STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State and Purdue have come full circle at quarterback.
When the teams met last season, Purdue had the more ballyhooed passer in Kyle Orton. Penn State's Zack Mills played well, but the Nittany Lions lost 20-13.
This season, Penn State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) has the top quarterback in Michael Robinson. Purdue (2-5, 0-4) isn't even sure who will start Saturday against the 11th-ranked Lions.
"This is the best football team we've seen all season, particularly the best defense, and it will give our offensive line their greatest challenge yet," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said.
On Tuesday, he said that he needed to watch more practice before deciding between redshirt freshman Curtis Painter and senior Brandon Kirsch.
Painter was expected to see more first-team practice snaps after getting his first career start last Saturday in a loss to Wisconsin. He threw three interceptions in the game.
"He has a lot to learn because he's so young and doesn't have nearly as much game experience as the rest of us, but for his first career start he did a great job," Purdue center Matt Turner said. "Camp Randall (Wisconsin's home field) is such a hostile atmosphere, but he kept his cool."
The starter will face an tougher challenge Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions give up 299 yards and 16 points a game, boasting a defense with tough linemen, sideline-to-sideline linebackers and a senior-laden starting secondary.
Last week, Painter was 23-for-44 for 212 yards and one touchdown to go with three interceptions - two of which were returned for scores. Painter also ran for a touchdown.
Turner and his offensive linemates have yielded just three sacks, tied for first in the Big Ten with Minnesota. That hasn't been overlooked by Penn State.
"Our biggest concern is that we know that they are a tough team, that they will come out and out-physical us," middle linebacker Tim Shaw said.
Getting physical isn't a problem for Robinson, either. When he's not hitting one of his talented young receivers on a long pass, he can be found running out of the pocket on designed plays, sometimes barreling into defenders.
Against Purdue, Robinson might be wise to stay more with the passing game, though. The Boilermakers give up a Division I-A-worst 348 yards passing a game.
Tiller said his team had breakdowns in the secondary early on. Lately, injuries have been the problem.
Ray Williams has started at cornerback after moving from wideout earlier this month. Another converted wideout, Brandon Whittingham, is listed as the starter at free safety for the injured Kyle Smith, though Tiller hopes he can return Saturday.
To counter, Robinson has options at wideout even without star freshman Derrick Williams, out with a broken left arm. Fellow speedy freshman Justin King looks to be on offense full-time after also playing defensive back earlier this season.
Freshman receiver Jordan Norwood also figures to be back after he was limited last week against Illinois by a bruised foot. Deon Butler and Ethan Kilmer came up with big plays against the Illini at wideout.
Toss in a solid running attack, and Penn State poses immense problems for Purdue, which has lost five straight after starting the year in The Associated Press rankings.
Still, Robinson doesn't think his team much of an edge.
"I definitely consider them to be a dangerous team," he said. "They're going to come in here with an attitude and a chip on their shoulder."