Nebraska vs Penn State: Each Squad's Key to Victory in Big Ten Bout

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2013

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 10: Running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looks for an opening in the Penn State Nittany Lions defense during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska beat Penn State 32-23. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

This season's meeting between Nebraska and Penn State offers less fanfare than previous matchups, but each school's unpredictability creates an intriguing showdown on Saturday.

Neither squad is ranked, and a Big Ten title is out of reach for both of the conference rivals, but pride and bragging rights are sometimes the only thing necessary to create friction. That will have to do when the Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions clash in State College.

So far, Penn State has been college football's version of the New York Jets. After starting the season with two successive victories, it has since traded wins with losses throughout the season. In a truly wild season, Penn State was won after four overtimes, allowed 63 points to Ohio State and most recently put up 45 against Purdue.

Hardly a beacon of consistency, Nebraska has dropped two of its past four games after starting the season at 5-1. Last week, it allowed 151 rushing yards and three scores to Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford during a 41-28 loss.

Let's take a look at how each team can regain some normalcy with a win on Saturday afternoon.


Nebraska: Contain Zach Zwinak

LINCON, NE - NOVEMBER 10: Running back Zach Zwinak #28 of the Penn State Nittany Lions stiff arms safety Daimion Stafford #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Franci
Eric Francis/Getty Images

There's a common thread in all of Nebraska's three losses: They failed to stop the run.

We already highlighted Langford's big performance on the ground during the Cornhuskers' last loss, but that was not the first demonstration of this struggle. Against Minnesota, Nebraska surrendered 271 rushing yards, 138 of which were obtained by running back David Cobb.

During its first loss of the season, Nebraska yielded 210 rushing yards to UCLA. Junior Jordan James compiled 105 yards and a score while quarterback Brett Hundley added on 61 more to the tally.

This is a horrible time to encounter Penn State, as running back Zach Zwinak is currently on a roll. The senior has received 26 carries in each of his last two games, and he turned those touches into 299 yards and four touchdowns. One of those included this goal-line score against Purdue, courtesy of the Big Ten's Twitter page.

The 6'1", 240-pounder will be tough for Nebraska's front seven to combat, but this squad has seen what happens when it lets opponents run wild.

After scoring eight touchdowns through three games earlier this season, Zwinak disappeared with 129 combined yards in his next four outings before reviving again. Nebraska must send him back into hiding this weekend.


Penn State: Force Tommy Armstrong Jr. to Make Freshman Mistakes

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 7: Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers eyes linebacker Alan Howze #37 of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated
Eric Francis/Getty Images

For Penn State to come out on top, the defense must make it perfectly clear that Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a freshman quarterback playing on the road.

He certainly looked the part last week, coughing up three turnovers in Nebraska's loss to Michigan State. Armstrong has also thrown three interceptions on two separate occasions, but his team still managed to salvage victories each time.

If he plays that poorly again, Penn State should prevail in this conference clash.

Armstrong has completed just 53 percent of his passes this season, averaging just 114.6 passing yards per game. In his last away game, the neophyte avoided mistakes and completed 11 of 19 passing attempts. But in his previous road bout, he earned six completions along with three picks in a blowout loss to Purdue.

That's the type of disastrous outing the Lions want to twist out of Armstrong, but they'll settle for a couple of costly turnovers that prevent Nebraska's fierce rushing attack from controlling the tempo. 


Prediction: Penn State 27, Nebraska 23

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions congratulates players after a touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Penn State's current pattern suggests that a letdown is on the way this Saturday, but all is in place for the Nittany Lions to finally rattle off consecutive victories. Zwinak should continue to roll while the defense pounces on the untested opposing quarterback to edge out a close victory at home.