Penn State Nittany Lions at Northwestern Wildcats (-2.5, 40 o/u)
Coming off their most dominant win of the year, the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) will look to turn a two-game run into a legitimate three-game win streak this weekend. But now is when Penn State’s schedule really starts to ramp up in competition and they’ll have to down a very game Northwestern Wildcats (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) at Ryan Field (12:00 PM Eastern) if they’re going to keep their run alive.
Last Saturday, the Nittanies stomped on Illinois, 39-0, easily covering the spread as 6.5-point favorites. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg had arguably his best game of the season, going an efficient 21 of 29 for 266 yards and two touchdowns. The junior pivot also had a 14-yard receiving touchdown on a trick play as Penn State put up over 400 yards of total offense.
The Penn State defense was supposed to be the strength of the team heading into the year, but had a couple rough weeks heading into the game with the Illini. The unit had a nice bounceback game, limiting Illinois to 167 total yards.
Head coach James Franklin was pleased with almost every aspect of his team’s performance, telling the AP, “We’re getting better … You’ve got receivers making plays. You’ve got tight ends making plays. You’ve got multiple running backs making plays.”
Northwestern, on the other side, got off to a roaring 5-0 start this season, including impressive wins over Stanford (16-6 at home) and Duke (19-10 on the road). The Wildcats came crashing back to earth in week 6, though, getting demolished 38-0 by Michigan. Things went from bad to worse the next week as they were blown out (40-10) by Iowa. The team rebounded with a 30-28 win in Nebraska last weekend, though, covering as a touchdown underdog.
Northwestern’s dual-threat QB Clayton Thorson had 177 yards and one touchdown through the air, along with 126 yards and another major on the ground.
“We stuck together and found a way to make some plays in the first half and make it a game,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald explained to the Associated Press. “Great team win, huge team win to get us over the hump.”
Both teams have been getting very good quarterback play of late, while both defensive units allow a little above 17 points per game. Given that Northwestern has faced better competition over the course of the year, they should come into the game more prepared for a slugfest. Take the Wildcats to cover at home.
Pick: Northwestern -2.5.
(Photo credit: Ben Stanfield (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)