There is a lot more at stake than meets the eye.
With a win, PSU becomes bowl eligible for a sixth straight season. But more importantly, a victory Saturday means head coach Joe Paterno becomes the first coach in major college football history to win 400 games.
While Paterno is obviously reluctant to discuss the impending milestone, his players are happy to address it. Yet they also understand what it will take to make the goal a reality.
“To help Coach [Paterno] get that 400th win would be absolutely great,” senior linebacker Bani Gbadyu said. “We still have a lot of things to work on, but the mistakes we made (against Michigan) are easily correctable so we'll work on that with the coaches and hopefully we won't have another game where we give up 31 points.”
Defeating Michigan 41-31 last Saturday night at Beaver Stadium was certainly an important win for the team, but to say all of the defense's early-season woes had been remedied would be false.
Penn State allowed 423 total yards, 233 of which were gained on the ground, and the 31 points allowed marked the second time this season the Nittany Lions allowed more than 30 at home to a Big Ten opponent. With a potent Northwestern offense led by quarterback Dan Persa coming to Happy Valley this weekend, the Penn State linebacking corps is determined to not let history repeat itself.
“[Persa] is a dual -- threat quarterback -- he has a lot of skills,” junior linebacker Nate Stupar said. “When you have a quarterback like that on an offense like that, you have to make plays and limit his big plays. We have to do our best to tackle, pursue and keep him out of the end zone.”
Although its statistical totals may not reflect the way Penn State's defense feels it has played recently, Gbadyu is confident that the points allowed will decrease and its level of play will increase.
“Michigan has a great offense, but you still never want to give up 31 points -- it looks bad,” Gbadyu said. “But the more you get into a season, the more confidence and experience you gain. It starts to show.
“People are starting to step up and do the right thing,” Gbadyu added. “We still have a lot of work to do, but as linebackers we're getting better every game and that's always a positive.”
While each member of the 2010 version of Linebacker U. is becoming more comfortable with his responsibilities on a weekly basis, there is one task that Stupar hopes to accomplish this weekend
“If we get [Paterno] his 400th win, I don't know if he would want to be carried off the field,” Stupar said. “But if he did, I wouldn't be afraid to help. That would be a great moment for him and everyone on the team.”