STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Quentin Williams tunes out the whispers he hears from Northwestern skeptics.
Beat Penn State on the road Saturday, and the No. 24 Wildcats might take another step toward quieting the doubters and proving their 5-0 record is no fluke. Buoyed by its strong start, Northwestern (1-0 Big Ten) is supremely confident it can roll into Beaver Stadium and go toe-to-toe with surging Penn State (3-2, 1-0).
“I wasn’t a big believer in wanting to do what people think you can’t do,” said Williams, a senior defensive end and Pittsburgh native.
Back in the Top 25 for the first time since 2008, the Wildcats are off to their third 5-0 start in the last 5 years. If coach Pat Fitzgerald’s crew could get just one more win, they’ll reach an even more impressive milestone for the program – the first 6-0 start in five decades.
Even linebacker David Nwabuisi wasn’t sure initially how this year’s start rated in the Northwestern record books.
“This is the first time we’ve been 5-0 ... Maybe it’s the first time,” he said this week, trailing off a couple times as looked over at school officials for help.
“So, you know, the ‘hay is not in the barn,’ coach Fitz always says,” Nwabuisi added. “We’re going to get the best out of every team, week in and week out, especially now that we’re ranked. We have a big target on our backs.”
Nice save, David.
Among the Wildcats, junior Kain Colter might be drawing the most attention from Linebacker U., so long as they figure out where he’s lined up.
He’s a quarterback. He’s a receiver. He can create big plays with his feet dashing out of the backfield. You name it.
Colter and Northwestern’s exhausting spread offense might be the toughest challenge yet for Penn State, an opportunistic defense that has 11 forced turnovers. The jack of all trades had nearly 300 all-purpose yards and rushed for four scores in last week’s 44-29 win over Indiana.
Penn State has momentum in the series, having won the last five matchups – though technically, those wins have been vacated due to NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“We’ll be ready. We’ll motivate ourselves,” said quarterback Matt McGloin, the Big Ten’s leading passer (243 yards per game). “Nothing would be better than to give them their first loss.”
Just like Northwestern, there are still questions about the quality of the Nittany Lions’ wins. While providing a nice morale boost, the three wins have come against Navy, Temple and Illinois, a crop that is a combined 4-8.
Opponents’ records aren’t that much better for the undefeated Wildcats, whose five wins have come against teams who are a combined 6-14.
“I think everybody knows how important this game is,” said Penn State junior linebacker Glenn Carson. “I’ve been here two years, and I know a big-game feel.
“This is a must-win.”
What: Northwestern at Penn State
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Line: Nittany Lions by 2½