Last year when the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers traveled to Happy Valley for the first time in 10 years, it was a dark time for the program.
The Jerry Sandusky scandal had broken not long before the Penn State Nittany Lions were getting ready to take on the Cornhuskers, and interim head coach Tom Bradley was forced to lead the Lions onward.
Penn State ended up losing the game 17-14.
This year, it’s a completely different chapter in a new story for Penn State.
Bill O’Brien is leading his 6-3 Lions into Lincoln hoping to come out with what could be their biggest win of the year.
Bo Pelini hopes to fend off O’Brien’s pesky Lions and head into the final two weeks of B1G play with only one loss in conference.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 pm on ABC, where the two teams will face off at Memorial Stadium.
Here is your complete preview about who and what you will be seeing on Saturday.
There’s no doubt here that Taylor Martinez will be the better athlete at the quarterback position on Saturday.
Martinez has thrown for 1,941 yards and 18 touchdowns, and has thrown eight interceptions.
On top of that, Martinez has rushed for 666 yards and eight touchdowns, making him responsible for 26 touchdowns this year.
But we’re talking about quarterbacks here - the field general who can take care of the ball and keep moment on offense.
In that aspect, Matt McGloin has proven all year that he is among the best passers in the conference.
McGloin has thrown for 2,436 yards and 18 touchdowns, and has been picked off only three times. He also has rushed for five touchdowns, making McGloin responsible for 23 total trips to the end zone.
Martinez is a better athlete, but he is at times inconsistent and sloppy with the ball. It’s close here but McGloin has shown that he has matured.
Edge: Penn State
Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead spearhead a strong running attack for the Cornhuskers.
With Burkhead struggling with injuries, Abdullah has burst onto the scene with 826 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.
Although he has been injured, Burkhead is tough and has still managed to rack up 405 yards on the ground with three touchdowns.
Taylor Martinez must be mentioned in this discussion because along with Abdullah, Martinez provides explosive running abilities.
Penn State’s rushers haven’t been able to provide much explosiveness at all this season.
With Zach Zwinak taking the bulk of the carries recently, he provides more of a “keep grinding away” run game with little threat for the home run.
Although Zwinak is a tough, hard runner with some old school swag (no gloves, no wristbands, no visor), the running game just hasn’t been the Nittany Lions strength this year.
Nebraska has rushed for 1,164 more yards than Penn State has this year, and they simply have more explosive weapons than the Nittany Lions.
The nature of Nebraska’s offense is the big play. Taylor Martinez has broken runs over 90 yards long, and Kenny Bell has caught passes for more than 70 yards.
Bell leads the team in receiving with 622 yards and six touchdowns.
On television, the explosive threat of Bell and Quincy Enunwa make Nebraska’s passing offense seem like much more of a threat than Penn State’s.
The Nittany Lions’ longest passing play has only gone for 45 yards.
But Allen Robinson is a big time receiver and with three games left in the season, he is only six catches away from tying the school record for receptions in a single season.
Along with Robinson, Brandon Moseby-Felder had a breakout game against Purdue University with six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Both Bell and Enunwa are threats downfield, but there just can’t be enough said about Penn State’s emerging receivers.
With all the eyes on Robinson, Moseby-Felder can continue to breakout.
Edge: Penn State
We all know about Bill O’Brien’s offense and his use of tight ends.
Jesse James, Matt Lehman and Kyle Carter lead a core of young tight ends that have grown very well in the offense.
Carter is the team’s second leading receiver with 441 yards and two touchdowns. Both Lehman and James aren’t far behind with 196 yards and 123 yards, respectively.
Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton are the two main tight ends in Bo Pelini’s offense.
Obviously the Cornhusker offense doesn’t use tight ends as much as Penn State does, so understandably their production isn’t quite as high.
Reed has 17 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns, and Cotton has 11 catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
To put it into perspective, Carter alone has more receiving yards than both Reed and Cotton combined.
That being said, Carter missed last weekend’s game and is still listed as “day-to-day,” nursing a foot injury.
Both Lehman and James have proven they can step up though, and O’Brien won’t hesitate to use them.
