One of those three things will again be in play Saturday at 7 p.m., when the Nittany Lions (6-1) face the Wildcats (2-4) on the road. Coach Joe Paterno, who won his 400th game when the Lions erased a 21-0 deficit to beat Northwestern 35-21 last Nov. 6, can win his 408th this year, tying him with Eddie Robinson on the all-time all-divisions list.
Only John Gagliardi, who has won 480 at Division III St. John's, Minn., has more.
“It only gives us more to play for,” offensive tackle Quinn Barham said earlier this week.”
At the same time, Barham said, “That's not really our focus. Either way, a win will be good for all of us -- Coach Paterno and ourselves.”
Barham remembers last year's meeting with the Wildcats as a breakout game for QB Matt McGloin, who threw four touchdown passes off the bench. It was also the first 100-yard game for tailback Silas Redd, then a freshman. He buffeted a 134-yard effort by the since-departed Evan Royster with 131 of his own.
McGloin had actually played extensively, and well, in two previous games -- as a sub against Minnesota and a starter against Michigan. But Barham said his performance against the Wildcats was “a shock to all of us.”
“To see that,” Barham said, “it really showed us, we've got a special guy here. And ever since then, he's been doing his thing and really rising to the challenge, whenever he's been called on.”
But McGloin continues to come off the bench behind Rob Bolden, for reasons that are unclear. Not so Redd, who has supplanted Royster as the feature back. He is fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, with 705 yards (4.8 per carry), and has exceeded 100 in each of his last three games, and four times this season in all.
If he is to surpass Royster as the school's all-time leading rusher -- something Royster himself predicted last year -- it seems clear he is going to do it four and five yards at a time. Even at 5-foo-10 and 201 pounds he has shown himself to be something of a grinder, as opposed to a breakaway threat; his longest run this year is just 24 yards.
Asked to compare Redd and Royster, Barham said they're both great but added, “Silas is a harder-nosed back. He's going to go in there and get his jersey dirty. Royster, he would do the same thing, too. But I think the difference would be Silas runs a little harder. … He's a little guy, but he gets in there, he runs people over. He'll make you miss, and he'll run you over.”
The offense faces a Northwestern defense that is last in the conference against the pass (257.2 yards per game) and next-to-last against the run (172.2). The Wildcats are also 11th in total defense (429.3) and 10th in scoring defense (30.0).
“We do know that Northwestern does have some holes in their defense,” Barham said. “Our coaches will do the best job they can to really try and exploit those holes, whether it will be in the running game or the passing attack.”
Earlier in the call, he sounded even more sure of the PSU's offensive capabilities.
“We already have momentum and confidence coming into this game,” he said. “We're not overly confident, because we know Northwestern can creep up on us and get us. But we know we're a very capable offense, and their defense is not invincible. We know we can move the ball and we will be able to score on them. It's just a matter of doing those things, and doing them at the right time and being consistent.”