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No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions zero in on FCS challenger Villanova Wildcats

Sep 18, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (9) hypes of the fans during the fourth quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Auburn 28-20. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (9) hypes of the fans during the fourth quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Auburn 28-20. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

After knocking off another ranked opponent and facing an instate-FCS foe, Penn State enters the regional rivalry fray.

The No. 6 Nittany Lions aim for an eighth consecutive victory when they host Villanova on Saturday in University Park, Pa.

Three games into the season, Penn State (3-0) appears primed to stake a claim as a serious contender for the Big Ten title and beyond.

The Nittany Lions opened the campaign with a 16-10 win at then-No. 12 Wisconsin and last weekend won 28-20 over then-No. 22 Auburn in Happy Valley. That marked the first time in the storied history of the Nittany Lions’ program the team beat two Top 25 teams over the first three games.

Penn State’s Sean Clifford has Nittany Lions off to hot start

sean clifford
Sep 18, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) gestures from the line of scrimmage during the second quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State has shined early thanks to a defense that’s allowed 43 total points and an average of 340.3 yards. Offensively, Sean Clifford is completing 71.3 percent of his passes for 757 yards and Jahan Dotson has caught 20 passes for 245 yards, and totaled five touchdowns over his last four games.

Yet, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin obviously won’t take anything for granted, and only expects his squad to get better. Even with a seemingly beatable opponent on tap this weekend.

“I’m pleased where our football team is right now,” Franklin said. “There’s a lot of things that we can get cleaned up and should get cleaned up. And, good football teams do that while they’re winning. They don’t need a setback to do that. We’re going to continue working on those things. I want to keep people honest.”

Dating to November 1983, Penn State has won all eight meetings against FCS opponents by an average of 41.3 points. The Nittany Lions will also be looking for a 19th consecutive home victory over schools from the state of Pennsylvania.

This will be the first meeting between Penn State and Villanova since 1951.

The Wildcats (3-0) are among the top teams in the FCS, currently ranked 11th in the Stats Perform FCS Poll and boasting one of the subdivision’s top players in running back Justin Covington (307 rushing yards, 7.0 yards per carry, two touchdowns).

Villanova trailed 27-13 versus Richmond in the fourth quarter last weekend, but rallied for three touchdowns — capped by Daniel Smith’s 47-yard scoring pass to Rayjoun Pringle with 38 seconds remaining in regulation — to pull out a 34-27 victory.

“When we execute our plays and do our job, all 11 (players on the field), we can go up and down the field,” Smith said of a Villanova squad that’s averaging 45.3 points on the season.

Of course, the Wildcats have not faced an opponent the caliber of Penn State.

However, Villanova did snap an eight-game losing streak against FBS opponents with a 19-17 win at Temple on Sept. 1, 2018. This will be its first contest against a ranked opponent since losing 48-21 to then-No. 21 West Virginia on Aug. 30, 2008.

–Field Level Media