Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions: Complete Game Preview
Nebraska isn't in the running for the Big Ten title anymore. That doesn't mean the season is over, though.
In fact, the Huskers have a lot ahead, facing Penn State at home on Saturday. It's Nebraska's final road trip of the season.
It is also Penn State's Senior Day.
This won't be an easy matchup for either team; however, the Nittany Lions can boast that it has defeated each of its three Big Ten home opponents. The team looks to add Nebraska to that list.
The Huskers have won the last two matchups against Penn State. On the other hand, the Lions hold a 5-2 series lead when the game is played in State College, Pa.
Ultimately, this game could go either way. Both teams are ineligible for the conference title game, making these last games of the regular season more important than before.
Who will leave victorious?
Where: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
When: Saturday, Nov. 23, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Big Ten Network
Listen: Husker Sports Network, Sirius Channel 108, XM 197
Betting Line: Penn State (-2), per Bovada
Nebraska's Keys to Victory
1. Protect the Ball
This is an obvious key to victory for Nebraska.
Five turnovers simply won't win a football game. The Huskers faces that against Michigan State.
Beaver Stadium isn't a quiet place. There will be a lot of pressure within it.
Nebraska will have to find a way to tune it out and stay composed. Turnovers must not be an issue against Penn State.
If the team continues to fumble and throw interceptions, the Lions will take advantage of it.
It will also make winning just that more difficult for Nebraska.
2. Stop the Pass (Primarily Robinson)
Penn State features a strong passing attack. In fact, the Lions are currently averaging 255 yards per game.
That means Nebraska's secondary will have to be ready.
Against Michigan State, there were plenty of missed opportunities by the secondary.
Penn State will provide an even bigger challenge. Junior wideout Allen Robinson currently has 81 catches this season. That's a single-season record for the Lions.
The other Lion wideouts have 59 catches combined.
That means Nebraska has to be on the look out for Robinson. If given an opportunity, he will take it.
He could wreak havoc on Nebraska's secondary if given the chance.
3. Get Out of Their Own Way
Nebraska needs to stop beating itself.
Against Michigan State, that's exactly what the team did. From turnovers to missed tackles, the Huskers handed the Spartans more opportunities than deserved.
In fact, many have incorrectly stated that Michigan State forced the turnovers on Nebraska. When re-watching the film, it's clear that the turnovers fall on the Huskers' shoulders.
That's the biggest issue heading into Happy Valley. Nebraska has a bad habit of beating itself.
The team must get out of its own way to be successful. Had the team accomplished that versus Michigan State, things could have been much different.
The past is the past, however, and Nebraska must go forward. In doing so, the team must stop creating problems for itself.
Penn State's Keys to Victory
1. Put Pressure on Armstrong
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has battled turnovers since taking the reigns this season.
In fact, Armstrong threw three interceptions against Purdue and Northwestern. He then went on to throw on interceptions against Michigan State.
He also has struggled with holding on to the ball. Three fumbles against the Spartans alone was enough to leave fans grimacing.
Regardless, Armstrong is a freshman and is learning.
There is no reason, however, that Penn State's defense shouldn't be putting a lot of pressure on Armstrong.
It's high-pressure situations that force Armstrong into uncomfortable moments.
If Penn State wants to take the advantage in the game, the pressure must be brought.
2. Limit Abdullah
I-Back Ameer Abdullah is currently averaging 146.9 yards per game in Big Ten play.
That's reason enough to pay some attention to the junior.
How Abdullah played against Michigan State is even more reason to pay attention. Considering the Spartans' strong rush defense, Abdullah still made it look easy.
There is little doubt that the Huskers won't be handing the ball to Abdullah. Penn State is also likely preparing for that; however, Abdullah has proved he's a force with which to be reckoned. How Penn State reacts to that will define Nebraska's offensive outing on Saturday.
3. Home-field Advantage
Beaver Stadium is something special.
With a capacity of more than 107,000 fans, the Lions boast one of the tougher atmospheres in the Big Ten.
There is no reason Happy Valley shouldn't be rocking on Saturday. It's Senior Day, after all.
When Beaver Stadium fills top to bottom in all white, it's a site to be seen. For young Nebraska players, such as quarterback Tommy Armstrong, it can definitely add more pressure.
Saturday will already be a challenging game for Nebraska. Add the crowd to that, and the Huskers may be more shaken up than they wish.
Players to Watch for Nebraska
Tommy Armstrong (Fr., QB)
The matchup with Michigan State was not one of quarterback Tommy Armstrong's finer moments.
Responsible for four of Nebraska's five turnovers, a lot of blame was immediately placed on Armstrong.
We still believe in Tommy and still think he's going to be a really good football player for us. He's young. He's a freshman. He's not going to be perfect. He was disappointed yesterday, but that experience will make him better down the line.
Needless to say, Armstrong will have many eyes on him come Saturday. Turnovers must be corrected.
Happy Valley won't make it easy for Armstrong. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the adversity.
Ameer Abdullah (Jr., RB)
I-Back Ameer Abdullah has started to show up on semifinalist lists for college football awards.
One of those awards is the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back.
Abdullah deserves to be on the finalist lists, too.
He currently leads the Big Ten in rushing average at 134.8 yards per game. That ranks him sixth nationally.
