STATE?COLLEGE?- Linebacker Glenn Carson called it "a must win," and if Penn State is going to beat Northwestern this week, it will have to slow down the ultimate dual-threat quarterback, Kain Colter.
"He's unbelievable," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Colter. "He is the most dynamic young man, I think, in this conference."
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien called the Wildcats "the best team that we have faced," and Colter's versatility is one of the biggest reasons why.
From one play to the next, Colter will either be the Wildcats' quarterback or receiver or even running back. The key for Penn State's defense will be, first and foremost, to identify where he is on the field.
"That's a big challenge," O'Brien said. "That's something where you have to know right away who is in the game. Then in your mind, you have to know, 'OK, these are the plays that they run with this guy in the game. These are the formations and tendencies out of formations that they run these plays, and these are the other formations that they run these other plays.'"
Colter carried 14 times for 161 yards and four touchdowns, plus he had nine catches for 131 yards in Northwestern's 44-29 win over Indiana on Saturday. Usually you'd say a quarterback who went just 1-of-3 for 2 yards and an interception had a terrible game, but that clearly wasn't the case for Colter.
"I don't get too wrapped up in the title of my position," Colter said. "I just try to go out there and make plays. Of course, I would love to be known as a quarterback, and I have started the first four or five games at quarterback, but at the same time there may be a situation where I have to go play receiver.
"So whatever somebody wants to call me, I am not too worried about that. If they want to call me athlete that is fine."
O'Brien said anyone who can play quarterback and receiver in the same game is "a very smart, instinctive football player" and added that Colter will be "a huge challenge for us on Saturday."
Trevor Siemian will be in charge of Northwestern's offense at quarterback when Colter isn't lined up there. Siemian was 22-of-32 for 308 yards against Indiana and has completed 69 percent of his passes for 672 yards so far, while Colter has completed 66.2 percent for 369 yards. Colter also has 371 rushing yards on 59 carries.
One thing Northwestern has to worry about with Colter is keeping him healthy, especially against a tough, physical defense. Quarterbacks usually don't take many big hits in a game, but Colter will take more the more he's playing receiver or running back.
Colter said he's more cautious when taking hits and knows he has to get down.
"Injuries are just part of football," he said. "You never know when a guy takes a bad hit on a sack or anything. You can't base your game plan of how you are going to run the offense on if your guy is going to get hurt or not."
Penn State could be 5-0, but the two close losses against Ohio and Virginia have served as motivation for the players.
"The two losses in the beginning of the season are the thing that's helping us the most," Carson said. "I think that's keeping us hungry."
Those losses, Carson added, make PSU "a pretty dangerous team."
"We think that we should have won those two games, and we're upset about it and we're trying to make up for it," Carson said.
Take good with bad
When the Lions watch tape of their previous game each Monday, it starts with the coaches showing them what they did well, then what they didn't do well.
Despite scoring 35 points at Illinois, O'Brien said the offense was only about 50/50 good compared to bad.
"There's so many things to improve upon and some things to build upon," the coach said. "But I do believe that progress has been made [on offense]."
RB by committee
The Lions have all their running backs healthy, but O'Brien doesn't see anyone getting 30 carries a game, and instead will split things up with several getting 12-15.
"We have got some good guys back there, and ... it's really competitive in practice," O'Brien said.
Bill Belton is the starting running back but said it's not frustrating splitting time.
"As long as we get a team win, we're perfectly all right with that," he said.
O'Brien said he's been hearing from a lot of people telling him how much they enjoy watching this PSU team play. He then had a comical line about the effort the players are showing.
"They play like their hair is on fire every play," the coach said.
Penn State students are trying to organize a whiteout for Saturday's game, and O'Brien encouraged them to turn out.
"The crowd noise, the student section, these guys feed off of that," O'Brien said. "So whether it's a whiteout, this out, that out, I don't know. I just need them in the stands at noon going nuts for this football team."