Game Day: Nebraska vs. Penn State

Times are changing

When Penn State hosts Nebraska Saturday at Beaver Stadium, it’ll be a tilt between two of the winningest programs in major college football history. The Huskers (893 wins) sit at No. 5. Penn State (875) sits at No. 8. These are the football tycoons with pigskin estates. The programs, similar in their insularity and love of tradition, couldn’t be further apart at this moment.

READ MORE »

2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Penn State rush defense

Aside from a game at Ohio State, Penn State’s rush defense has been downright stingy in Big Ten play, holding Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan State to fewer than 100 yards on the ground. Linebackers Jason Cabinda and Koa Farmer comprise the backbone of the defense; all three are aggressive pursuers and sound hitters. Nebraska’s run game, meanwhile, is as bad as it’s been in years, in part because the Huskers abandon it once they get behind. NU should get Jaylin Bradley back in the mix.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Penn State pass defense

Tanner Lee cleared concussion protocol and will start Saturday, coach Mike Riley said Friday night. Nebraska has a better chance with Lee, but Penn State’s pass defense — despite allowing big games to Ohio State and Michigan State — will be tough when you factor in the weather. Wideouts JD Spielman, Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El must be on point with their routes.

Penn State rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

The Nittany Lions have had offensive line issues since the arrival of coach James Franklin. That remains true in 2017, when PSU has a star back — Saquon Barkley — who's been held to fewer than 100 yards five times in Big Ten play. That’s not on Barkley — a dynamic runner at the second level. It's on the offensive line. But Nebraska’s defense has a way of making opposing run games look quite healthy, so there’s no particular reason to think that’ll change. Barkley is a surefire entrant into next year’s NFL draft so he’s playing his last home game. Expect a show.

Penn State pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Penn State’s spread offense has the playmaking quarterback (Trace McSorley), the tight end (Mike Gesicki) and the big receivers (DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson) that Nebraska would love to have, but doesn’t. Put Barkley in the mix — 40 catches, 524 yards — and Nebraska’s pass defense, which defensive coordinator Bob Diaco vigorously tries to protect, won’t have much of a chance unless the weather intervenes. Like Ohio State, Penn State should handily carve up the Huskers. It’s going to be painful.

Special teams

Barkley has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, and Nebraska just allowed a kickoff for a touchdown against Minnesota. Punt returner DeAndre Thompkins has also returned a punt for a score, and PSU’s kick and punt coverage teams are both better than Nebraska’s. The Huskers have returned a single punt in the last four games. Penn State’s kicker, Tyler Davis, has missed 7 of his 15 field goal attempts, but he is the Nittany Lions’ lone liability.

Intangibles

Penn State hasn’t lost at home since 2015, and Nebraska is playing the second of two straight conference road games, a scenario that almost always works against the travelling team. Penn State, for example, was upset at Michigan State in its second straight road game, while PSU pummeled Michigan 42-13 when the Wolverines were playing their second-straight road game. Given that it’s Barkley’s senior day, you’ll see quite the fan support just for him.

Key matchup: Nebraska’s pass offense vs. Penn State’s secondary

We expect Nebraska to give up yards and points to Penn State, so the only way we anticipate Nebraska keeping the game competitive is by scoring points and converting third downs through the air. That’s a tough task on the road, with no momentum as a program and Mike Riley’s tenure on the ropes.

Our take

Nebraska is less likely to win this game than perhaps any other since joining the Big Ten. Nothing points to the Huskers winning. Not the giant point spread north of three touchdowns, not Nebraska’s disheveled defense, not the back-to-back road games, not Penn State’s penchant for sacking the quarterback. The question for NU won’t be if it loses, but how bad it does, and how many Husker fans turn off the game halfway because it’s too tough to watch. Our guess is it happens somewhere in the second half.

Our prediction: PENN STATE 42, NEBRASKA 17

Live updates

Videos

Extras

Game notes

Check out a PDF of the game notes for the Nebraska-Penn State matchup provided by the Husker Athletic Department. Click here »

Husker History

Find information on every win, loss and tie in Husker history. With historical World-Herald front pages, photos, stories, key stats and more, our ever-growing Husker History Database is your new home for archiving one of the nation's most tradition-rich programs. Click here »

On social media

Check out the Big Red Today page on Facebook to discuss the latest news with the top Husker fans, and follow us on Twitter to get instant updates and analysis whenever news breaks. Plus, look back at historical moments in Nebraska football by following @HuskerHistory on Twitter.

BRT app

IPhone and Android users, get your Husker updates on the go by downloading our free Big Red Today app from the App Store and the Google Play store. Omaha.com/BRTapp and Omaha.com/android

Recruiting updates

Visit the Big Red Today recruiting page to find the latest updates on potential future Huskers, including player cards for those athletes already committed. Click here »

Email alerts

Sign up for the Big Red Today email newsletter to get the Husker news, analysis, daily headlines and more delivered to your inbox. Click here »

Big Red Today coverage

Pick Six Podcast: Is Husker hoops an attractive job? And a spring football update

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon and Chris Heady tackle the hottest Husker headlines in the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast.

McKewon: Minnesota's P.J. Fleck rows the boat hard to catch up with Nebraska's offensive flash

Minnesota’s offense, which started eight freshmen in its bowl win over Georgia Tech, averaged 5.68 yards per play last season, ranking ninth in the Big Ten. That’s UM’s highest average in a decade.

Former Husker Brent Qvale re-signs with New York Jets

Two yards can make or break Nebraska' offense, so Huskers focus on 'plus-twos'

Ask around the offense, and "plus-twos" are as important as any conventional statistic coaches and players track. Moving a defender two yards can demonstrate a strength advantage and extra effort on an individual level.

