PSU (6-3; 4-1) is clicking again under McGloin, and if the Nittany Lions maintain balance offensively it could give the Husker defense some problems. Nebraska (7-2; 4-1) is tough in Lincoln though, and the Huskers have a lot to play for right now – Big Ten Championship, Rose Bowl berth. PSU has excelled on the road in the Big Ten, but Illinois, Iowa, and Purdue are certainly not at the level of Nebraska this year. Nebraska has more Big Ten wins this season than all three of those teams combined (Purdue and Illinois have yet to win a Big Ten game).
Notes for Saturday:
Best in the Legends
Ranked 16th in the BCS rankings – highest among all Big Ten schools (OSU would be higher, but not eligible). Only losses were at UCLA early in the season and in Columbus against the Buckeyes. They’ve beat Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan St. The only two opponents that PSU and Nebraska have both played this season? Northwestern and OSU. Both Nebraska and PSU beat Northwestern……both lost to OSU. You could argue that winner of Nebraska vs Penn State holds the #2 spot in the Big Ten, behind OSU (don’t tell that to Michigan fans). Nebraska is the clear leader in the Legends division – but could the two ineligible teams in the conference (PSU and OSU) claim the top spots in the conference?
Year a ago
Recall last year in Happy Valley when Nebraska came to town in what would be the first game since 1950 without Joe Paterno on the sidelines. No one really knew what the game would be like let alone what would take place in the months that followed. But on that day my respect for Nebraska increased ten-fold. Every coach and player from both teams met at the center of the field before the game, and kneeling together, Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown led everyone in a chilling prayer. Nebraska won 17-14. Since that game though, a lot has changed. Now in Lincoln, Nebraska – a revitalized PSU program tries to continue their surprising success against one of the best in the conference. Nebraska willing be playing for a shot at a trophy, a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. And PSU? Pride.
Last week PSU was without their starting TE Kyle Carter. He is ‘day-to-day’ but I expect he’ll be ready to go against Nebraska. Starting DT Jordan Hill though, despite being listed as ‘day-to-day’, is not likely to play after straining his knee against Purdue. Hill is one of the best defensive lineman in the conference. Hopefully, senior James Terry can fill the hole against a tough Nebraska offense. Also, don’t count out RB Rex Burkhead, who rushed for 1,357 yards last season. He is getting very close to being back on the field – current status is “day-to-day”.
Nebraska running game
In addition to mobile QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah has continued to produce in place of injured starting RB Rex Burkhead (still rehabing a knee injury). Nebraska has the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten. However, we all know the PSU defense is tough. This won’t be the first game the defense faces a dual threat QB in combination with a solid RB. Expect O’Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof to learn from the OSU loss and get the defense prepared for the potent Nebraska offense.
Turnovers will be key
Nebraska is the worst turnover margin team the Big Ten (-1). They’ve lost 23 turnovers. Penn State? The best turnover margin team in the Big Ten (+1.) They’ve lost 8 turnovers. If that holds true for Saturday, it could bode well for the Nittany Lions. We already know the LBs are stellar, but look for the secondary to step up this game.
Belton will be back
Didn’t see much of Belton against Purdue. I expect that to change on Saturday. Apparently, Belton hasn’t been doing too stellar in practice - “I felt like you gotta earn it on the practice field,” O’Brien said Saturday. “So I felt like ‘Zwinny’ deserved to start. I talked to Billy about “that.’ I’m sure Belton will bringing it to practice this week. I like this approach though by O’Brien — in order to start, you have to earn it every day on the practice field. Also, game plans are not always the same depending on your opponent. This is especially true with the RB position and style of offense. Against Purdue, Zwinak and Zordich were the lead RBs — both resemble more a of FB than RB. Zwinak runs at you (and through you) whereas Belton is a quick all-purpose back that will make you miss. Both Zwinak and Belton, in their sophomore year, are the future of PSU’s running game. Expect to see both Belton and Zwinak take the lead on Saturday.
McGloin vs Martinez
Two contrasting QB styles – both having considerable success. McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing yards (2436 yds) and tied with Martinez for the most TDs (18). McGloin has a 145.3 passer rating; Martinez 147.1 passer rating. McGloin recently set the school record for most 300-yard passing games, passing Kerry Collins. Then there is Martinez, arguably one of the best dual threat QBs in the Big Ten, 2nd only to Braxton Miller of the Buckeyes. Nebraska also has the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten. Martinez had 365 total yards in their win over MSU this past Saturday (205 yards rushing) and became the all time leader in total offense at Nebraska. That’s right. ALL TIME. Pretty impressive considering the history at Nebraska. Then again, McGloin only needs to average 190 yards in the last three games to break the PSU single season passing record.
A couple differences worth noting– McGloin has 3 interceptions this season, Martinez has 8. McGloin has been sacked 12 times, Martinez only twice. These stats reflect their distinct styles. McGloin is a pocket passer, efficient. Martinez is a mobile QB, creating plays with his feet. OSU caused problems for the PSU offense a few weeks ago, Nebraska could do the same. The question will be how O’Brien and the offense can adjust to slow down Nebraska….
If both offenses get clicking, it could be an old fashion shootout – something Nebraska has been doing all season. I like PSU offensively to be able to put up a decent amount of points against the Nebraska defense. The big question will be whether the defense can slow down Martinez and company? Regardless of the result, it’ll be fun to see how the PSU defense matches up against the high-powered Nebraska offense.
This week I’m going with the favorite Nebraska winning over PSU in a hard fought battle.