Penn State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Nebraska
Penn State faces a tough road test in Week 11 when it travels to Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are ranked No. 16 in the BCS and No. 18 in the AP. There are several keys to the game if the Lions want to be victorious.
According to Danny Sheridan in the USA Today, the Nittany Lions are 9.5-point underdogs against the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is coming off a 28-24 victory at Michigan State, and the Lions are fresh off a dominating 34-9 win at Purdue.
Penn State is sitting at 6-3 overall, 4-1 in the Big Ten.
The Lions bring the fourth best offense in the conference into the game, averaging 412 yards a game. The Penn State defense is also stellar this year, giving up 335 yards a contest, good enough for fourth in the Big Ten.
The following slides show five keys to the game against Nebraska. If the Lions hope to leave Lincoln with a victory, these keys must be followed.
1. Matt McGloin Must Continue His Solid Play
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Quarterback Matt McGloin is having the best season of his career. He has thrown for 2,436 yards, 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
McGloin seized the opportunity to be the starter after splitting time with Rob Bolden in 2011 and is the top passer in the Big Ten for 2012.
Week 11 presents a tough matchup for McGloin as Nebraska is the second best pass defense in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers allow just 156 yards per game through the air. The Penn State senior is averaging 271 yards per contest.
If the Lions hope to pull off the upset on the road, McGloin must have a solid game. The offense clearly goes through him. He needs to continue to protect the football and make accurate throws down the field.
2. Contain Taylor Martinez
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Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is a major reason why the Cornhuskers are the top offense in the Big Ten. He has shown the ability to make plays with his arm, but still does the most damage on the ground.
Martinez had a huge day in Week 10 at Michigan State, throwing for 160 and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 205 yards and scored two more touchdowns.
While all of that may sound bad for the Penn State defense, Martinez has been prone to the interception. He threw three at Michigan State and has eight for the season.
In order to be successful, the Lions must keep Martinez contained in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm. That could be easier said than done, based on the fact that the Nittany Lions may be playing without senior defensive lineman Jordan Hill due to injury.
Linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges will have to have big games in order to shut down Martinez and the potent Nebraska ground attack.
3. Establish the Running Game
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After managing just 32 total rushing yards in Week 9 against Ohio State, the Nittany Lions were able to get back on track against Purdue. The Lions gained 185 yards on the ground against the Boilers.
Sophomore Zach Zwinak rushed for 134 yards last week and showed that is the main guy in the Penn State backfield. Michael Zordich handled the short-yardage duties and scored twice against the Boilermakers.
The running game must be established at Nebraska. Penn State has proven this year that it is a much better offense when the ground game gets going. It takes pressure off quarterback Matt McGloin and allows the offense to get into a rhythm.
McGloin is having a great season and putting up superb numbers. However, he struggled against Ohio State when there was no running game.
The Lions will need to run the ball early against Nebraska in hopes of softening up the defense for the pass.
Zwinak and Zordich could play big roles in Week 11.
4. Start Fast
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Penn State needs to get off to a fast start at Nebraska in order to quiet the crowd early.
Memorial Stadium is a difficult place for visiting teams, with 85,000 screaming fans in a sea of red wait to wreck havoc on the communication of opposing offenses.
The Cornhuskers are 5-0 at home this year, including big wins against Michigan and Wisconsin.
Matt McGloin and the Penn Sate offense will look to get on the board early against the tough Nebraska defense.
The Lions are used to jumping out to early leads this year, scoring first in eight of nine games.
Defeating Nebraska will be a tough task for the Nittany Lions. Falling behind early and giving the crowd a reason to cheer will make that task even tougher.
A fast start is a must if Penn State plans on leaving happy in Week 11..
5. Play Mistake-Free Special Teams
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Special teams has been the biggest problem area for Penn State this season. Fumbled kicks, missed field goals and poor returns have plagued the Lions all season.
In order to be successful at Nebraska, Penn State must eliminate the special teams mistakes.
Kicker Sam Ficken, who has struggled all season, found some consistency in Week 10 at Purdue. He hit on both of his field-goal attempts and converted on all four extra-point attempts. The 10 points was his best output of the season.
The Nebraska game could be close, meaning that Ficken will need to capitalize on all of his opportunities.
The return game hasn't been much better for the Nittany Lions. Head coach Bill O'Brien has struggled to find a consistent kick returner this year, using nine different guys.
Lately, Jess Della Valle has handled the return duties. Against Purdue, he returned two kicks for 39 yards.
Big plays on special teams can instantly change the outcome of a game. Penn State will need to figure out a way to make sure that those big plays go in their favor against the Cornhuskers.