Penn State looks to send out its seniors on a high note while Nebraska hopes to pull off an upset to keep its hopes of bowl eligibility alive.
(10) Penn State (7-2, 4-2) vs. Nebraska (4-6, 3-4)
Kickoff: 4 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
The Betting Line: Penn State -26
TV: FS1- Jason Kutcher (play-by-play), Mark Helfrich (analyst)
Weather: Cold and wet, with temperatures in the upper 30s/low 40s, and showers expected throughout the day.
PENN STATE RECORD: 33-17, 4th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 57-32, 7th Year
VS. NEBRASKA: 0-0
NEBRASKA RECORD: 19-17, 3rd Year
OVERALL RECORD: 112-97, 17th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 0-1
NOW THE FUN PART....
NEBRASKA DEFENSE VS. PENN STATE OFFENSE
There’s good news and bad news for Penn State when it comes to Nebraska’s run defense. The ‘Huskers are one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to stopping the run. On the other hand, other teams with similarly poor run defenses have succeeded in selling out to stop Saquon Barkley in the backfield. If the Cornhuskers are able to follow suit, it will be once again up to Trace McSorley to identify the mismatches and move the ball through the air.
Nebraska is better statistically against the pass, but this may be a symptom of teams running the ball at will against the ‘Huskers without worrying too much about putting the ball in the air. Overall, Nebraska is allowing 412 yards and 32.5 points per game.
The ‘Huskers have a star-in-the-making with pass rush specialist Ben Stille, who is putting up big numbers as a redshirt freshman. He leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks, and could be in for a big day against the Nittany Lions offensive line. Senior Chris Weber can also be disruptive and has eight TFLs on the season. Weber also excels in pass coverage.
Nebraska lacks a regular pass rush, meaning a big day could be in store for McSorley. The Nittany Lions finally took advantage of wide receiver Juwan Johnson in single coverage last week against Rutgers, and he responded with five catches and 78 yards. This could also mean a big day for tight end Mike Gesicki, and perhaps Saeed Blacknall, who will be playing their final game in Beaver Stadium.
NEBRASKA OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE
One positive for Nebraska’s disappointing season has been the play of quarterback Tanner Lee. The junior has been quite prolific at times, and often gives the ‘Huskers hope as they have trouble moving the ball on the ground. However, Lee is currently in the concussion protocol after being knocked out of last week’s contest against Minnesota, and is not likely to suit up on Saturday.
In his place would be redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien, who is rather short on experience. O’Brien has played in three games this season, getting mop up duty in blowout losses against Wisconsin and Ohio State, as well as coming in relief of Lee last week against Minnesota. On the season, he is 18 of 30 for 192 yards, one interception and no touchdown passes. At 6’4’’ and 230 lbs., he’s a classic dropback quarterback with a big arm, but not likely to hurt a defense with his legs.
O’Brien will have a talented group of receivers to work with, starting with Stanely Morgan Jr. The playmaking junior has at least 94 yards receiving six times this season and leads the team in touchdowns with seven. Freshman J.D. Spielman is on his way to becoming one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, and leads the ‘Huskers with 49 receptions and 734 receiving yards. He is coming off a huge month that included big games against Ohio State (11 rec., 200 yds.) and Minnesota (9 rec., 141 yds.). Senior De’Mornay Pierson-El is an outstanding third receiver who can cause damage if left alone. He knows how to find the soft spots in a defense, and the ‘Huskers like to use his speed by lining him up all over the field. Tight end Tyler Hoppes is the sole big target for Nebraska, and is a vital part of the offense.
This match-up seems to sway heavily in Penn State’s favor. As long as the Nittany Lions can halt the ‘Huskers on the ground, they will put it on the shoulders of a freshman quarterback in his first start in a raucous environment.
Drew Brown is in his fourth year as the starting kicker, and is having an exceptional senior season. He has connected on all 30 extra point attempts and 11 of 13 field goals, with a long of 44. Sophomore punter Caleb Lighrbourn has a big leg, averaging 42 yards per punt and regularly blasting punts 50-plus yards.
All of the athleticism at wide receiver translates to a dangerous return game for the ‘Huskers. J.D. Spielman is averaging nearly 25 yards per kick return, including a 99-yard touchdown. Punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El can get up field quickly when he spots a crease, and is averaging 7.4 yards per return with a long of 63.
Penn State certainly isn’t lacking in the return game- both Saquon Barkley and DeAndre Thompkins are a threat to go the distance whenever they have a little bit of space in front of them on a kickoff or punt return, respectively.
My initial thoughts were that this could be a shootout of sorts, with Nebraska moving the ball through the air setting up a back-and-forth affair until Penn State's penchant for creating turnovers did the 'Huskers in. But with Tanner Lee expected to be out on Saturday, I don't believe an unproven freshman quarterback will be able to carry the load considering Nebraska's inability to run the ball and Penn State's abilities to make offenses one-sided when they don't have plenty of firepower.
Penn State will come out hungry, playing motivated football from start to finish. The weather may put a damper on things, but Penn State will want to send their seniors out on a high note, as the team earns its ninth victory of the season and inches towards a New Year's Six bowl game.
With another opponent selling out to shut down Barkley, McSorley has a huge day, tossing four touchdowns to players in their last game in Beaver Stadium- two to DaeSean Hamilton, and one apiece to Mike Gesicki, as well as one final circus touchdown grab for the somewhat-forgotten Saeed Blacknell. Despite their best efforts, Barkley still cuts loose for a 60-yard touchdown run. On defense, Jason Cabinda has a sack and 11 tackles, while Tariq Castro Fields shows what's to come with an interception deep in Nebraska territory.
Penn State- 42 Nebraska-10