Since the Wildcats are on their bye week, we'll take a closer look at their opponent next Saturday, the Penn State Nittany Lions, who are 6-2 after a win last weekend over Maryland. Penn State, which hosts Illinois on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. CT on ESPN2, has won six of its last seven games after a season-opening loss to still-undefeated instate foe Temple.
Junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who was seen by some as a future first-round NFL draft pick back when he started school, has been a major reason for that resurgence with 11 touchdowns (and two interceptions) through the air so far to go with over 1,500 passing yards. However, his adjusted quarterback rating (according to ESPN.com) is a mediocre 45.2 mostly due to his weak completion percentage (just over 50 percent).
If you want to check out Northwestern's next conference foe, watching this Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium is a good start. Besides Hackenberg, the Nittany Lions have explosive running back Saquon Barkley (632 yards, four touchdowns, 7.2 YPC), wide receiver Chris Godwin (628 yards, two touchdowns) and fellow receiver DaeSean Hamilton (316 yards, four touchdowns) to fill out an offense that can points on the board quickly. Hackenberg's biggest plus attribute under center is his arm strength, which is why Penn State throws deep often, with a lot of success.
Also, kicker Joey Julius has become the country's most beloved special teams player. He isn't too accurate (two missed extra points so far) from short or long distance, but is perfect on field goals between 20 and 39 yards. To boot, the Internet is obsessed with him.
But Penn State's most impressive side of the ball is the defensive one, as the Nittany Lions are 10th in the country in passing defense. The main guy to watch here is defensive end Carl Nassib, a former walk-on who already has 13.5 sacks this year and is a contender for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Nassib, the brother of current NFL quarterback Ryan Nassib, also has picked off a pass and has forced five opponent fumbles.
Sophomore linebacker Jason Cabinda is also really good, with a team-high 61 total tackles (with two sacks) as are tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel. Cornerbacks Grant Haley and John Reid sure up the back end of James Franklin's defense.