World-Herald staff writer Rich Kaipust breaks down the Penn State-Nebraska game, matchup by matchup.
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KEY MATCHUP: No Big Ten receiver has more receptions (57) and touchdown catches (eight) this season than Penn State sophomore Allen Robinson. Ciante Evans has been practicing at cornerback with Nebraska mostly preparing its base defense this week, so Evans might draw a lot of the work against the 6-foot-3, 201-pounder. Also remember that NU has had problems in recent weeks with pass-interference penalties, including three at Michigan State.
NU RUSH OFFENSE VS. PSU RUSH DEFENSE: It's hard to question what the Huskers are doing after quarterback Taylor Martinez topped 200 yards and I-back Ameer Abdullah made it to 100 against the Big Ten's best rushing defense. NU continues to lead the league at 269.6 yards per game and 5.9 per carry. Penn State has been solid, though, allowing just three opponents to go over 113 rushing yards. Edge: Nebraska
NU PASS OFFENSE VS. PSU PASS DEFENSE: Martinez somehow got away with throwing three picks last week, including one that Michigan State returned 96 yards for a touchdown that was negated by a penalty. That's now seven interceptions in the past four games for Martinez. Penn State can generate some pass rush (24 sacks), but the biggest help for the Nittany Lions will be if they can force NU into obvious passing situations. Edge: Nebraska
PSU RUSH OFFENSE VS. NU RUSH DEFENSE: The Nittany Lions lost Silas Redd to USC, and it's been tough sledding at times with PSU averaging 140.2 yards per game and 3.6 per carry. Penn State lacks a quarterback run game, and leading rusher Zach Zwinak (545 yards) has no carry longer than 18 yards. NU is coming off a game in which it allowed 188 yards to Le'Veon Bell, but it was very good the week before against Michigan. Edge: Nebraska
PSU PASS OFFENSE VS. NU PASS DEFENSE: The much-improved Matt McGloin goes against a defense that is allowing opposing QBs to complete just 46 percent of their passes. What stands out with McGloin and Penn State is efficiency, as the Lions complete 60.9 percent of their throws, average 272 yards per game and have 18 TD passes with just three picks. They also protect well, so NU will have some trouble getting to him. Edge: Penn State
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nebraska can't seem to weed out the mistakes as the season goes on, whether it's fumbled returns, botched coverages or glitches in its kicking game. That's not to be understated, but check out these Penn State rankings: last in the Big Ten in net punting (32.2 yards), last in field-goal accuracy (7 of 14), 11th in kickoff returns (17.4) and ninth in punt returns (5.8). Edge: Nebraska
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INTANGIBLES: Penn State has won six of its past seven by playing clean and disciplined. It has committed just eight turnovers in nine games, limited their penalties and locked down defensively in the red zone. Nebraska ranks last in the Big Ten in turnover margin and yards penalized. And while NU is playing under the pressure of being the Legends Division favorite, Penn State is simply showing up each week and competing despite being ineligible for the Big Ten final or a bowl game. And with what the Lions have been through over the past year, coming into Memorial Stadium won't faze them. Edge: Penn State
NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF…: It can stay on the attack offensively — without giving away the football — against a solid defensive squad.
PENN STATE WILL WIN IF…: The turnovers and penalties of past weeks finally catch up to the Huskers, and the Nittany Lions can finish if they get ahead.
OUR TAKE: Nebraska exerted some serious mental energy with back-to-back games against Michigan and Michigan State, but the wins have put the Huskers in the driver's seat in the Legends Division. Now they need to regroup for a Penn State team whose only loss since Sept. 8 has come against unbeaten Ohio State. And face it, the Nittany Lions' bowl games have been every week in the Big Ten, so you know NU gets their best shot. The difference will be Nebraska featuring just a little more firepower — and showing the will and resiliency that has led it to comeback wins in two of its past three games.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 28, Penn State 23
Contact the writer:
402-444-1042, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/RKaipustOWH
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