State College has been the focus of the sports world, but not for reasons they or anyone else wanted.
The scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is still unfolding, detail after disgusting detail. The case has been well documented, so I won’t go into the details here outside of their relevance to Saturday’s game.
It appears Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium will go on as scheduled, despite some very legitimate concerns about the challenges that Penn State’s administration and campus police will face. Wednesday night, as news of Joe Paterno’s firing spread, students at Penn State gathered on Beaver Avenue. Most students were under control, merely rubbernecking and trying to understand what was going on. But as is often the case, some students became destructive.
Media members were pelted with rocks and a news van was tipped over by the mob. Street signs were also broken, and approximately 100 police officers had to be called in with pepper spray to subdue some of the crowd. No one is sure what the scene will look like Saturday afternoon as the Big Ten-leading Nittany Lions play host to the Cornhuskers.
For the record, it is my opinion that the game should be played as scheduled, so long as there are no concerns for the safety of the crowd or anyone involved in the game.
Though the scene right now is tranquil, I understand that trying to predict the crowd’s behavior Saturday is difficult. But to move the game would be nearly impossible with this short of notice, and postponing the game would likely drag this on longer. It would be unfair to the seniors of Penn State to not grant them their Senior Day, and it would be unfair to Nebraska who has surely worked very hard to prepare for this game as they try to climb back to the top of the Legends Division.
I understand that football is fickle compared to the charges levied at Sandusky, Paterno, and the rest of the Penn State program. I understand that keeping the program churning ahead is what has caused most of these allegations to go unnoticed for almost a decade. I feel, however, that the only solution is to play the game Saturday in Beaver Stadium and move on.
As for the game itself, let’s look at what each school needs to focus on to come away with the victory.
For Nebraska’s offense it is very simple: run the ball with Rex Burkhead early and often. When Burkhead gains more than 100 yards on the ground, the Huskers win (5-0 this year). When he doesn’t, they lose (0-2). The latter was the case last week against Northwestern, so you can be sure they will try to establish the running game against Penn State.
The fact is, as dynamic an athlete as quarterback Taylor Martinez is, he is inconsistent and mistake-prone. I’ve written it before in this very column, but Martinez must protect the ball and give his defense a chance to sit on the sideline. He doesn’t need to be spectacular for Nebraska to win this game. Considering all the emotion of the past week, he merely needs to be efficient and allow Burkhead to shoulder the load.
Defensively, Nebraska should match up fairly well with the Nittany Lions. Their first priority will be stopping Penn State running back Silas Redd, who has over 1,000 yards already this season. Other than Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Nebraska hasn’t been gashed badly on the ground this season. Considering Ball has pretty much done that to everyone and 63 of Hyde’s 104 yards came on one carry (his other 12 went for just 41 yards), they have been respectable against the run. They will need to keep that up this weekend as Penn State’s quarterback carousel hasn’t shown any chance of stopping.
What Penn State must do to win
This is going to sound impossible, but in order for Penn State to win, they must unite as a team and focus on the task of beating Nebraska and not the loss of their coach and the horrific scandal plaguing their program and institution.
In what is sure to be an emotional day for fans, players, coaches, and university employees, the Nittany Lions will try to run Redd as much as they can and play stingy defense against Burkhead. Redd comes in with a streak of 5 straight 100-yard games, all of which have come against Big Ten opponents.
Penn State has lucked out a bit from a scheduling standpoint as they haven’t had to face Wisconson, Michigan or Michigan State this year, so this matchup against Nebraska will be their toughest in-conference game to date.
Last week against Illinois, Penn State got next to nothing out of their passing attack, totaling only 98 yards through the air. Against Nebraska that might not be good enough, especially if Martinez gets going. For the Nittany Lions to win this game, they must be able to make a few big plays in the passing game to open up the field for their primary weapon, Redd. Wide receiver Derek Moye should be able to get open against a relatively weak Nebraska secondary, and if Matt McGloin (or Rob Bolden, but I expect McGloin to take most of the snaps) can hit him with a big strike or two, Penn State could shake off the distractions and remain undefeated in Big Ten play.
Defensively, they must limit Burkhead and force Martinez into bad throws. Penn State is 3rd nationally in scoring defense, so they have the ability to both of those things. If they allow Burkhead to start fast or Martinez to make a homerun play early, the Nittany Lions don’t have the quick strike offensive weapons to make up a deficit.
Nebraska-Penn State Prediction
I think that the seniors of Penn State have a lot to play for, and I think the team will come out and play well Saturday. They will be filled with emotion and I think that will manifest itself in the form of passionate, inspired play. The atmosphere will be unlike any other college football game we have ever seen given the circumstances of the last week, and I expect the crowd to be supportive of the players and be respectful of the game, which is certainly how Joe Paterno wants them to be.
I see Penn State’s defense holding Rex Burkhead to under 100 yards and I see the trend of Nebraska losing when he doesn’t reach the century mark holding up this week. Look for Silas Redd to punish the Huskers defense and for Penn State to win one of their typical low scoring slugfests.
Final Prediction: Penn State 20, Nebraska 17
What do you think will be the outcome?
Nebraska-Penn State Game Info
- Nebraska-Penn State Date: Saturday, November 12
- Nebraska-Penn State Kickoff Time: 12:00 EST
- Nebraska-Penn State TV: ESPN
- Nebraska-Penn State Point Spread: Nebraska -3.5
- Nebraska-Penn State Over/Under: 43
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