Former Husker Ameer Abdullah re-signs with Minnesota Vikings

Former Husker running back Ameer Abdullah re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings on Monday.

Carriker Chronicles: If I could bring back any former Husker to play today, here's who I would pick

On Monday's episode, Adam Carriker discusses which players in Husker football history he'd most like to bring back to play for Nebraska today, and which one's would fit the current system best.

Monday Rewind: Older, wiser, more urgent Husker defenders set good tone in spring camp

Twenty-one of the 33 upperclassmen scholarship players play defense. And 11 of that 21 are seniors. Big, bold vocal seniors who have played a lot of football. With that experience comes urgency. Wisdom. Responsibility.

Tony Tuioti offers three Husker football scholarships to Hawaiian three-star prospects

The Tony Tuioti effect for Nebraska football recruiting is in full swing.

Husker safety Deontai Williams learning to play smart, while 'putting his pads on people'

Deontai Williams said, he’s the “OG” of the safety group. He’s right, too — he and junior Marquel Dismuke are the veterans while redshirt freshmen Cam’ron Jones and CJ Smith learn and sophomore Cam Taylor bounces among safety, nickel and…

After 'miserable' first season back at Nebraska, Barrett Ruud expects 'big jump' in year two

His boss got all the attention during last fall’s miserable start, but put yourself in Barrett Ruud’s shoes for a moment. Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler returned to his alma mater and hometown in 2018 to coach his old position —…

Carriker Chronicles: If I could change one play in Nebraska football history...

On Friday's episode, Adam Carriker explores some of Nebraska football's hardest losses, and narrows down what one play in Husker history he'd choose to change.

JoJo Domann is finally healthy and Husker coaches are ready to use Cinco's versatility

JoJo Domann is one of Nebraska’s most versatile defenders. And his coaches need an array of colorful language to describe him. Leaning against a wall on the second floor of the Hawks Center, defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said Domann…

Former Nebraska running back Greg Bell transferring to San Diego State

Former Nebraska running back Greg Bell — who left the program four games into the 2018 season — is transferring to his hometown school, San Diego State.

Husker notes: Defensive line finds 'alpha males' in Daniels brothers; Defense creates pass rush

Nebraska defensive line coach Tony Tuioti wants a consistent daily mindset from his players, where linemen “press the reset button” after each practice to gear up for the next one with the same energy and enthusiasm.

Husker practice report: Defense creating turnovers; Jovan Dewitt discusses battle with cancer

If the first two weeks of spring practices are any indication, Nebraska's defense has some playmakers.

Carriker Chronicles: What Husker fans can expect from the Huskers' D-line during spring football

On Wednesday's episode, Adam Carriker previews the Blackshirts' defensive line personnel for spring football, reasonable expectations for the group and much more.

Cancer can't keep Husker assistant Jovan Dewitt off the practice field

Even if Jovan Dewitt can’t make every meeting — even if, during practice, he has to take a knee and “get some hydration” — he’s going to be at every practice he can.

Recruiting: Iowa D-line commit Logan Jones lands Husker offer

Nebraska has given Logan Jones something to think about. The Council Bluffs Lewis Central defensive lineman tweeted Tuesday he has received a scholarship offer from the Huskers after committing to Iowa last month.

Huskers have a new group of leaders up front. This spring they're finding their voice

It's a spring of transition on the offensive line, which lost several leaders from last year's team. Now a trio of juniors holds that responsibility, and this spring is an important step in their development.

Video: Nebraska spring football practice, March 11

Videos include an interview with Scott Frost, a recap of the the practice by Sam McKewon and Evan Bland and an update on Maurice Washington.

Husker notes: Jaylin Bradley makes most of opportunity; Mike Williams vies for starting spot

Circumstances are aligning for Jaylin Bradley to prove himself. Now coaches are anxious to find out if the running back can.

Husker tight ends need to be a receiving threat. This is how they'll make that happen

Attack. That’s a buzzword for the Husker tight ends this spring. Collectively, they’re the offense's most experienced group. But there’s a higher level the coaches expect these tight ends to reach.

Husker QB coach Mario Verduzco lauds Luke McCaffrey's early progress, Adrian Martinez's velocity

So far, so good for true freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey. Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said McCaffrey, an early enrollee, has done well in spring practices to pick up the offense.

Husker practice report: Nebraska ahead of last year, but competition heavy on offense

Scott Frost doesn't even want to say the Oklahoma word. But the drill Nebraska threw out in front of the media Monday morning did look a whole lot like the infamous Oklahoma drill.

Timeline details Maurice Washington investigation and when Nebraska became aware of it

This timeline of events in the Maurice Washington investigation is based on allegations outlined in court documents, investigator reports and officials' statements.

Sights and sounds from Nebraska football spring practice, March 11

Nebraska was in full pads for its fourth practice of the spring Monday morning. The media were allowed inside practice for the first 30 minutes. Here's what we saw.

Carriker Chronicles: My favorite game in Husker history while skiing down a mountain

On Monday's episode, Adam Carriker skis down a mountain and shares the story of his all-time favorite Husker football game.

Husker RB Maurice Washington self-surrenders in California, court date set for April

Husker running back Maurice Washington returned to California over the weekend to self-surrender to authorities, a spokesperson for the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office said Monday.

Shatel: Do the high schools need a shot clock? There is no shortage of opinions

This column might be a shot-clock violation. But I received so much feedback from emails and on Twitter last week on the idea of a shot clock in high school basketball that I thought I would spill over into this…

McKewon: Adrian Martinez has shown signs of being a leader, but Scott Frost wants more

Adrian Martinez’s head coach, Scott Frost, wants more. Much more, based on his comments last week. Don’t gloss over them. If Frost is bullish on Martinez’s potential — talking him up as potentially one of the best, if not the…