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First Look: Penn State Vs. Northwestern

Penn State resumes Big Ten play against a Northwestern team still looking for its first U.S. win this season.

Penn State fans probably will be able to buy beer at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, when the Lions host Northwestern. Depending on what happens, they'll tip in celebration or abject sorrow.

Northwestern is among the lowest-rated Power 5 teams, one that went 0-3 in the non-conference season after beating Nebraska in Ireland. This is no game for which Penn State should slack, particularly since it has a week off afterward.

So enjoy the beer. Here's the first look at Penn State-Northwestern.

Penn State (4-0) Vs. Northwestern (1-3)

  • When: 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
  • Where: Beaver Stadium
  • TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
  • Betting Line: Penn State is a 25.5-point favorite (opened at 22.5)
  • Series History: Penn State leads 14-5
  • Last Meeting: Penn State 31-7 in 2017
  • Streaks: Penn State has played the series' last two games at Northwestern

About the Lions: James Franklin felt it, too. The Lions beat Central Michigan 33-14, and fairly dominated the primary stat categories, but didn't look sharp doing so. He understands feel is an important element of football, though it doesn't trump result.

"When you look at the statistics sheet, you feel good about it, but it did not necessarily always feel that way during the game," Franklin said. "We were not as consistent as we need to be with some of the things that we are doing in all three phases. I thought we had a good week of practice. We did enough to be 1-0 this week and we will celebrate that. But there is a lot that we still must get corrected between now and next Saturday."

Quarterback Sean Clifford delivered the same assessment, putting himself atop the list of elements that need to improve.

"We have a standard try to uphold every single day," Clifford said. "The week of prep we had was fantastic. It wasn't that we had a bad Tuesday or Wednesday. This team is very locked in. But at the same time, when Saturday comes around, we’ve got to make sure we’re executing at a high level. And I thought it was just up and down for everybody [against Central Michigan]."

About the Wildcats: What happened here? Northwestern totaled 528 yards, 314 passing by quarterback Ryan Hilinski, in a season-opening victory over Nebraska. That game helped get Scott Frost fired at Nebraska. But since then, Pat Fitzgerald team's has withered under turnovers and is 0-3 in the U.S.

Northwestern is tied for the national lead with seven fumbles lost. Its turnover margin is a dreadful minus-5 (Penn State's is plus-8). The Wildcats fell behind Duke 21-0 but rallied for a one-possession loss.  They gave up four turnovers in a loss to Southern Illinois. Miami (Ohio) kicked a field goal with 21 seconds left in regulation to win 17-14 this past Saturday. "We continue to keep beating ourselves," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

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That's true, but Fitzgerald admitted one more issue following the Miami loss. The Wildcats are losing one-on-one battles across the field. That's one glaring reason Northwestern is the second-lowest ranked Power 5 team (ahead of only 0-4 Colorado) in ESPN's College Football Power Index.

Oddly, Northwestern has had Franklin's number as a head coach. Franklin's record vs. the Wildcats is 1-3, including a loss at Vanderbilt.

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.