Penn State vs. Nebraska: Postgame Grades from Cornhuskers Win vs. Nittany Lions
The No. 16 Nebraska Cornhuskers completed yet another comeback Saturday afternoon, defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions 32-23 to remain in control of their own destiny.
Nebraska has now won four straight games and stays on pace with Michigan atop the Legends Division, who stole a win against Northwestern earlier in the day. The Cornhuskers hold the tiebreaker with the Wolverines and both teams stand at 5-1 in B1G conference play.
Here are the postgame grades at each position for the Cornhuskers.
Once again, Taylor Martinez topped the 100-yard mark on the ground and also threw for 171 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass to Jamal Turner—again.
Before winning the game for the Cornhuskers, Martinez almost lost it for Nebraska, fumbling the ball into the end zone in the fourth quarter to keep Penn State's hope alive. Coughing up the football has been a problem for Martinez all season, but fortunately, this mistake didn't come back to haunt the junior.
Despite the fumble, Martinez was fairly efficient through the air and avoided throwing an interception.
Even though Nebraska has a habit of falling behind early in games, it has a resilient man under center in Martinez, and he helped lead the comeback to keep Nebraska's Big Ten Championship hopes alive.
Running Backs: B-
Ameer Abdullah strung together some nice runs, but a lot of those runs were negated because Penn State found its way into the backfield to halt Abdullah for a loss several times.
The sophomore back still managed to push his rushing total over 100 yards, totaling 116 in all on 33 carries. He added on 29 receiving yards and his longest rush of the day was 33 yards.
Where Nebraska had its success was in short yardage situations, especially in the third quarter with freshman bruiser Imani Cross. Cross had each of the Cornhuskers' two rushing touchdowns and converted some big third downs despite only rushing for 22 yards.
Overall, Nebraska received an above average performance from its running backs.
Wide Receivers: C
Once again, Jamal Turner was the hero, catching the game-winning touchdown pass for the second week in a row.
Other than that, there wasn't much to be said of the Nebraska wide receivers. Among the wideouts, Turner led the way with only two receptions for 35 yards. Kenny Bell was the only other Cornhusker wide receiver to top 30 yards.
This kind of performance from your wide receiving corps tends to occur when you have a dual-threat quarterback under center, so you can't harp on it too much.
Tight Ends: B
The game-changing play that set up the game-winning score came when Martinez hooked up with tight end Kyler Reed for a 56-yard catch-and-run. That catch alone made Reed the Cornhuskers' leading receiver on the day.
Ben Cotton also got in on the act with an 18-yard reception, and Martinez's tendency to roll out bodes well for opportunities for the tight ends to get involved in the passing game.
Early on, blocking was a concern, so the tight ends have to be held accountable in that regard, but there was a lot of improvement up front in the second half. It was an overall productive day for the Nebraska tight ends.
Offensive Line: C+
If the offensive line didn't have the benefit of a mobile quarterback playing behind it, this grade might be a lot worse.
In the first half, Martinez was running around like a mad man escaping pressure and making plays happen with his feet, and the ground attack was struggling overall. Penn State's outside speed appeared to be too much for the offensive line.
But the big uglies turned it around in the second half, and it showed as Nebraska had more success running the football, especially in short-yardage situations. Martinez thrived in designed runs and had more time to throw the football, and this culminated in a comeback victory for the Huskers.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line was worn down in the first half as a result of Penn State dominating the time of possession, and it showed in the success Penn State had rushing the ball and the time Matt McGloin had to throw.
But the second half was a different story.
Cameron Meredith, Baker Steinkuhler and pass-rush specialist Eric Martin all sacked McGloin in the second half, and Penn State struggled to run the ball, only putting three points on the board in the game's final 30 minutes.
Not exactly a start-to-finish performance for a defensive line that struggled to get off the field on third down early, but it made its presence known when it mattered most.
Linebacker David Santos could very well be considered the hero in this one.
With Penn State poised to take the lead, Santos popped the ball loose from tight end Matt Lehman just before he reached the end zone. Replay appeared to show that the ball crossed the line before it was knocked out of Lehman's possession, but the call stood, and Santos may have saved Nebraska's season.
Santos wasn't the only one who had a nose for the ball. In fact, Alonzo Whaley forced two fumbles on the day, one of which was recovered by Will Compton, so the linebackers were responsible for two forced turnovers.
As a whole, the linebacking corps played fairly well, especially in the second half, but Penn State did have a fair amount of success running the football. That included a 50-yard touchdown run on the opening drive. But the turnovers have to be taken into account, and they had a significant impact in the game.
Defensive Backs: B+
After a textbook drive to start off the second half and draw within a score, Nebraska was beginning to seize momentum. That's when Daimion Stafford completely swung momentum, intercepting McGloin and returning it inside the Penn State 10-yard line.
It would lead to the game-tying score, and Stafford would later contribute by recovering Santos' forced fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
The secondary held McGloin to a completion percentage under 50 percent and only one receiver over 40 yards receiving—Allen Robinson, who amassed 97 yards on the day.
A few big plays were allowed, which is concerning, but overall, the secondary put together a solid performance.
Special Teams: C
Brett Maher punts and kicks for the Cornhuskers—today the kicking part went a little better for Maher.
After missing a chip-shot last week against Michigan State, Maher bounced back and made field goals of 32, 27, and 33 yards, the last of which sealed the game for Nebraska late in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, Maher had to punt three times into the wind in the second quarter, and he averaged only 27 yards on those punts. Not entirely his fault, but those punts gave Penn State good field position and could have cost Nebraska had the defense not held the Nittany Lions to a couple field goals.
Also in the tumultuous second quarter, punt return man Tim Marlowe muffed a punt, leading to Penn State touchdown. The Huskers were fortunate not to get burned by their special teams in such a close ball game.
Discipline issues and penalties were plentiful in the first half for Nebraska, and those two things fall back on the head coach and his staff.
Penalties have been a problem for the Cornhuskers throughout the season, but just as the coaches should be held accountable for keeping their team in line, they must also receive credit for the tenacity their players display when behind.
At halftime, Bo Pelini stressed execution, and his staff made the necessary adjustments to get his team back into the game and complete the comeback. The decision to use Imani Cross in short-yardage was also beneficial, and Nebraska remains in good shape as far as a trip to Indianapolis is concerned.