It’s a big game for Nebraska this weekend as one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten comes a calling - Penn State. The Huskers control their own destiny while the Nittany Lions play their bowl game each week.
There were many who thought the Nittany Lions wouldn’t be able to even field a team when the NCAA allowed the PSU players to transfer without having to sit out. Penn State’s tremendous season, despite what happens this Saturday, from potentially not fielding a team to being 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference, deserves to be applauded.
?Penn State is one of the great institutions, not just the Big Ten conference, but all of football. Their program was shaken to the core and needed to be rebuilt. Bill O’Brien is doing just that at Penn State. That’s why Saturday’s has gone from a cakewalk to a concern for Nebraska.
Here are my keys to the game for Nebraska:
1. Turnovers - What else could the key to this game be? Penn State sits atop the conference rankings when it comes to turnover margin at +9 and Nebraska is at the bottom at -9. That is a +18 turnover advantage going into this game for Penn State over Nebraska! Nebraska can’t fix their turnover issues on a consistent basis. At home, Nebraska is better and there is some reason to feel good about this particular game and this part of the game.
2. Finishing drives with touchdowns - Penn State shares a significant advantage over Nebraska in turnovers and they also tout the best red zone defense in the Big Ten. Penn State’s opponents are only scoring any points 63% of the time in the red zone. Nebraska is scoring nearly 86% of the time in the red zone, but over 25% of the time in the red zone the Huskers are settling for a field goal try. Brett Maher is 8-for-11 in the red zone, but just 12-for-18 overall. Nebraska can’t miss on scoring opportunities.
3. Rotation in the offensive backfield, staying healthy - It’s critical that Nebraska doesn’t overlook Penn State this weekend and at the same time they try and get healthy. The Big Ten conference games have been tough games, hard fought games and there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to sit players like there were in the out of conference schedule. Nebraska needs to find ways to keep Ameer Abdullah healthy by getting Braylon Heard and Imani Cross more involved running the football with Burkhead probably being another week or so away from coming back.
I was a little surprised with the small line on this game. Nebraska is tougher at home than on the road and is a superior team, particularly in the area of scoring, but Nebraska is just an inconsistent team. So, you see Nebraska winning this game as handedly as say 21 to 24 points. You can also see things falling apart and Nebraska possibly losing.
?Here’s why the losing scenario won’t happen. Nebraska realizes what is going on here. The table has been set for Nebraska since Tom Osborne announced his retirement and the Huskers beat Wisconsin at home. If the table is going to set up the way that it has then Nebraska might as well take advantage of it and run it out.
Still, seeing a Nebraska win has a lot of ifs, ands and buts in explaining how it plays out. I will go the other way and say because Nebraska will limit their turnovers, use the big play to propel them and break down Penn State; the Huskers will by two scores on Saturday. It’s as bold of prediction as I have made all season. I think that Nebraska finally doesn’t need to come back in the fourth quarter. Nebraska wins, 34-20.