STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WHTM) — No. 6 Penn State already has two wins over ranked opponents headed into Week 4 of the Nittany Lions schedule. Now the attention shifts to Villanova, in the first meeting of the two programs since 1951.
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Penn State (3-0) continues its home slate against the 3-0 Villanova Wildcats on Saturday, Sept. 25. Although Villanova is an FCS school, it’s ranked 7th in FCS polls above Jacksonville State (who beat Florida State earlier this season).
The Nittany Lions have impressed through three weeks with wins over ranked Wisconsin in the season opener 16-10, dismantling defending MAC Champion Ball State last week at home, 44-13, and hanging on to win the White Out game over Auburn 28-20.
While almost everyone is predicting a Penn State victory, here are five things you need to know before the game kicks off.
Sean Clifford coming off best week
Penn State QB Sean Clifford faced a mountain of criticism after the 2020 season in which the Nittany Lions posted a 4-5 record. Clifford completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,883 yards, 16 touchdowns but nine interceptions.
But 2021 is a different story. The third-year starter has already thrown for 757 yards, four touchdowns with just one interception through three games. His quarterback ranking is 81.2 according to ESPN, which is good for 13th in the nation.
His performance against Auburn may have been his best performance of his career going 28-for-32 for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
If this is the Sean Clifford who is showing up the rest of the season, this Penn State offense will always give the team a chance to win.
Villanova is no slouch
Here’s the thing about the Wildcats: they’re averaging over 45.3 points per game in its first three weeks, while only allowing 11 points. Head Coach Mark Ferrante is 1-1 in matchups with FBS programs, both games were against Temple.
“Obviously, I didn’t grow up far from Villanova,” said Penn State head coach James Franklin (who grew up in Bucks County). “Mark Ferrante, I’ve known forever. I’m a big fan of Mark’s… We’ve just got to be prepared. Got a lot of respect for their program and their university as a whole. They’ve made it to the FCS playoffs 13 times. They’ve won a National Championship… Got a ton of respect for them. I think Coach Ferrante does a great job.”
The Pennsylvania series dates back to 1902. Penn State leads the all-time series 5-3-1, but the Wildcats have won the past three meetings.
Turnover battle needs to be point of focus
While Villanova should be outmatched by Penn State’s talent, the Wildcats do lead the nation in turnover margin. Villanova has 11 takeaways and could cause problems for Penn State who gave the ball away 17 times last season. The Nittany Lions finished minus-8 in turnover margin in 2020, ranking 12th among Big Ten programs.
This season, Penn State has cleaned a lot of that up with a turnover margin of 5, and only two fumbles lost and one interception. As long as the Nittany Lion offense stays poised, Villanova’s aggressive defense shouldn’t be an issue for Clifford and Company.
If all goes well, this could be a crucial game for the backups. Assuming Penn State can get out to a fast, clean start against Villanova, backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson should come into aid in his development.
Sophomore Roberson has completed one pass for 23 yards and one touchdown against Ball State.
Running back John Lovett could see more significant time after making two key plays against Auburn.
Gameday Forecast looks ideal
Another great Saturday in Happy Valley! Saturday morning features temperatures in the 40s, so for early risers trying to beat traffic, it will be a seasonably cool start. Sunshine though will be dominant throughout the day with game time temperatures in the middle the to upper 60s. No rain in sight for tailgaters!
Penn State/Villanova kickoff is at noon on Saturday, September 25; the game will be broadcast on BTN.