Edge: Penn State
It’s no secret that Nebraska has an explosive offense capable of making big plays and putting up lopsided numbers (see their game against Idaho State).
The Cornhusker offensive line has done a strong job allowing their specialists to make plays. They have rushed for over 2,400 yards and allowed 18 sacks (not bad for a scrambling quarterback).
Nebraska has an experienced group across the front line with three juniors and two seniors, and they have size with each tackler 6’6” or taller.
Penn State’s offensive line rebounded last weekend after a shaky performance against Ohio State University.
I have alleged that the Nittany Lion offensive line is mediocre, and I still hold to that belief.
With Matt Stankiewitch being the only returning starter, the Lions have struggled to really open up the running game.
But Matthew McGloin has only been sacked 13 times, and Penn State has done a good job blocking for their quarterback.
It’s hard to argue though against an offensive line that has blocked for 2,426 yards on the ground and allowed their quarterback to throw for 1,941.
Penn State’s defensive line has been anchored all year by Jordan Hill, and emerging freshman Deion Barnes continues to get better every game.
Hill is fourth on the team in tackles with 45, and he has recorded 2.5 sacks. The rest of the defensive line including Barnes, Sean Stanley and DaQuan Jones has totaled 58 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
Although Hill was injured in the Purdue University game, he is listed as “day-to-day,” and says he is optimistic about returning this season.
Nebraska’s defensive line does not have a dominant interior player like Hill, but defensive end Eric Martin leads their line with 40 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
Behind Martin, Baker Steinkuhler has 37 tackles and 1.5, and Thaddeus Randle has 15 tackles.
If Hill is not able to play Saturday, Penn State may be in serious trouble in the interior of the defense.
Martin is a strong pass rusher, and may give Penn State’s offensive line a hard time.
Nebraska’s defense is led by three senior linebackers, most notably Will Compton.
Compton is an excellent linebacker, and he leads the team with 73 tackles and three sacks.
Alongside Compton, Alonzo Whaley is also having a solid year with 41 tackles and one sack. Sean Fisher is the Cornhuskers’ third linebacker, and their least productive, with only 28 tackles.
But the production and level of play coming from the linebackers in Happy Valley is borderline absurd.
Michael Mauti leads the team with 83 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions.
Not to far behind Mauti is Gerald Hodges. Hodges has 76 tackles this year with one pick and one sack.
Last, but not least is middle linebacker Glenn Carson. Carson has 51 tackles and a sack for the Nittany Lions.
Not only is Mauti the leader of Penn State’s defense, he is their emotional leader as well.
Mauti has battled back from two different ACL tears and he is one of the toughest players in football.
Nebraska’s Compton is good, but Mauti and Hodges are great.
Edge: Penn State
For all of the critics who have ripped on Penn State’s secondary, Stephon Morris, Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong have responded by getting better and better every game.
These three, along with Malcolm Willis, are the main part of a secondary that has only given up 1,899 yards through the air and 10 touchdowns.
Not to mention, these guys are not afraid of contact and it seems as though every game one of them make a ferocious tackle.
But Nebraska’s secondary isn’t too shabby either, allowing only 1,404 yards passing and 11 touchdowns this year.
Both Damion Stafford and PJ Smith are at the top of the team in tackles, with 64 tackles and 60 tackles, respectively.
Nebraska only has six interceptions on the season though, and are susceptible to big plays.
This is probably the closest comparison between the two teams, but Penn State was able to stop against Braxton Miller by holding him to only 143 yards passing.
Edge: Penn State
All season long, Penn State has struggled on special teams.
Both Sam Ficken and Alex Butterworth have not had a very strong season, and Jesse Della Valle and Evan Lewis aren't exactly explosive kick returners.
Between kick off returns and punt returns, Della Valle and Lewis have combined for just 218 yards and no touchdowns.
Ameer Abdullah on the other hand, is a game-changing returner.
Abdullah has already taken one punt to the house, and both Abdullah and Kenny Bell average over 20 yards per return on kick offs.
Plus Brett Maher handles both the punting and place kicking very well. Maher is 12 of 18 on field goals, and averages 41.4 yards per punt.
Penn State’s special teams has been a mess all season, and it’s more a lack of depth than coaching.