Game Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions vs Nebraska Cornhuskers

By Matthew Filipovits on November 13, 2020 at 11:59 am
Nov 7, 2020; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost on the sidelines during the second half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a rough start to the 2020 season for the Nittany Lions. They'll take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday as both programs look for their first win of the year.

  Penn State Nebraska
2020 Record 0-3 0-2
Head Coaches James Franklin (80-41, 56-26 with Penn State) Scott Frost (28-24, 9-17 with Nebraska)
Kickoff 12:00 PM EDT 
Television FS1
Stream Watch Fox Sports
spread Penn State -3

A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

The Cornhuskers have relied on two quarterbacks so far this season, Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey. Neither has thrown a touchdown pass yet, something which would be a welcome sight for the Penn State defense after facing getting picked apart by three signal-callers in the first month of the season. 

While they haven't been lighting up the scoreboard through the air, Martinez and McCaffrey are both reliable threats on the ground. The duo rank No. 1 and No. 2 on the Huskers in rushing, with both averaging over seven yards per carry. The duo will be on the field at the same time in certain packages, so Brent Pry will need to have his defense prepared for a handful of unique looks.

A bad Huskers rush defense

The Cornhuskers have only played two games this season thanks to a COVID issue at Wisconsin. In those two games, they've given up 363 yards to Ohio State and Northwestern, a pair of teams Penn State should be able to at least run the ball on par with.

Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and Keyvone Lee have all shown flashes in different roles this season, but nobody has truly taken control. If one of these three want to prove they belong at the top of the pecking order, this is the time to do it. They'll need some help from the guys upfront and it is very clear the staff is still trying to figure out who their best five is. Look for Caedan Wallace and Juice Scruggs to get long looks and if they impress, we could see Penn State's rushing attack do the damage we all expected it would.

Now or never

Simply put, things have gone absolutely horribly for Penn State this season. Even with the Micah Parsons opt-out and the Journey Brown news, nobody expected the Nittany Lions to be 0-3 on what could have been a successful season. James Franklin's squad still can turn things around and save what's looking like a lost season, but this Saturday is their last chance to bring a sinking ship back afloat.

Kirk Ciarrocca's offenses have always struggled in his first year at a new school, but that excuse cannot be good enough for Penn State anymore. This team is too talented to be winless at this point in the year. If the Nittany Lions want to prove they can still be a force this season, they need to prove it in Lincoln.

Start Believing the Team will right the ship if...

  • Penn State's offensive line gives Sean Clifford the help he needs. This wasn't a great offseason to overhaul your blocking scheme, but Phil Trautwein needs to find a way to make this click. This a Nebraska secondary that is prone to giving up big plays, but Sean Clifford needs a clean pocket to have a shot to connect on them.
  • A third receiver emerges. Jahan Dotson is a star and Parker Washington has quietly been one of Sean Clifford's most reliable targets. Adding in a new receiving threat would force Scott Frost to open up the box a bit, clearing the way for a wake-up call in the running game. Not to mention open things up more for Pat Freiermuth.
  • Penn State's secondary finally makes some big plays. This unit has come close, but they've been just a step behind when an opportunity comes to make a game-changing play. Tariq Castro-Fields was a bit banged up last week, but it appears he'll be good to go. He'll be tested early and often as teams are quickly learning to steer clear from Joey Porter Jr.

start eyeing up quick lane bowl merch if...

  • Penn State's offense again comes out flat. Penn State's offense has found their footing later in games, but they've dug themselves too deep of a hole in each of their first three games. If they don't start strong, this is going to be another ugly game.
  • The Nittany Lion defense keeps looking out of sort. Brent Pry is too good of a coach to have a team make this many mistakes. Guys constantly seem out of position or are just plain wrong in their assignments. Scott Frost is a good coach who will make you pay for any mistakes you make against his offense.
  • Devyn Ford doesn't take control of the backfield. Noah Cain is out for the year and Journey Brown's football career has come to an unfortunate end. Ford needs to show he was worth all of the hype he had coming in and prove he can be Penn State's next great running back. There are guys right on his heels, so Ford better bring his A-game to Lincoln.

Prediction in gif form

This game is going to be a rough watch for everyone involved. Penn State will roll out of Lincoln damaged, but with their shell of a season still intact.

Kirk Ciarrocca is going to try and get Clifford in a rhythm early and come out ready to pick the Huskers apart. Feeling the pressure of his backup breathing down his neck, Clifford responds with a better than anticipated first half. He gets the ball to multiple guys, freeing up the running game and allowing Penn State to control the clock. Penn State's defense focuses heavily on the run and forces the Huskers to rely on their passing game, leading to a pair of turnovers in the first half. The Lions head into the break up 10-0.

It's more of the same baby steps for Penn State in the second half, with Clifford relying on short passes and efficient runs to keep the chains moving. The offense stalls out a bit too many times for comfort but ultimately finds the endzone to put this one away. Brent Pry's answers the bell and does its part to keep the Cornhuskers at bay and the Nittany Lions eke out an ugly 17-10 win.

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