So, here we are, with three games left for Penn State (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten), who would be bowl-eligible, if only they were eligible for bowls. The only bowl they’ll be seeing this year is the white porcelain one on New Year’s morning, as they purge the rest of New Year’s Eve.
The #16 Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten), who still harbor realistic hopes for a B1G championship, host the Nittany Lions on Saturday in the last road game of the year.
The ‘Huskers could indeed be B1G champs in a year complicated by the post-season ineligibility of Penn State and Ohio State. They hold the tie-breaker over Michigan, so if they win out, they’ll wind up in the title game. Wisconsin would seem to be their most likely opponent.
Their two losses this year were at the behest of UCLA and Ohio State, both road games. In both cases, Nebraska cooked its own goose with turnovers, two in the see-saw UCLA game, which ended up 36-30, and four in the 63-38 Ohio State blowout. Big Red ranks last in the Big Ten Conference in turnover margin.
Notwithstanding the omnipresent dark cloud of turnovers being a big, sloppy aspect of their game, they’re no slouches. Nebrasky leads the conference in five different categories: rushing offense, total offense, pass efficiency defense, passing efficiency, and sacks. They’re second in four other categories: scoring offense, punt returns, pass defense, and tackles for loss. Oy, vey! Penn State will have its hands full playing in Nebraska!
Looking at the game from a statistical viewpoint is ridiculous, but I’ll do it anyway. PSU leads the conference in turnover margin, while Nebraska is twelfth, so doesn’t that mean that Penn State will make them cough up the ball a few damn times. Yeah, we hope so.
Even our vaunted front seven, who allow on the average 123 rushing yards, will find the going rough as they try to stop an offense that rushes for an average of almost 270 yards per game. At the center of the offense is junior quarterback Taylor Martinez who is a dual-threat kind of guy. When a defense has to keep an eye on a mobile quarterback who is a constant threat to run the ball, things get complicated fast. Hey, could this be Braxton Miller déjà vu? Martinez averages 74 yards per game rushing, and in his last outing, against the heralded Moo U. defense, he rushed for 205 net yards in a comeback victory. His passer rating is 147.12, good for 34th in the country, and he ranks 24th as a player in total offense, with an average of 289.67, just a gnat’s eyelash less than Miller’s 291.90.
Sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah is the rushing mainstay, and he leads the Big Ten in punt returns, too. Averaging 92 yards per game rushing, this guy is only going to get better. He has run for over 100 yards in his last three games, against Northwestern, Michigan, and Moo U. Double oy vey!
While Matt McGloin seems to be regaining the confidence he lost in the Ohio State debacle, linebacker Eric Martin might have something to whisper in Matt’s ear a few times as this game progresses. The defensive line is big, mean, and experienced. If McGloin can’t get his passes away quickly, this could get ugly pretty fast (as “they” say). We’ve already said that the Nebraska pass defense is not going to let PSU get away with much, so we’ll say it again.
I’m not expecting much rushing output, but will Belton play? What’s up with dat? Bill O’Brien famously said last week that players have to earn their jobs in practice, implying that Belton hadn’t done so. That leaves the Killer Z’s, Zwinach and Zordich, who are serviceable, but no great shakes. Penn State’s running game is pretty shabby, ranking 10th in the conference with a 140 yard average. But they’re going to have to run the ball in this game, because as we mentioned, Nebraska will shut down the pass.
Special teams: oy, vey #3. With a world-class punt returner, and Penn State’s suckage on coverage, it would be better for you that a millstone be hung around your neck and you be cast into the sea. I don’t really know what the hell that means, but my high school physics teacher, Mr. Brock, used to say it all the time and I appreciated it, I think. Thinking back to him, he reminds me of Robin Williams. What’s this have to do with punt returns? Damned if I know.
Injuries have plagued Penn State. The most serious is Jordan Hill, whom we just cannot afford to lose with Taylor Martinez being the threat that he is. Alas, although O’Brien hasn’t said anything for sure, it doesn’t look good for Hill to play in this game. It’s a knee, ferchrissakes! You can’t just tape it up and expect it to work. However, Kyle Carter has been practicing, so there is hope that he’ll play. Finally, Curtis Dukes wasn’t playing much, basically just special teams, and he appears to be out indefinitely.
The weather is very iffy. It looks like one of those warm Great Plains fall days on which all hell can break loose weatherwise. With a forecast high of 76 and a cold air mass barreling across the plains, thunderstorms, some severe, are a distinct possibility.
Who’s the man?
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot to showcase a distinguished Nebraska alumnus. It was a tough choice this week, what with Nebraska alumni including Johnny Carson, Warren Buffet, and Karlis Ulmanis, the first prime minister and fourth president of Latvia. However, with Veterans’ Day coming, it was an easy choice, especially since Veterans’ Day was originally Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I. Today’s distinguished alumnus is General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who was the only U.S. army general ever to hold the rank of General of the Armies, the highest rank ever given, during his lifetime. Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. Pershing was allowed to choose his own rank insignia, which he decided would be four gold stars to differentiate him from the four star generals of his time. During World War II, even though he had fewer stars, he outranked the five-star generals of the time (Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley, Arnold, and Marshall). Pershing died in 1948 at the age of 87 at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
It is time for that for which you have been waiting for which. Which? What? Who? Oh, yeah, it’s time for the mighty, infallible (I lie) Official Turkey Poop Prediction! Our friends at BWI are once again split and calling for close games one way or the other. I just don’t see it that way. The dirty, nasty gamblers have bet on Nebraska, by and large, making them an eight-point favorite to kick some Lion butt. The over/under sits at a juicy 51, down from the opening 53. Maybe the thunderstorms will be smiting the goal posts to knock off a damn extra point or two. Anyhow, I’m not seeing this one being very close. I kind of see another Ohio State game in the making. In a Taylor Martinez Whodat déjà vu special, Nebraska 35, Penn State 17. Take the over, but barely.