over the last 16 years. Even if the last thing Roethlisberger wants to do is get pulled into the "star quarterback vs. star quarterback" narrative that fueled so many showdowns between Brady and Manning through the years.

"It's obviously bigger than the two of us," Roethlisberger said. "I know he is used to it, with the Peyton Manning and Tom thing. This is two football teams that have won championships. Us going against each other is more than just one man. We aren't playing tennis. We are going out there to play a football game with 11 guys at a time."

Salute to service award finalists
HOUSTON -- Falcons coach Dan Quinn and Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva are the finalists for the NFL's Salute to Service Award.

The winner of the honor, presented by USAA, the official military appreciation sponsor of the league, will be announced during NFL Honors the night before the Super Bowl. Both Quinn's and Villanueva's teams, of course, are still in the running to play in that game on Feb. 5.

Quinn and Villanueva were selected for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community.

Last spring, Quinn hosted a "Rookie Club Olympics" for which he invited 100 military members from Fort Benning, Georgia to the Falcons' training facility to participate. He created the event as a way for NFL players and the military community to unite and work together as a team.

"The military represents team on the highest level," says Quinn, who in his second year as Atlanta's coach and has it hosting the NFC championship game Sunday against Green Bay. "It's an honor to be up for this award that recognizes the standard of excellence set by our nation's military and encourages our community to give back and support service members and their families who serve our nation."

Quinn also stages a military day at training camp and hosts 20 military members at each Falcons home game throughout the season. He also provided an opportunity for families of fallen soldiers with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to attend the Falcons' Salute to Service game on Nov. 27. All 63 families attending were given a VIP visit at practice and were provided a one-night hotel stay in Atlanta courtesy of Quinn. Each player wore the initials of a fallen hero on his helmet during the game and during practice; the families were given a replica helmet of that player with a personalized note in honor of their hero.

Last offseason, Quinn led four Falcons players on a weeklong USO tour through the Pacific.

Villanueva grew up as a military child, living in the United States and Europe, where he played high school football. He then attended West Point, where he was a tight end, and was commissioned in the Army in 2010.

Promoted to captain in 2014, Villanueva was deployed three times. He received the Bronze Star Medal and the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for heroism in combat.

For the first time, NBC Sports regional networks add live, local Major League Baseball streaming

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AP

For the first time, NBC Sports regional networks add live, local Major League Baseball streaming

STAMFORD, Conn. – January 19, 2017 – NBC Sports Regional Networks today announced an agreement with MLBAM to stream local market MLB games, as well as pre- and postgame shows, beginning with the 2017 regular season. This new streaming offering is available at no additional cost to authenticated pay TV subscribers of NBC Sports Group’s CSN regional sports networks (RSNs). This local initiative advances NBCUniversal’s implementation of “TV Everywhere,” which strives to make quality content available to authenticated customers both in and out of the home, and on multiple platforms.

CSN’s local streaming allows authenticated viewers in their respective markets to live stream games and related programming that is carried by their pay TV provider of the Chicago Cubs (CSN Chicago), Chicago White Sox (CSN Chicago), Philadelphia Phillies (CSN Philadelphia), Oakland Athletics (CSN California) and San Francisco Giants (CSN Bay Area). Game broadcast schedules will be announced at a later date.

“This is a home run for our local sports fans,” said David Preschlack, President, NBC Sports Regional Networks, and NBC Sports Group Platform and Content Strategy. “We are constantly looking for ways to better serve our fans and provide comprehensive coverage of their favorite teams. With the addition of MLB in-market streaming rights, they don’t have to miss a pitch.”

The addition of MLB authenticated in-market streaming completes the local streaming portfolio for the NBC Sports Regional Networks, which also includes local NBA and NHL live streaming. The RSNs first introduced NBA streaming in 2014 and last fall announced the addition of NHL in-market streaming, beginning with the 2016-17 season. 

The NBC Sports Regional Networks now have partnerships for in-market streaming of the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, San Jose Sharks, San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s (CSN Bay Area/CSN California); Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox (CSN Chicago); Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals (CSN Mid-Atlantic); Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia Phillies (CSN Philadelphia); and Boston Celtics (CSN New England).

Authenticated CSN subscribers can access live MLB, NBA and NHL games, as well as other sports programming, anywhere in the United States.  During the 2017 MLB season, all in-market MLB games will be streamed on the respective local CSN regional network site on PCs as well as on the NBC Sports app—NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets and connected TVs. The NBC Sports app is available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.