Penn State tries to bounce back against Purdue
The Nittany Lions are 6-1 after a loss under O'Brien, including a win this season against undefeated Michigan.
The rebound wins are one way to avoid the kind of lengthy losing streaks that can doom a program. But the Nittany Lions have been unable to get a winning streak going this year, and have alternated wins and losses, starting with a win in the second game of the season against Eastern Michigan.
Based on the streak, the Nittany Lions (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) are due for a win after a loss last week at Minnesota.
The right team just might be rolling into Beaver Stadium. Still feeling the impact of drastic scholarship cuts, the Nittany Lions can clinch at least a .500 record with a win Saturday against Purdue (1-8, 0-5).
With games left against Nebraska and at Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions want to beat the Boilermakers to try and end the season with some sort of winning streak, even a modest one.
''Our play is just a little bit up and down, so we've got to try to smooth it out over the next few weeks, starting with Purdue,'' O'Brien said. ''We have to try to get it to where it's on more of an uphill slant, as far as improvement goes, and not as much up and down.''
Here are five things to watch when the Boilermakers visit the Nittany Lions.
ZWINAK ATTACK: In Penn State's running back-by-committee approach, it was Zach Zwinak's turn to shine against Minnesota. Bill Belton, who has topped 200 yards rushing in a game this season, fumbled on his first carry and was hardly used the rest of the game. Zwinak, a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago, has been plagued by fumbles this season and lost his starting job. With Belton out, Zwinak had 150 yards rushing and scored his first touchdown in more than a month. If Belton and Zwinak can get on the same page in the same game, the Nittany Lions could be potent. ''You have to give him credit, he really did run hard,'' O'Brien said of Zwinak. ''There was some good blocking, too. We'll continue to rotate him and Bill in there.''
PURDUE'S YOUTH: Purdue started five freshmen on offense last week against Iowa, including two linemen and QB Danny Etling. The Boilermakers played 19 freshmen last week against Iowa. The offense has started five freshmen at offensive skill positions this years. Six of Purdue's top eight receivers in yards receiving this season are underclassmen, including four freshmen. True freshman DeAngelo Yancey leads the way with 338 receiving yards. Two of Purdue's top three and three of its top five leaders in all-purpose yardage are freshmen. Purdue's top 12 players in all-purpose yards this year are all expected to return next season.
STOPPING ROBINSON: Penn State's Allen Robinson keeps showing why he's one of the top wideouts in the Big Ten. He leads the conference in nearly every receiving category and is among the nation's top pass catchers entering the 12th week of the season. He leads the Big Ten with 73 catches and 122.9 yards receiving a game, good enough for ninth in the NCAA in receptions and fourth in yards. Robinson has scored at least one touchdown in five of nine games this season.
HOT IN RED: Penn State has been effective in the red zone this season, scoring on 29 of 36 possessions inside the 20. Penn State has 21 touchdowns and eight field goals and scored on a whopping 60 of its last 69 trips dating to an October 2012 game against Northwestern.
PICK SIX: Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen is one shy of tying the NCAA record for interceptions returned for touchdowns. He has four INT returned for scores, one away from the five returned by former Oklahoma State CB Darrent Williams. He has 10 career interceptions, well short of the school record of 17 held by Stu Schweigert, but only one shy of second place in Purdue history. He leads all active players with four TDs off interceptions.