With the Big Ten's highest-rated passer looking to build on another stellar performance, Penn State will try to keep its conference title hopes alive when it visits Northwestern on Saturday afternoon.
The No. 12 Nittany Lions (7-1, 3-1) have gotten back on track since being upset 21-10 at home by Iowa on Sept. 26. They've done so behind senior quarterback Daryll Clark, who has rebounded from a three-turnover performance against the Hawkeyes to spark a four-game winning streak.
Clark has averaged 231.5 yards through the air and totaled 12 touchdowns during that span, and he tied a career high with four TD passes in a 35-10 rout at Michigan on Saturday.
"I don't think Clark's gotten anywhere near the kind of credit he should have after the season he had last year and the kind of season he's having this year," coach Joe Paterno said after the Nittany Lions' first win in Ann Arbor since 1996.
Clark leads the Big Ten in passer rating (148.4) and touchdowns (17) and directs the conference's top offense at 428.1 yards per game. He broke a school record with his 55th career touchdown last week.
"I play for the team, the coaches and to get the `W' every time we step out on the football field," Clark said. "We've won four straight and we have another tough opponent next week in Northwestern."
Penn State and Ohio State each have one league loss, and both are looking up at unbeaten Iowa. The Nittany Lions host the Buckeyes next week, and Ohio State then returns home to face the Hawkeyes the following week.
Along with Clark, Penn State can thank its defense for keeping it in contention for its first back-to-back Big Ten titles. Michigan came in averaging a conference-best 37.3 points before being shut down by the Nittany Lions.
After going 70 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown to open the game, the Wolverines were held to 180 yards and three points.
Northwestern (5-3, 2-2) is in the middle of the conference in total offense at 392.6 yards per game, but it racked up quite a few yards in a hurry against Indiana last Saturday. The Wildcats trailed 28-3 at home midway through the second quarter, but rallied to win 29-28 as Stefan Demos kicked a 19-yard field goal with 21 seconds left.
"It's kind of like, 'What are we doing here?'" said receiver Andrew Brewer, who had eight catches for 135 yards and a touchdown. "Let's play the way we know we're capable of playing, and for some reason this season, we are starting out late and having some tremendous finishes. ... Just imagine how good we could be and how the score would look if we played both halves that way."
Senior Mike Kafka leads the Big Ten with 2,067 passing yards, but was intercepted three times Saturday after being picked off four times in his first seven games.
Penn State is tied for 18th in the nation with 10 interceptions, and though Northwestern got away with a minus-three turnover differential against the Hoosiers, coach Pat Fitzgerald knows it's unlikely the Wildcats will be able to do it again.
"It's pretty hard to win a Big Ten game and lose the turnover battle," Fitzgerald said. "We need to do a better job, the ball was out a couple times and we had our hands on the ball a couple of other times, and didn't get the picks."
Penn State has not visited Northwestern since a 34-29 victory Sept. 24, 2005. Three of the Nittany Lions' four wins in Evanston came by five points or fewer.
Penn State leads the series 9-3.
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After losing to Iowa in September, Penn State has gotten back on track with four straight wins. The Nittany Lions will look to keep that streak going when they visit Northwestern. It should be an aerial attack with PSU QB Daryll Clark leading the Big Ten in passer rating and Wildcats QB Mike Kafka leading the conference in passing yards. Penn State leads the series 9-3.