Many were critical of Abdullah prior to facing Michigan State. With the Spartans' tough rushing defense, plenty of media outlets were convinced Abdullah would struggle.
Instead, Abdullah shined with another 100+ rushing yards. That means Abdullah has fained 100 yards or more in eight of nine games in 2013.
If there is one player Penn State is keeping its eye on, it's Abdullah. Without proper attention, he will run over any team.
For a full depth chart, click here.
Players to Watch for Penn State
Allen Robinson (Jr., WR)
Wide receiver Allen Robinson was just named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. He has every reason to be a finalist, too.
Robinson's numbers are impressive. He currently ranks third in the nation in receiving yardage, with 120.4 yards per game.
He is also ninth in the nation in receptions, with 8.1 per game.
It makes sense that Robsinson was also the Big Ten wide receiver of the year in 2012.
Needless to say, Robinson will be the one to watch for the Nebraska secondary. If anyone is going to make big plays, it will be Robinson.
Christian Hackenberg (Fr., QB)
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has made quite an impression in his first season leading Penn State.
In fact, Hackenberg is only one of four true freshmen among the NCAA's top 100 passers.
His arm is what makes him a threat, especially with Robinson on the other end.
Hackenberg isn't the most mobile of quarterbacks, though. That's an area Nebraska's defense will look to exploit.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini sees Hackenberg's talent, though. As reported by PennLive.com, Pelini paid Hackenberg a high compliment:
I think he'll develop into a really good football player. He has all the tools, I mean, you see it. He has really good arm strength and can do a lot of things. The dude does a lot of things well.
With a compliment like that, there is little doubt Pelini isn't keeping his team focused on Hackenberg in preparation.
For a full depth chart, click here.
What Are They Saying?
On the approach to the final two games:
We won’t approach these games any differently. It’s business as usual for us. Those guys in the locker room…we’re beat up. We’re still dealing with some injuries and that type of thing. Our approach this week isn’t any different.
On the quarterback situation:
It will be a similar plan to what we’ve had at the quarterback position. Not only for short-term but for long term. We still believe in Tommy (Armstrong Jr.) and still think he’s going to be a really good football player for us. He’s young. He’s a freshman. He’s not going to be perfect. He was disappointed yesterday but because of that experience, that will make him better down the line. Our approach is no different. Tommy and maybe some Ron (Kellogg III) and just dictate it by how the football game goes.
On the turnover margin:
We work on it every day. We just have to keep working on it. Obviously when you have five in a game, it’s pretty unusual. Obviously it’s unfortunate. It’s come at the wrong time of the year for us.
On playing Penn State:
It’s a great atmosphere. It’s a great place to play. Obviously great tradition. I think Coach Bill O’Brien is doing a heckuva job there. We’ll have our work cut out for us. They’re a good football team. They’re well-coached. They’re physical. It will be a good challenge for us.
On what he said to Tommy Armstrong after losing to Michigan State:
Nothing really to say. It was a team loss. I know he had a rough game, but it was a lot of things we did as a team that credited to the loss. It was a team loss.
On media outlets predicting only 35 yards rushing against Michigan State:
Of course. That’s their job to make predictions and it’s my job to shut them up. I feel like we did a good job of that, but obviously it wasn’t good enough to get the win on Saturday.
On what he knows about playing Penn State:
Played there my freshman year. Pretty good atmosphere, especially with what they were going through at the time. It’s going to be tough. Those guys – they always play hard. Every time they bring their best effort. They have a lot of young guys on their team who are hungry for wins. It’s going to be a good game Saturday.
I thought I prepared the right way, I just didn’t hold onto the ball. We made little mistakes here and there, and most of those were my fault. I have to take the blame for it. I just have to take care of the football. You can’t win the game when you have turnovers.
On being prepared for Penn State's crowd:
I think I’m ready for it. Michigan was loud, but at the same time, I know how to key into the game and stay focused on what I’m doing. I need to communicate with my offensive line and my receivers, but I feel like it’s going to be a great game and I think we’re going to do well.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained courtesy of Huskers.com.
Nebraska's offense took a surprising step back against Michigan State; however, the problems are fixable.
As for the Blackshirts, the Huskers really stepped up.
If the two sides of the ball can come together, it could be a big moment for Nebraska. Although the team cannot make it to the Big Ten Championship, winning against Penn State and Iowa are crucial.
Penn State, however, isn't going to make it an easy win for the Huskers, especially on Senior Day.
The Lions have a lot of weapons that will challenge the Huskers. One of those weapons is wideout Allen Robinson.
If given the chance, Robinson will make many statements on Saturday. That means a lot of pressure is on the Blackshirts to step up.
Additionally, Nebraska's offense has to come together and eliminate the turnovers. Handing the ball over as many times as it did against Michigan State won't win the game in Happy Valley.
Penn State's head coach Bill O'Brien will do his best to limit Nebraska's strengths. He's also very good at motivating his own team.
The Lions have struggled this season, though.
It will be a close game, either way.
With the help of I-Back Ameer Abdullah, the Huskers will find a way to win. It will likely be close to tied most of the game, with Abdullah making a break late in the game.
It won't be pretty, but the Huskers will take the win back to Lincoln, Neb.
Prediction: Nebraska 24, Penn State 17
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter @erinsorensen.