FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 file photo, Penn State's Saquon Barkley 26) looks to stiff arm Pittsburgh's Avonte Maddox
FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017 file photo, Penn State's Saquon Barkley 26) looks to stiff arm Pittsburgh's Avonte Maddox

Sports

Penn State's Franklin sees possible trouble in Northwestern

AP Sports Writer

October 06, 2017 12:35 PM

EVANSTON, Ill.

Penn State coach James Franklin sees the talent Northwestern has and the success the Wildcats have experienced under Pat Fitzgerald.

That's why he sees potential trouble for the Nittany Lions.

No. 4 Penn State looks to remain unbeaten and in line for a playoff spot when it visits Northwestern on Saturday.

"I think whenever you're at an academic school like Northwestern ... everybody just likes the story to be that you don't have the same type of athletes," said Franklin, who coached Vanderbilt before taking the Penn State job in 2014. "I don't know if I necessarily would agree with that."

The Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) have been rolling along, racking up more points and yards than any other team in the Big Ten except Ohio State. They are also allowing a league-low 9.4 points.

Running back Saquon Barkley keeps padding his Heisman Trophy resume. Trace McSorley so far is the Big Ten's leading passer.

Four of Penn State's wins were by at least comfortable margins. The exception came at Iowa two weeks ago, when Juwan Johnson caught a 7-yard TD pass as time expired to give the Nittany Lions a 21-19 victory.

Yet if Franklin is feeling a little uneasy, the reasons go beyond his 0-3 record against Northwestern (2-2, 0-1). That includes two losses coaching Penn State.

"I think they are a blue-collar (team), hard-nosed, tough, smart and talented in my opinion, and that's why they are a tough out because they have all the necessary ingredients to be successful," he said.

Northwestern finished strong after a 1-3 start last year and finds itself hoping to do the same this time. The Wildcats lost 33-24 at Wisconsin last week after a rally came up short.

Here are some things to know as the Nittany Lions try to stay unbeaten while the Wildcats look to pull off a surprising win:

DO IT ALL

Tops in the nation at 243.6 all-purpose yards per game, Barkley has been doing it all for Penn State. He has scored rushing, receiving and return touchdowns, and he ran back the opening kickoff 98 yards for a score against Indiana last week.

"He's got great vision, he's got great balance, he's got great speed, and he's got great toughness," Fitzgerald said. "Amazing vision, and he's just durable, he's tough. And then he catches the ball the same way; he returns the ball the same way."

RECORD IN REACH

With 4,402 yards rushing, Northwestern's Justin Jackson needs 83 to tie Damien Anderson's school record.

"Everyone keeps bringing it up a lot," he said. "Our goals as a team are to win the Big Ten West and obviously last week wasn't what we wanted."

Jackson ran for 25 yards against Wisconsin after missing practice all week because of a leg injury.

"He's obviously a really good running back," Penn State defensive end Ryan Buchholz said. "He has good size and speed for that offense, and the offensive line moves really well."

GESICKI UPDATE

Star tight end Mike Gesicki apparently will be available for Penn State. Franklin said he expects him to play after he left last week's game with an upper body injury. He exited after taking a hard hit following a short reception in the second quarter against Indiana.

TOUGH STRETCH

Penn State is off next week. After that comes a tough combo: The Nittany Lions host Michigan on Oct. 21 and visit Ohio State on the 28th.

SHAKY HAND

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson completed a career-high 29 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin. But he also got picked off twice. Thorson has almost as many interceptions (five) as touchdown passes (seven).

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