Nebraska could be best team PSU plays
Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions showed last week that they go on the road and get the job done after an emotional loss. PSU dominated Purdue, beating the Boilermakers 34-9 at Ross Ade Stadium.
This week Penn State may face their toughest test of the season, maybe even tougher than Ohio State when they face Nebraska in Lincoln later today (3:30 ET ABC/ESPN).
Nebraska's offensive scheme resembles that of Ohio State and Ohio, the two squads that were able to generate some nice offensive numbers against the Nittany Lions.
The Penn State offense is going to have to try and keep the Huskers offense off the field as much as it can. That's because if history has proven anything this season it's that against a read option format the PSU defense tends to wear down in the second half. There's no doubt Nebraska has the personnel to test the Nittany Lions all afternoon and if the offense doesn't make plays and put some points up on the board expect to see the same result that was witnessed against the Buckeyes and Bobcats.
The first concern for defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his defense has to be the multi-dimensional Taylor Martinez. The Huskers quarterback possesses a lot of the same skill as Buckeyes' QB Braxton Miller, who gave PSU fits two weeks ago.
"I believe that both guys are tremendous athletes, they both have excellent speed. I believe that both of those guys have worked on their throwing mechanics and improved throwing the football," said O'Brien. "Taylor Martinez has done an excellent job. I think he's completing 65 percent of his passes, he is an accurate guy, he can run, and they both- they have great command of their offense, so they know and they're coached very well. They know what they want to do, how they want to attack things and obviously with both guys, it's a huge challenge for any defense."
Nebraska will probably be without talented running back Rex Burkhead again this week. Burkhead has been hampered by a knee injury and has not been able to get back on track, missing the last seven weeks.
Huskers' tailback Ameer Abdullah has filled in nicely in Burkhead's absence. He's rushed for 826 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Pair that Martinez's 666 yards on the ground along with eight scores and the recipe is a pretty dangerous running attack.
"Burkhead is an excellent player but they've got three other guys there that are really good players with Abdullah and (Braylon) Heard and (Imani) Cross," said O'Brien. "They've got good players at that position so we're going to have to be up to the challenge of whoever is playing against us on Saturday."
The Penn State defense has a tough challenge against ahead of it, that's a given. However, the whole PSU squad will have the daunting task of dealing with "big red machine" that is the fan base in Lincoln. The Nebraska home field advantage is huge and the atmosphere created by the Huskers' faithful is one of the loudest in the country.
"Well, I would expect that this atmosphere will be very loud, very intense, from what I hear. I've never been to Nebraska but from what I hear they have respectful fans, they're loud, they cheer for their team and they appreciate an opponent that plays hard and plays clean," said O'Brien. "We're really looking forward to it. It's, again, it's like Nebraska - Penn State, that's what college football is all about. You have two big-time college football programs that have two good coaching staffs and a lot of good players and playing in a great game in Lincoln, that atmosphere, hopefully its fun."
The Nittany Lions offense performed well last week at Purdue with Matt McGloin passing for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Zach Zwinak also did a nice job of running the football, tallying 134 yards on the ground.
McGloin and the stable of PSU running backs will need to be on top of their game this week once again. It will be a tough atmosphere to play in, but McGloin just needs to continue to play mistake-free football and execute O'Brien's offense. McGloin's efficiency has been impressive this season throwing for 2,436 yards and 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He gives the Nittany Lions a chance to win everytime he goes out there, which is a far cry from his performance over the last two seasons.
A pleasant surprise on the offensive side of the ball has been the play of sophomore wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder. Most everybody has heard of Allen Robinson by now, especially because he broke the single-season record for catches in a season by a sophomore two weeks ago. Moseby-Felder has shown over the last few weeks that he could possibly be another play-making target for McGloin, catching 10 balls for 199 yards over his last two games.
"He's improved a lot, but he's played the whole season and you have seen him over the last few weeks catch a few more balls," said O'Brien. "He's improved in his route running, he's done everything we asked him to do in the running game, blocks, blocks the down safety, blocks corners, blocks for the screens. He's a team guy, one of the more improved guys on our football from a route running standpoint, from a health standpoint, durability standpoint, he's catching the ball better, and hopefully he can continue to improve over the next three weeks."
A win over Nebraska this week would be a landmark victory for Bill O'Brien and the Penn State football program. With all that has gone and the way this team has performed up to this point is pretty remarkable and it's hard for anybody to deny that. Will this be the game where people look back on four years from now and say… this is when we knew that Penn State football was going to be back and better than ever?