Penn State will try to diminish Nebraska's bowl positioning while attempting to send off the seniors with a victory in their final game at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State (6-4, 3-3) vs. Nebraska (7-3, 4-2)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
The Line: PSU -2
TV: BTN Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chuck Long(analyst) Jon Jansen (sideline)
Weather: Frigid. State College will see a high of 39, but temperatures will drop well below freezing during the game with the low of only 19 degrees. There is an ever-so-slight chance of rain or snow, a big improvement after seeing showers in the forecast throughout most of the week. It will be a slightly windy day, but likely not strong enough to be a factor in the game.
PENN STATE RECORD: 14-8, 2nd year
OVERALL RECORD: same
VS. NEBRASKA: 0-1
NEBRASKA RECORD: 56-23, 6th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 56-23, 6th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 2-0
...NOW THE FUN PART
NEBRASKA OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE
Junior running back Ameer Abdullah will be the key to Nebraska's offense on Saturday. Abdullah is a bruising back who is also quick to hit the hole. He's arguably the best running back in the Big Ten, and one of the better ones in all of college football. He is averaging a whooping 6.5 yards per carry on the season and can wear a defense out by the second half. If this happens, Penn State's 3rd down woes will continue and they'll have a very difficult time getting off the field. Nebraska should win this game if he surpasses the century mark.
Freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has done an admirable job keeping the offense afloat following the season-ending injury to Taylor Martinez. While Armstrong has demonstrated a tremendous upside, he still plays like a freshman at times (just like Purdue quarterback Danny Etling and our very own number 14). Armstrong has thrown an equeal number of touchdowns and interceptions (7 each), while completing 53 percent of his passes. A reason for optimism for the Penn State defense is that Armstrong Jr. has struggled on the road, completing 45.9 percent of his passes while throwing three interceptions, compared to just one touchdown. Interestingly enough, Armstrong usually comes off the bench in the second quarter to relieve senior Ron Kellogg III. Kellogg is a steady presence who does a good job getting the team off the ground. He's efficient, but not spectacular.
Junior Kenny Bell is the 'Huskers main man on the perimeter. He's an explosive deep threat, but can also make the difficult catches to keep the chains moving. He'll be someone the Penn State defense will need to pay close attention to one third downs.
NEBRASKA DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE
The 'Huskers defense looked to be a complete train wreck during the non-conference portion of the season as they were light up by the likes of Wyoming (!!!) and UCLA. However, they have done a nice job of improving throughout the season and now rank in the top-third nationally in nearly every defensive statistic. The one area where they still struggle is defending the run game. Nebraska's run defense has been consistently gouged in Big Ten play. Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton should have plenty of opportunities early in the game to set up the pass. Once again, look for one to emerge and have a big day.
Penn State's offensive line will face a difficult task in slowing down junior defensive end Randy Gregory. The JUCO transfer has been an unblockable force at times, and could easily find his way into Penn State's backfield to wreak havoc on Hackenberg and company. Hackenberg may be wise to avoid senior cornerback Stanely Jean-Baptiste. The All-B10 candidate has made many quarterbacks pay for throwing his direction.
Senior kicker Pat Smith is a very reliable short-range option, but does not take many attempts beyond 40 yards. The 'Huskers will likely need to get deep into Penn State territory before thinking about settling for a field goal. Nebraska has a weapon in freshman punter Sam Foltz, who has regularly drills 55-64 yard punts. Once again, Penn State may be at a disadvantage in the field position battle. The 'Huskers are much better at returning kickoffs than punts, and need to worry about Kenny Bell bringing one back for a score if he gets the opportunity. They are also one of the best in the nation in kick coverage, so any Penn State returner who fields the ball in the end zone really needs to just stay put.
Like the Michigan game, I could easily see this game going about a million different ways. Both teams can be wildly inconsistent at times and have weaknesses that are both easily recognized and exploited. If this game were away from Beaver Stadium I would pick he 'Huskers without much thought. A home game filled with the emotions of Senior Day might be enough to get these young Lions to play with enough emotion and precision to get win number seven, which would be a very impressive feat with all things considered.
I've been as objective as possible with these predictions this season, and frankly, I'm sick of it. With the likely last winnable game of the 2013 season on the horizon, it's time to drink the blue Kool-Aid. Here's to Penn State winning another wild one in Beaver Stadium.