by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Each week, InsideNU will bring you an opponent’s take on the matchup ahead in the interest of providing a wider perspective on each game. For Northwestern's first Big Ten road test, we're doubling our efforts and bringing you a second Q&A. If you enjoyed yesterday's chat with Altoona Mirror writer Cory Giger, you'll be equally pleased with Guy Cipriano, the Penn State football beat writer for the Centre Daily Times. As the PSU beat writer for PSU's hometown paper, he knows the ins-and-outs of this year's Nittany Lions. He is, in short, no ordinary guy (I couldn't resist). He also co-hosts "inside the huddle on WBFL Radio. Follow Guy on Twitter @cdtguy.
What's the biggest change you've noticed since Bill O'Brien took over as head coach? Has his previous coaching experience provided Penn State with an NFL-like schematic dynamic?
GC: The program is a lot more open in the past, offensively and with how things are handled with outsiders. On the field, the team is passing more and running a variety of different offensive formations. Off the field, more people are being welcomed into the football complex. It's not as secretive as it was in the past.
Of the nine players who transferred, which has been the biggest loss so far and why?
GC: Kicker/punter Anthony Fera. Penn State is last in the conference in field goal percentage and net punting average. They would be near the top in both categories had Fera not left for Texas.
After starting out 0-2, with losses to Ohio and Virginia, Penn State has won three straight. Did something click after a bad start, or was it more a function of the schedule lightening up?
GC: Perhaps both. If you watch film, the team is executing at a higher level than it was the first three games. Is that a sign of players clicking with the new coaches and schemes and young players adapting to college football? Or is that because Navy, Temple and Illinois are awful? This will should reveal a lot about Penn State's progress.
Senior linebacker Michael Mauti has been a driving force (both on the field and off it) behind the Lions' three-game win streak and received Big Ten defensive player of the week honors for his efforts against Illinois. Did you expect he could raise his game to this level after battling nagging knee injuries?
GC: Yes. He was always one of the most talented and determined players on the team. It takes close to a year to return from an ACL injury, so essentially a large part of his career was ruined. It has been more than a year since he suffered his second ACL. He's also benefiting by being surrounded by some great players. He's able to make plays because teams are playing away from players such as Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill.
Excluding Mauti, linebacker Gerald Hodges and tackle Jordan Hill, who are some of Penn State's best defensive playmakers? Who are some of its best offensive playmakers?
GC: Defense -- sophomore linebacker Mike Hull has come on strong. He returned a fumble 76 yards for a touchdown against Navy and could become the next big-time linebacker at Penn State. Offensively -- tight end Kyle Carter. He's an ideal fit for the 'F' tight end position, which resembles the role Aaron Hernandez plays with the New England Patriots.
What is the Lions' biggest strength? biggest weakness?
GC: Strength -- defensive front seven. Multiple NFL players reside in the group. Weakness -- special teams. The kicking and punting games are difficult to watch.
GC: Penn State 28-21 -- Northwestern has proven it can get to 5-0. But getting to 6-0 has been a different story. Penn State is beginning to peak at the ideal time. Playing at Beaver Stadium will be a huge advantage for the Nittany Lions.