Paterno tries to tie Robinson on wins list

ANDREW SELIGMAN AP Sports Writer Published:

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EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Already major college football's winningest coach, there aren't many milestones left for Penn State's Joe Paterno.

Well, here's one.

Beat Northwestern on Saturday and JoePa gets his 408th win to tie the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling State for the record among Division I coaches.

"I knew Eddie," Paterno said. "He was a delightful person. He obviously did a fantastic job at Grambling."

Paterno has done pretty well himself, and if Penn State (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) comes out on top this weekend, it won't be the first time Northwestern (2-4, 0-3) was on the wrong end of a milestone win for the legendary coach.

Win No. 323 to tie Bear Bryant came at the Wildcats' expense. So did No. 400 last year in Happy Valley, and that one was particularly dramatic. The Nittany Lions rallied from a three-touchdown deficit in the first half to win 35-21, and when it was over, Paterno rode the broad arms and shoulders of two offensive linemen and was serenaded by more than 100,000 fans chanting his name afterward.

There are more pressing matters at hand for the 84-year-old coach and his team.

The schedule is about to take a tougher turn with Illinois and Nebraska at home followed by games at Ohio State and Wisconsin, and this one could be difficult even if the Wildcats have dropped four in a row.

Penn State hasn't exactly been blowing away opponents.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a narrow 23-18 victory over Purdue in which they allowed 162 yards rushing and 344 altogether, well below standard for a defense that ranks sixth nationally at 264.1 yards per game. They barely beat Temple 14-10 on Sept. 17 and squeezed by conference weakling Indiana 16-10 on Oct. 1. They also have a quality, close win over Iowa (13-3 on Oct. 8) to go with blowouts over FCS school Indiana State and Eastern Michigan.

The loss? That was to Alabama, 27-11 on Sept. 10.

Now they're staring at a Northwestern team that could pose problems. The Wildcats blew an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter against Illinois and lost 38-35 after quarterback Dan Persa left in the fourth quarter because of soreness near his surgically repaired right Achilles tendon.

They led Michigan by 10, only to get blown out in the second half on the way to a 42-24 loss, and last week's 41-31 loss at Iowa was another head-scratcher. Northwestern racked up 495 yards and 29 first downs, yet still managed to give up all those points even though the Hawkeyes held the ball for less than 22 minutes.

"We're playing much better up front fundamentally than a year ago," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "For a majority of the plays we're seeing in the passing game, we're playing pretty well. It's the home runs over our head that have killed us."

On the other side, Persa's return hasn't been quite the spark the Wildcats anticipated -- not that he's played poorly. His 74.5 completion percentage would rank fourth nationally if he qualified, but he acknowledged this week he's still limited by his injury.

"Obviously I'm not as fast as I was last year. That's evident," he said. "I think I'm close. But obviously I've still got a little bit of a ways to go."

Even so, Penn State isn't taking him lightly. Or, for that matter, Northwestern.

Paterno said, "At times they look as good as anybody."

And linebacker Nate Stupar said, "People might (see) that they're 0-3 in the Big Ten, but they have a very explosive offense."

Contain it, and Paterno likely reaches another milestone at the Wildcats' expense.

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