Game Day: Nebraska vs. Penn State

Down but not out

When Nebraska receiver Quincy Enunwa gathered fellow seniors Tuesday to discuss a week of preparation for Saturday's tilt at Penn State, he didn't mince words: Don't simmer in disappointment. Shoddy play in Happy Valley in front of a Big Ten Network audience could make a season full of injuries and misfires even harder to stomach. "It's about pride," Enunwa said. "If you don't play for pride, you shouldn't be playing at all. At this point in the season, we're not going to make it to the championship game, so you have to play for pride."

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Penn State rush defense

Penn State was considered as strong up front as any Big Ten team starting the season, but the Nittany Lions are only in the middle of the pack in rushing defense (144 yards per game, 3.9 per carry). Nebraska hasn’t topped 200 yards the past four games but continues to get reliable production from I-back Ameer Abdullah, who hurt PSU a year ago. Edge: NU

Nebraska pass offense vs. Penn State pass defense

Nebraska is completing just 52.8 percent of its throws in Big Ten play and there have been timing and communication issues of late (some costly). Tommy Armstrong has as many interceptions as touchdown passes (seven of each), and NU will protect him with a pieced-together line. PSU wins here if it can put the Huskers in obvious passing downs. Edge: PSU

Penn State rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

NU seems to be improving, but the fact remains that the Huskers aren’t far removed from Minnesota and Northwestern hanging a combined 516 yards and six TDs on their run defense over back-to-back Saturdays. PSU is more steady than flashy with Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, but will commit to it (40-plus attempts per game). Edge: NU

Penn State pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

True freshman Christian Hackenberg is getting more comfortable in Bill O’Brien’s offense, and it doesn’t hurt to have the best receiver in the Big Ten in Allen Robinson. Nebraska has turned up its pass rush in recent weeks, led by defensive end Randy Gregory, but has just one interception in the past four games after getting 11 in the first six. Edge: PSU

Special teams

Nebraska can’t afford any repeat of last week, which included a fumbled return, a punt being downed on its 1-yard line and Michigan State executing a fake field goal. NU also has gone backward with its net punting average, from No. 16 before the Minnesota game to No. 46 now. Neither team is very explosive in its return game. Edge: PSU

Intangibles

Penn State has the fewest penalty yards in the Big Ten, but like NU is on the negative side in turnover margin. The Lions, though, are going for a winning record and should be charged up on Senior Day. NU needs to summon the right response after being eliminated from the Legends Division race last week. Edge: PSU

Key matchup: Allen Robinson vs. Nebraska's cornerbacks

Few teams have slowed down Allen Robinson, the Nittany Lions’ junior receiver who leads the Big Ten in catches (81) and receiving yards (1,204). Nebraska can choose to challenge him with Stanley Jean-Baptiste or mix in Ciante Evans and Josh Mitchell — but the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jean-Baptiste is the one who can match Robinson’s size (6-3, 210).

Our take

Penn State hasn’t shown up offensively a couple of times and can be had defensively. All that said, just enough other things might be going its way. With a lot of the above categories pretty close, some of it simply could come down to which freshman quarterback plays better, and Hackenberg will have 100,000-plus fans behind him.

Our prediction: Penn State 28, Nebraska 27

Live updates

 

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Listen: BRT Podcast

In this week’s edition of “The Big Red Today Podcast,” Jon Nyatawa and Sam McKewon discuss those problems before breaking down Saturday’s matchup with Penn State. They also talk about Ameer Abdullah’s impressive season, the banged-up offensive line, the improving linebackers and NU’s blitz schemes. Click here »

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