Penn State vs. Nebraska: Lions' Run Defense Will Be Key to Upset

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer INovember 10, 2012

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 03:  Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers runs for a fourth quarter 35 yard touchdown while playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium Stadium on November 3, 2012 in East Lansing, Michigan. Nebraska won the game 28-24. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If Penn State has any chance of upsetting No. 16 Nebraska on Saturday in Lincoln, the Nittany Lions are going to have to play great run defense.

However, playing great run defense is easier said than done against dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez and the Cornhuskers.

While Penn State has held opponents to 3.57 yards per carry this season (28th in the nation), Nebraska has averaged 5.93 yards per carry (third) while posting 23 rushing touchdowns (18th), per CFBStats.com.

On top of that, defending a dual-threat quarterback is a lot different than simply defending the run. Michigan State's strong run defense found that out the hard way last week when Martinez rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, including a touchdown run of 71 yards.

The junior has rushed for 666 yards and eight touchdowns on 5.7 yards per carry this season. Only six quarterbacks in the FBS have rushed for more yards than him.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, via ESPN, "Let's face it, he's getting better as a football player. You get better and your confidence grows, and you have a belief you can get in that situation and have success."

You may remember that Penn State had trouble against Ohio State dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller in Week 9. Miller rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State's 35-23 victory.

Not helping matters for the Nittany Lions is that star defensive tackle Jordan Hill injured his right knee last week. He's listed as "probable," per Rotoworld.com, but you have to think the injury will limit him at least a little bit in Lincoln.

And while Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has improved tremendously since last season (7.2 yards per pass attempt, 18 touchdowns, three interceptions), so has Martinez (7.9 yards per attempt, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions). You can't necessarily say McGloin will perform better than Martinez when it comes to passing the pigskin, which would give Penn State some sort of advantage.

The point stands: Penn State is going to have to play some brilliant run defense against sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah and Martinez to pull off the upset.

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