When: Saturday, November 18th, 2017, 4:00 PM on FS1
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pennsylvania
At the beginning of the season, this matchup looked to be one of the more challenging games on the schedule for the Nittany Lions—that is no longer the case. The Cornhuskers (4-6), ironically like the harvesting season for corn, is over. For Penn State, the No.10 Nittany Lions (8-2) are two wins away from a possible New Year’s Six Bowl, if a couple of teams ahead of them lose.
More importantly, it is senior day at Beaver Stadium. Penn State will honor 23 seniors, some of which, like DaeSean Hamilton, have been with the program for a very long time. In addition to the seniors, this will probably be Saquon Barkley’s last game in Beaver Stadium—more about that here, and perhaps a few others like Juwan Johnson could leave early, but it’s doubtful.
Regardless of how bad Nebraska has been this year, this matchup still features two historic programs and along with the Senior Day emotions, should be a great game.
Penn State Offense vs. Nebraska Defense
Written by Brandon Musso
McSorley, Barkley, and Co. started slow against Rutgers last Saturday but eventually found their stride in the second quarter and cruised to yet another 30+ point performance. However, Barkley and the running game were again shut down as he rushed for only 44 yards. The passing game once again shined bright as McSorley threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns. In the end, it was yet another game where a combination of a struggling offensive line and a defensive strategy of stopping Barkley at all costs, prevented the offense from gaining any sort of balance. With that being said, the offense is still scoring a lot of points and should continue the same passing strategy against Nebraska if the Cornhuskers sell out to stop Barkley on the ground.
Fortunately for Penn State, Nebraska’s passing defense is pedestrian as they average almost 212 passing yards allowed per game. This puts them at No.52 in the country in that category. If there is an impact player in the secondary it is defensive back Aaron Williams. Williams ranks near the top of the team in tackles while also nabbing two interceptions, one for a touchdown.
Upfront, the Nebraska defense ranks near last in the country for rushing yards allowed per game. They are averaging just over 200 rushing yards allowed per game. Despite that, I fully expect them to sell out to stop Barkley like other teams have. That which will probably prevent Penn State from reaching that 200 rushing yard threshold but the matchup could still serve as ripe opportunity for Barkley to get his name back up into the Heisman conversation. Expect senior linebacker and the team’s total tackle leader Chris Weber to shadow Barkley all game.
As far as pass rushing, Ben Stille is a name to look out for. Stille is the team’s sack and tackles-for-loss leader, with 3.5 and 7.5 respectively. He could potentially cause problems behind the line of scrimmage.
The 3-4 defense that Nebraska runs is not something that Penn State sees often in the college football game but they should be able to handle it. After all, teams have scored a lot of points against Nebraska so Penn State’s high-powered offense should have no problem doing the same.
Penn State Defense vs. Nebraska Offense
The biggest question mark coming into this game is whether or not experienced quarterback, Tanner Lee will play. Lee has been completing concussion protocol all week and looks as though he has been cleared to play. However, head coach Mike Riley mentioned that his playing time could be limited even if he is cleared to play. Lee although a turnover machine, is still a credible quarterback, who can make plays with his feet and his arm. If Lee cannot play, Patrick O’Brien will get the nod in his first career start. O’Brien also has mobility, running for 41 yards last week against Minnesota before subtracting sack yardage. In his limited role this season, O’Brien has thrown thirty pass attempts, with no touchdowns and one interception; he has been sacked seven times.
With O’Brien’s tendency to get sacked, combined with Nebraska’s offensive line that has surrendered 19 sacks, could lead massive disruption by the Penn State defensive line that is sorely missing Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz—Buchholz was seen suited up this week in practice, his status for the game is unknown.
On the ground, Devine Ozigbo, is the starting running back. The junior only has 468 yards on the ground and two touchdowns this season. If Nebraska is unable to run the football and are forced into passing situations, it could be a long game for the Cornhuskers in Beaver Stadium.
One senior I think hasn’t received enough love this season is DaeSean Hamilton. It has been a long time since his breakout performance against UCF in Ireland four years ago. It has been fun to watch Hamilton score seven touchdowns this season and look for him to add to that total this weekend.
Penn State should win this football game by a lot, but I don’t see Barkley having a field day as long as Penn State’s offensive line continues to struggle and defenses continue to key in on him. Still, Penn State finds various ways to get the ball in the end zone and Barkley does give us one final highlight in Beaver Stadium.
Penn State: 41
Brandon Musso (8-2) Prediction:
Nebraska comes into Beaver Stadium with a 4-6 record, clearly a struggling team that is not having the season they would hope to have. As for the Nittany Lions, this will be an emotional Senior Day game as some of the most talented and impactful players in Penn State history wind down their college careers. Barkley, Allen, Hamilton, Cabinda, and Gesicki, just to name a few, will play their last game in Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Despite the emotional goodbyes, winning out is important for the team in order to stay in the New Year’s Six Bowl conversation and the first step is this game.
Nebraska is coming off a loss to Minnesota that saw their defense get torched for 54 points. Given Nebraska’s tendency to give up those big-time points and some extra motivation from Senior Day, I think Penn State makes a statement and wins big.
Penn State: 42
Kraigen Rasalla (1-1) Prediction:
After being gashed for 54 points and 409 rushing yards against Minnesota, Nebraska (4-6) comes into a Senior Day tilt at Beaver Stadium against No. 10 Penn State (8-2). Nebraska will have to try to contain RB Saquon Barkley, in what could be his last game in Beaver Stadium. The junior RB is one of the highest rated draft prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft and has the option to forgo his senior season. After becoming one of the Heisman trophy favorites early in the season, Barkley has scuffled running the ball and his struggles have become a major question for James Franklin as Penn State has had a 1-2 record in their last three games. I think this is the week Barkley finally erupts on the ground. There are too many factors, in my opinion, to keep Barkley contained in this one. A weak rush defense for Nebraska, the potential of this being his last home game, a potential invitation to New York City for the Heisman presentation on the line, and the opportunity of leaving a lasting image with Penn State fans in potentially his last home game. I see Barkley having a few touchdowns and eclipsing the 100-yard plateau on the ground, while have an impact catching the ball out of the backfield and in the return game, as usual. Barkley leads PSU to victory on Senior Day, 38-14.
Penn State: 38