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.

Keep up with Kevin’s college football
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End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: Which one move is most likely at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?
 
Dougherty
There has been a lot of chatter about why the Flyers should sell at Wednesday's trade deadline. They won't be buying. Sell is the wrong word here. The Flyers are not selling and changing course. They are not trading Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and starting over. Instead, the next logical step in the rebuild is to shed an expiring contract and open up a spot for a kid.

It just so happens the Flyers have three expiring contracts on defense, and one player comes to mind who would be attractive to contending teams and also paves the way for a defenseman at Lehigh Valley to gain some valuable NHL experience the rest of the season.

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.

Streit does have a high cap hit ($5.25 million), but the Flyers could retain some of it. He comes off the books on July 1 and a rental for an acquiring team anyway. The cap hit would not be a deal-breaker here. That is an easy hurdle to clear in this situation.

There are valid arguments against trading Streit, and moving, say, Michael Del Zotto, another attractive expiring contract. Streit is a veteran voice in the Flyers' room and respected within the organization. He's still a valuable piece here. In a perfect world, general manager Ron Hextall can shed both Streit and Del Zotto and open up two spots on the blue line, clearing the way for two (2!) Phantoms defensemen to get some experience.

But, trading Streit is the one move I see as most likely to happen before Wednesday's deadline. Acquire a draft pick for Streit and call up Robert Hagg or Sam Morin. In this scenario, the bet here would be on Hagg. And remember, it's not selling, it's the next step.
 
Hall
Before the season, I was a big believer in trading one of the Flyers' goalies at the March 1 deadline.

Now, it makes even more sense in a season that appears to be headed for not much of anything.

Why hold on to two goalies set for unrestricted free agency when you'll almost certainly lose at least one for absolutely nothing this offseason? 

Michal Neuvirth turns 29 next month, as does Steve Mason in May. Both are having down seasons, but are still tradable and capable goalies -- whether it be in a starter's role or backup duty.

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.

But right now, one of the most rational decisions for the Flyers at the trade deadline would be moving a goalie. Neuvirth currently carries a more reasonable cap hit at $1.625 million, while Mason is at $4.1 million. Make a tough decision and start prepping more for the road ahead.

I think a trade can and should be done by Wednesday.

Paone
Thanks to injury and Dave Hakstol's recent emphasis on defensive structure, Del Zotto hasn't been in the Flyers' lineup much recently. Del Zotto is now healed from the lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks, so the part about an emphasis on defensive structure is important here when talking about his status with the Flyers.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.

His $3.875 million cap hit is a bit steep, but he's a UFA at season's end, so it will come off the books. That should make a team much more willing to take a chance on Del Zotto and his cap in exchange for a draft pick, which Hextall values. Plus, he's not likely to be back here next year anyway, as the Flyers will likely start infusing more of the defensive talent they have in the minors into the big club. So might as well get something for him while you can. Contending teams can never have too much depth and those teams like to build depth through the trade market at this time of year. There's a fit somewhere out there for Del Zotto before the March 1 trade deadline.

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.