College Football Analysis: Can Penn State Beat Nebraska?
Penn State travels to Nebraska this weekend in what could be a very entertaining game. Penn State has played well on the road in conference play with dominating wins at Iowa, Illinois and Purdue but Nebraska will clearly be the stiffest test faced on the road this season.
It is time to reflect on the state of the football program with this week's edition of the Blue White Roundtable. As usual, the participants this week consist of Joe Pa's Doghouse, The 50-Yard Lion, and our gracious round-up hosts from Black Shoe Diaries. This week we also welcome Victory Bell Rings to the fray.
So husk some corn and get your popcorn ready. It's Blue White Roundtable time.
1. Purdue seemed to catch Penn State sleeping on their first drive of the game, and the team looked a bit sluggish early in the game. Was this an Ohio State hangover? Or have teams begun to catch on to the Penn State game plan?
I think it is possible Purdue caught Penn state at the right time, but I also believe Purdue was playing on a bit of an adrenaline rush, knowing they needed to get a win with a quarterback who gave them some life too late in the game the previous week. Teams may be catching on to what Penn State is doing, but for now only a handful of teams will have the athletic stamina to be able to slow them down too much. Ohio State was able to do it, and Nebraska might be the next physically capable of doing so.
2. Matt McGloin passed Kerry Collins this week for most 300 yard passing games by a Nittany Lion. Assess McGloin midway through the season. Is he really the Big Ten's best passer? Or is his success more based on Bill O'Brien's offensive scheme?
Sure, Matt McGloin has the basic passing numbers to make a solid case to be the best quarterback in the Big Ten and there is no question Bill O'Brien has done a solid job in making McGloin more of an effective passer in the offense compared to the previous staff. But when I look at quarterbacks to determine who is the best, I like to look a little deeper in to the numbers, and doing so reveals some not so glossy trends for McGloin in this discussion.
On 3rd down and 4-6 yards, McGloin is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten with completion percentage, completing 54.5 percent of his passes in that situation. Of course, Penn State's willingness to go for it on fourth downs would suggest this may not be as big a problem as it is for another school, like Indiana or Michigan State. On 3rd and 7-9, McGloin is completing 59.1 percent of his passes, the best QB rating in the Big Ten among players with at least 10 attempts in that situation.
Inside the red zone McGloin is in the bottom half of the Big Ten in QB rating, completing just 23 of 50 pass attempts. That said, McGloin also has the most red zone touchdown passes, with 11, and just one interception.
Put all of that together and you have a quarterback who may not be dazzling, but seems to be proving to be effective in the clutch. Compared to some of the other passers in the Big Ten, and again just focusing on what these players can do with their arms and not their legs, and considering the system he is running, I think you can make a legitimate case that McGloin is the best quarterback in the Big Ten even without some of the raw skills and talent others may have. You have to credit that to the system, I think, more than anything else.
3. Nebraska was held in check for most of the game by a stout Michigan State defense. Can Penn State have sustained success against Taylor Martinez and the Cornhusker offense? What does Penn State have to do to be successful?
This much we know. Nebraska can be slowed down by formidable defenses. They are not exactly lighting up the scoreboards in Big Ten play, but they have put up at least 23 points in each game so they should be a concern. I believe Penn State will have a defense that certainly keeps Nebraska under 30 points, and I think it is a game where the first to 24 wins.
With or without Rex Burkhead, Nebraska's running game will be the key. Taylor Martinez is capable of putting up some big yards on the ground, and Penn State's defense is capable of letting him slip away from time to time (see Russell Wilson 2011, Braxton Miller 2012). Ameer Abdullah has also been very effective this season taking the bulk of the load when Burkhead is not available. The key for Penn State's defense will be ball-awareness with Nebraska able to run the option as well as anyone. Unlike Navy though, Nebraska is capable of wearing down Penn State's defense in doing so (a la Ohio State) and they can also throw in a passing game when needed.
Before the season ever started and we had a chance to see what Bill O'Brien could do, I had Nebraska marked down as a loss. Despite some good play by Penn State and a Nebraska team that has holes on both sides of the football at times, I still think that remains the case. I do feel Penn State keeps this a close, lower scoring affair than some might think, but I think when push comes to shove Nebraska will be able to pick up a few crucial yards on the ground and get by with a win.
Nebraska 24, Penn State 20
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