Nebraska 30, Penn State 23: 3 Key Takeaways From the Lions' 4th-Straight Loss

By Nick Polak on November 14, 2020 at 3:53 pm
Nov 14, 2020; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers safety Deontai Williams (8) forces the fumble against Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) in the first half at Memorial Stadium.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

After another lifeless first half that led to Sean Clifford taking a seat on the bench. Penn State finally showed some fight but couldn't complete the comeback against Nebraska. The loss moves the Nittany Lions to 0-4 on the season – a situation that was unthinkable a month ago.

We'll breakdown the game more in the coming days, but for now, let's talk quick takeaways.

1. Sean Clifford Needed to be Benched A Week Ago

Quarterback play has been far from Penn State's only problem thus far in 2020, but it is now abundantly clear that the Lions should have gone to Levis much earlier than they did.

After starting the game 5-of-8 passing with a terrible interception and a fumble that was returned for six points, Sean Clifford was sent to the bench in favor of backup Will Levis. While Levis was far from perfect and has plenty of work to do before even really approaching good status, it was clear that this team needed a change at the position. Levis' more punishing running style made the Cornhusker defense work far harder to bring him down, and his presence breathed new life into the rushing attack on the whole.

Levis still has a ton of work to do as a passer, but offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca did well enough creating easy throws for him to gain confidence, and wide receiver Parker Washington put on a show helping him out on Saturday.

It's clear that putting in Levis was what this team needed to at least refresh the energy on the sideline and give teams something new to deal with. That energy boost was nearly enough to propel the Lions to a comeback win against the Huskers – maybe it'll be enough to not need a comeback  next time.

2. Penn State Once Again Looked Completely Unprepared to Start the Game

Penn State has been horrific in first halves this season. With the exception of the first drive of the season, the team has looked totally lost on both sides of the ball.

Part of the equation is youth and general inexperience. As we know, the defense has new starters at defensive end, defensive tackle, all three linebacker spots, cornerback, and safety. But the issue looks deeper than the personnel on the field. The players have been struggling, to be sure, but each week they simply look like they simply don't know what to expect from their opponent.

Saturday brought more of the same. It should not have been a secret that Nebraska was going to focus on running the ball, mainly with its quarterback. Luke McCaffrey starting may have been a surprise, but given that incumbent starter Adrian Martinez also does most of his damage on the ground, it's not like it would have changed the game plan.

For whatever reason, the coaching staff seems totally incapable of preparing its team for what its opponent is doing. This team will not win a game until that changes.

3. the Future of This Receiving Corps. is Bright

I could find another negative takeaway, sure. But I'm going to focus on an area that most fans saw as a weakness coming into 2020. Jahan Dotson is a verified dude, but given that he's a true junior, his time on campus is already winding down. However, this unit still has a very bright future.

Parker Washington has been nothing short of excellent since Week One and seems to already be new starter Will Levis' favorite target. The freshman runs routes like a redshirt senior and seems to be improving his after the catch abilities week after week.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith has had a few drops here and there, but the mark of a good receiver is the ability to bounce back after missing plays. Lambert-Smith did that against Nebraska. Penn State's receivers have seemingly struggled from a lack of confidence more than anything else over the last few years, so seeing a true freshman be able to show some mental fortitude is huge.

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