Penn State – Northwestern pre-game notes

With just less than two hours from kickoff here at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., here are today's pre-game notes to help preview Penn State vs. Northwestern.

-A win against Northwestern would give Penn State coach Joe Paterno 408 all-time victories and tie him for second in college football history with the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling State (Division I-AA). John Gagliardi, who coaches at St. John’s University (Division III) in Collegeville, Minn., has 480 wins.

-The Nittany Lions are 11-3 all-time against the Wildcats and have won the last four meetings. Last November, Penn State came from 21 points behind to win 35-21 in what was Paterno’s 400th career victory.

-The Lions are 4-0 in games decided by 10 points or less this season. They beat Temple by four, Indiana by six, Iowa by 10 and Purdue by five.

-Since Dan Persa’s return from an Achilles tendon injury in the seasons’ fourth game, the senior quarterback from Bethlehem has led Northwestern to 30 points per game and is 73-of-92 for 700 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

-The Wildcats offense should present a nice challenge to Penn State’s defense, which gave up 344 yards of total offense to Purdue last week. Despite a shaky three quarters against the Boilermakers, the Lions still rank sixth in the nation in total (264.1 yards per game) defense and scoring defense (11.6 points per game). Penn State is 10th in the nation and first in the Big Ten with 17 turnovers this season, matching its total takeaways from last season.

-Penn State running back Silas Redd is looking to extend his 100-yard rushing games to four straight. Redd carried the ball 85 times for 402 yards over the last three games. Entering Saturday's games, Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Boise State’s Doug Martin were the only players in Division I with more October rushing yards than Redd. Richardson had 471 yards in that span while Martin had 420.

-Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden has ties to Northwestern’s football program and its particularly its head coach. Vanderlinden, now in his 11th year at “Linebacker U,” was the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator and assistant head coach from 1992-96. He also coached current Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald when Fitzgerald was a player. Under Vanderlinden’s guidance, Fitzgerald was the Big Ten and national defensive player of the year in 1995 and 1996. Fitzgerald’s first coaching job then came under Vanderlinden in 1998. Vanderlinden was the head coach at Maryland and Fitzgerald was a graduate assistant.

-Two players on Penn State’s roster hail from Illinois in starting fullback Joe Suhey (Deerfield), a fifth-year senior, and true freshman linebacker T.J. Rhattigan (Naperville). Two of Suhey’s former teammates at Loyola Academy, long snapper Pat Hickey and starting left guard Brian Mulroe, play for Northwestern.

-Penn State placekicker/punter Anthony Fera played with Northwestern sophomore kick returner Venric Mark at St. Pius X High School in Houston. Fera said he and Mark, who he called one of his best friends from home, would stay after practice and Fera would kickoff and punt to Mark. On Saturday, Fera will be kicking to Mark as an opponent.

“I never thought about that (happening),” Fera said.  It should be fun kicking to him again.”

--Jake Kaplan