This year's Nebraska-Penn State matchup should not include as much emotion as last year's contest did. Still, there is dissension among the ranks of the BSD bloggers on how this game will go.
bscaff: I'm really intrigued to see Penn State's offense against the Husker defense. Pelini loves playing nickle and manning up his DB's - it's really been his calling card at Nebraska (outside of N.Suh), and it destroyed PSU's passing game last year. BO'B loves passing from 4- and 5-wide: but he usually does so with two tight ends - a run-heavy personnel group. With Nebraska not playing like a traditional Nebraska against the run, BO'B could have Pelini between a rock and a hard place. Plus, Penn State's been great on the road, dropping 35 on the Illini, 38 on the Hawkeyes, and 34 on Purdue - all before the end of the 3rd quarter.
On the other side of the ball, for two straight 4th quarters, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez has resembled Joe Montana (with a shoulder injury), leading his team to come from behind victories. If Martinez continues this hot streak, then I don't like Penn State's - or any B1G team's - chances at slowing down the Huskers offense.
Special teams? Special teams have been a net positive just 1 game out of 9. I'm guessing it's 1 out of 10 after this week.
Adam: Several weeks ago on our podcast, I suggested that the Nittany Lions were poised to go on a run. I made an allowance for one slip up, and suggested it would be against a spread team like Northwestern. It turns out that instead of Northwestern, it was a similar team with a better quarterback that gave us our only loss in Big Ten play.
This week, we face a team that's better than Northwestern, but not as good as Ohio State. Nebraska is a worthy adversary with an electric quarterback that is capable of breaking big plays with his feet. Sound familiar? It should.
In the end, I don't think that Martinez makes as many big plays as Braxton Miller did against our defense. He is a much improved passer, but has struggled significantly in the last few games. I don't expect him to have the kind of success on the ground that he had against Michigan State last week. He won't break a 70+ yard touchdown. Penn State will play strong defense and take the ball away twice.
It's what we do with those turnovers that makes the difference in the game. As much as many are loathe to admit it, Matt McGloin is the best passer in the Big Ten. Nebraska's pass defense is one of the best in the country. Yet if we're honest with each other, we know that both of those are somewhat inflated. Nebraska hasn't faced a passing offense of this quality. McGloin hasn't faced a secondary with these kinds of athletes.
In the end, I think our offense performs well enough to turn those turnovers into touchdowns. Sam Ficken will have a chance to redeem himself. This team plays well on the road, away from the overly emotional distractions of State College. I expect that to continue.
Penn State 31-28
Nick: I really don't have an x's and o's approach to this prediction, but this Penn State team has been playing better on the road than they have at home. Maybe they're too amped in Beaver Stadium and getting out of town sharpens their focus, whatever it is I expect to be enough the get them over the hump and squeak out a victory.
Penn State 27-23
Tim: Part of me would love to go Dick Morris and pick PSU to win by a couple of touchdowns. Alas, the realist in me sees that merely winning this game will be a tall task. Yes, the Blackshirts defense hasn't quite been up to par, but with 24 mph winds forecasted in Lincoln, it's going to make slinging the ball around a more difficult task for McGloin. Most importantly though, I look at Nebraska's offense and I see Ohio State except they have a QB who can throw the ball as well in Taylor Martinez. The absence of Rex Burkhead will not be a major issue as Ameer Abdullah is more than capable of being the "main man" at tailback, providing a second running threat to complement Martinez.
Jared: This will be the toughest game to predict of the season. Nebraska can be frustratingly inconsistent at times, rotating between looking like a surefire BCS squad and a team in the bottom half of the Big Ten. Sometimes they look unstoppable in the first half, only to get demoralized in the second half (Ohio State), sometimes they lay an egg in the begining of the game only to dominate the latter stages (Wisconsin). Lately, the tendency has been to spot the opponents a few scores just to play flawlessly and win in the closing seconds (Northwestern, Michigan State). On top of this, it seems like the strengths of both teams line up perfectly, making it nearly impossible to predict what will give on Saturday. Nebraska is tough to beat at home, while Penn State has been nothing short of amazing on the road all year. The 'Huskers have one of the best pass defenses in the nation, but will receive their biggest test of the season against Matt McGloin and his bevy of receiving options (still not used to writing things like this). Nebraska has a fantastic trio of runners that are capable of putting up huge numbers on the ground, while Penn State's front seven has been stellar against the run when they aren't playing against Braxton Miller. With such an even gave, something will have to give. If it comes down to turnovers, it's Penn State's game. However, if it comes down to special teams or Penn State struggling to stop another scrambling quarterback, this one will go to the 'Huskers. Either way it will make for an exciting afternoon in Lincoln.
Nebraska 27-24 (OT)
Dan: After watching him for a little more than two-and-a-half years now, I never thought I would type the words that I'm about to put down.
I'm scared of Taylor Martinez.
That fear stems from the Lions' inability to stop Braxton Miller when he left the pocket two weeks ago when the Ohio State quarterback ran for 134 yards and two scores on the Penn State defense. Martinez is just as dynamic of a runner and has improved vastly as a passer over the past year, much like Matt McGloin.
The Penn State offense will also face a test when it goes up against the top secondary in the Big Ten. Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton will have to gain yards on the ground early and Bill O'Brien will have to allow them to do so.
This will be a close game, just like last year. And just like last year, I think the Cornhuskers come out on top while Penn State still covers the 7-point spread.