Game Grades: Nebraska
The Penn State Nittany Lions closed out the 2017 home slate with a 56-44 victory over Nebraska. The Nittany Lions are now 9-2 with a game at Maryland remaining before bowl season. Here is how each unit performed on Saturday.
The Penn State offense was strong all-around against Nebraska. Quarterback Trace McSorley passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for a 9-yard score as well. The running game, which had been dormant in the last few games, was finally rediscovered by Penn State in this one. Saquon Barkley rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns, including a 65-yard score on which he found one hole on the outside and was off to the races. On his third score, Barkley passed Lydell Mitchell for the school record. Barkley was also involved in the passing game, making six receptions for 66 yards. Wide receiver Juwan Johnson had another impressive performance, catching five balls for 105 yards, including a 43-yard catch. Tight End Mike Gesicki, recently named a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, caught two red zone touchdowns. That made Gesicki Penn State’s career touchdown leader for tight ends, with 13 Touchdown receptions. At 56-44, it was also the highest-scoring game in Beaver Stadium history.
The Nittany Lions’ defense was strong in the first half, conceding only 10 points to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. This one had the makings of a blowout at halftime with Penn State’s offense firing on all cylinders and the defense forcing Nebraska punt after Nebraska punt. However, the second half was very different, with the Cornhuskers offense roaring back with 34 points. Tanner Lee’s second half performance was strong, passing for 399 yards and three scores. It was overall not a great performance for the pass defense, although it is unsure as to whether this was due to rotating in seniors who are backups, or playing softer coverage in general.
Special Teams: B
Despite some early hiccups, the special teams play for Penn State was solid. A Cornhuskers punt hit a Penn State player and was recovered by Nebraska, who a few plays later made a field goal. Blake Gillikin also shanked a punt that gave Nebraska possession in plus-territory. The punt coverage for Penn State only allowed three yards on Nebraska’s sole punt return. Brandon Polk replaced Saquon Barkley in kick return duties for Penn State, and did so nicely, averaging 27.5 yards per return. Kicker Tyler Davis was perfect on his eight extra point Attempts. Other than an early mistake, Punter Blake Gillikin had a productive day, averaging 39.5 yards on four punts, including a 56-yarder.
James Franklin definitely had his team ready to play in the first half. There was a lot of energy in the stadium for the Senior Day festivities, and the Nittany Lions used it as fuel for their 42-10 first half. Credit the offensive coaches for completely changing the level of play for the offensive line: the improved run-blocking was instrumental in Penn State’s success. The second half was somewhat troubling however, as for a brief moment Nebraska was showing signs of life. While the defensive deficiencies in the second half could have been due to the increased playing time of seniors, the team overall looked a bit less energetic than they did in the first half. James Franklin will need to have his team ready to play in College Park, Maryland next week in the Nittany Lions’ last real chance to make a move up the College Football Playoff rankings.
Jeremy Ganes is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.