Seeking their fourth Big Ten road win of the season, the Penn State Nittany Lions make the trip to Lincoln for this Saturday’s key conference clash with the 18th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.
After opening the campaign with back-to-back losses, Penn State has won six of its last seven games, the most recent of which being a 34-9 decision at Purdue last Saturday. Coach Bill O’Brien’s squad is 4-1 in conference, but is ineligible to play in the Big Ten Championship Game or receive a bowl bid due to sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
Nebraska brings a three-game win streak into this contest, the team having rallied late to dispose of Michigan State on the road last Saturday, 28-24. As a result, the Cornhuskers come in at 7-2 overall and 4-1 in conference, which has them tied with Michigan for the top spot in the Legends Division. Coach Bo Pelini’s squad owns the tie-breaker with the Wolverines as a result of its 23-9 win on Oct. 27.
By virtue of its emotional 17-14 win in Happy Valley last season, Nebraska leads the all-time series with Penn State, 7-6. The Lions’ last visit to Lincoln in 2003 resulted in an 18-10 setback.
Matt McGloin threw for 321 yards and two TDs to lead Penn State to its rather comfortable win at Purdue last Saturday. When the dust had settled, the Nittany Lions had rolled up 506 yards of total offense, and other standouts for the visitors included Brandon Moseby-Felder (six rec., 129 yards), Zach Zwinak (21 carries, 134 yards) and Michael Zordich (two rushing TDs). PSU outgained PU on the ground by nearly 100 yards, averaging nearly five yards per carry, and the team did not commit a single turnover.
Defensively, Gerald Hodges logged eight tackles, three of which were behind the line of scrimmage, and the Nittany Lions didn’t allow the Boilermakers to score their only TD of the game until the end of the fourth quarter. Penn State did allow 288 passing yards, but Purdue logged 62 passes in an attempt to battle from behind.
Getting off to a fast start has been one of the keys to PSU’s solid record, as the team has out-scored its opponents 76-3 in the first quarter and 137-33 in the first half this season.
McGloin is the Big Ten’s leading passer in terms of yards (270.7 ypg) and completions (211), while tying for first in TD passes (18). He owns the single-season school record for 200-yard passing games (seven), and he is just one away from tying the career record (16).
Zwinak is the team’s leading rusher with 545 yards and three TDs, while Allen Robinson has made the most of his 57 catches by turning them into 689 yards and eight scores.
The Penn State defense has done a solid job this year, yielding an average of 17.1 points and 334.6 yards per contest. In its three Big Ten road wins, the team outscored the opposition, 107-30.
Both Michael Mauti and Hodges has been all over the field for the Lions this season, logging 83 and 76 tackles, respectively, the two combining for 10.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 11 passes defended and four interceptions — three of which belong to Mauti.
Coach O’Brien was asked after the Purdue game about his team reaching six wins and assuring itself of at least a .500 season.
“We go into every game wanting to win. The staff is full of winners and the roster is full of winners. Penn State wants to win and that’s what we are going to try to do in every game and every year.”
Taylor Martinez ran for 205 yards and two TDs while throwing for 160 yards and two more scores to bring the Cornhuskers back to post a four-point win at Michigan State last weekend. The Huskers churned out 313 yards on the ground, 110 of which were credited to RB Ameer Abdullah, and 473 total for the game, compared to 361 for the Spartans. Nebraska actually totaled 214 yards in the final frame alone.
Nebraska’s effort against the pass (123 yards) was considerably better than its showing versus the run (238 yards) last week, but the defense came up with a pair of fumble recoveries and got solid individual performances from P.J. Smith (12 tackles, 1.5 TFL), Daimion Stafford (11 tackles, one forced fumble) and Will Compton (11 tackles, one fumble recovery).
The Huskers average a robust 38.0 ppg, doing so behind 487.3 total ypg. Martinez is a 62.9 percent passer who averages 215.7 ypg and has thrown 18 TDs against eight interceptions, and he is also one of the team’s top ground gainers as well with 666 yards and eight scores. Abdullah heads that department with 826 yards and eight TDs, while Kenny Bell serves as the club’s leading receiver with 33 grabs for 622 yards and six scores.
The Nebraska defense hasn’t been as stingy as in years past, as foes are averaging 25.2 ppg despite piling up just 339.1 ypg. The team’s effort against the pass has been exemplary as it yields a mere 156.0 ypg through the air. The unit has tallied 24 sacks and 70 TFL, and Compton paces the Huskers with 73 total tackles.
Coach Pelini knows his team dodged a bullet last week, but was proud of the effort nonetheless.
“Give Michigan State a lot of credit. It was a fairly sloppy game at times, but at the end of the day, we made enough plays to win the football game and we hung in there, and it’s time to get back to work to keep getting better.”