Football Looking to Upset 16th-Ranked Nebraska
When the Penn State Nittany Lions traveled to West Lafayette last weekend, they were hoping to put a loss to Ohio State behind them. It’s safe to say they were pleased with their performance, beating Purdue 34-9. It wasn’t as easy for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers pulled out a 28-24 comeback win at Michigan State on the strength of Taylor Martinez’s four total touchdowns. Penn State and Nebraska enter Saturday’s game with equal 4-1 conference records and will try to keep pace in their respective division’s race.
Two weeks ago the Nittany Lions were undefeated in conference play and excited about a showdown with ninth ranked Ohio State. A sold out “Whitehouse” saw Penn State come up short, losing to the Buckeyes 35-23. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes were tied at the half, but a sloppy second half by quarterback Matt McGloin as well as the rest of the team helped Ohio State to come out with the win.
McGloin has had a phenomenal season as the quarterback of the Nittany Lions. After splitting time with Rob Bolden the last two seasons, McGloin was named the team’s starter before the season and has flourished. In an offense that features a short, quick passing game, McGloin has thrown for 18 touchdowns, 2,436 yards and completed 62% of his passes. In the win at Purdue, McGloin threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns.
Penn State’s rushing attack continues to be unpredictable each week. Since Bill Belton’s early season injury, Bill O’Brien has been cycling many running backs through. Zack Zwinack, Michael Zordich, Curtis Dukes and Derek Day have shared carries along with Belton. Combined, the five backs have rushed for 2,220 yards. Zwinack, Belton and Zordich each have three rushing touchdowns, trailing quarterback Matt McGloin, who has five.
Freshman tight end Kyle Carter has been a spark for the team, catching 35 passes for 441 yards. His efforts have earned him a spot on the Mackey Award watch list for the nation’s top tight end. Carter is a big surprise at a position that hasn’t seen consistent production since the departures of Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
The defense has been stronger than most people probably expected this season after the departure of defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Ted Roof has done a great job of easing the transition and has helped the defense evolve into one of the best in the country. The defense averages 17.1 points against, which is 14th in the country. They gave up just 87 rushing yards and nine points in the win against Purdue.
The kicking game has shown a slight improvement over past couple of weeks, but remains the weakest area of the team. Sam Ficken is starting to make the easy ones, which may potentially build his confidence moving forward, though O’Brien still doesn’t trust the field goal team enough to attempt a 30+ yard field goal. The punting game still has much room for improvement. Alex Butterworth ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in punting, averaging just 36.3 yards per punt.
Nebraska fans have seen a clear improvement in the passing game this season. In past seasons, Taylor Martinez has been labeled as a running quarterback who lacked passing skills. Though he still has a long way to go, Martinez has proven that he can be productive in the passing game and can be a productive two-dimensional quarterback. On the season, Martinez has thrown for 1,941 yards and 18 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He is completing 63 percent of his passes, compared to just 56 percent last season.
Other than Martinez, the guy that the Nittany Lions will have their eye on this week is running back Ameer Abdullah. The sophomore has shown a lot of promise this season, rushing for 826 yards and averaging 5.5 per carry. He has eight touchdowns on the season. It will be important for Penn State to limit Abdullah and Martinez on the ground and make Martinez beat them with his arm.
Matt McGloin will try to take advantage of an average Cornhuskers defense on Saturday. On the season, Nebraska’s defense has given up 25.2 points per game which is 54th overall in the country. Senior linebacker Will Compton leads the defense with 73 tackles and has also recorded three sacks.
There are two clear keys for Penn State to win this upcoming game. First, the defense must minimize Martinez’s damage in the running game. If the Penn State defense can make Martinez beat them through the air, he may revert back to the inconsistent passer that everybody has seen in recent years. Secondly, if Penn State needs to establish a solid rushing attack early to give McGloin more of an opportunity through the air. If Penn State can keep the defense close to the line of scrimmage, they will have better opportunities to hit the big play.
Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Listen in at psucomradio.com for complete coverage.
Jason Shawley is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.