Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State has twice gone undefeated in conference road games (1994, 2009). A matchup against the eighteenth ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-1) stands in the way of the Nittany Lions (6-3, 4-1) accomplishing this feat for a third time.
The Nittany Lions have been absolutely dominant in Big Ten road games this season, winning contests by margins of 28, 24, and 25 points, but tomorrow will be a step up in both competition and atmosphere. Currently leading the Legends Division, the Cornhuskers are the second best team the Nittany Lions will face all season behind the Ohio State Buckeyes, and Memorial Stadium will be the largest and most hostile environment the Blue and White have visited all season.
Let’s learn a bit about some Nebraska players that will give the Nittany Lions their toughest road test to date:
Taylor Martinez #3 — The junior dual-threat quarterback is much improved this season, completing 62.9% of his passes compared to 56.3% last year. Martinez has thrown for 18 touchdowns already and ran for 8 more on the ground, but he has also thrown 8 interceptions on the season and 7 over the past four games. His numbers were extremely ordinary last year at Beaver Stadium, but he took care of the football and will look to do the same tomorrow.
Ameer Abdullah #8 — Rex Burkhead will likely miss another game with a knee injury meaning Abdullah will get the majority of the touches when Martinez is not carrying the ball himself. Abdullah is averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground in each of his last three games. This should be a good matchup against a strong Nittany Lions front seven that has not allowed an opposing running back to hit the century mark since the opener against Ohio.
Kenny Bell #80 — This sophomore wide receiver has hauled in 6 touchdown receptions on the season along with 622 yards. Bell did not find the end zone last week but did in the two previous games and may also return kicks for the Cornhuskers.
Will Compton #51 — The senior middle linebacker leads the Cornhuskers defense with 73 tackles on the year. 6 tackles have been for loss, and he also has three sacks on the season and two fumble recovers. Matt McGloin and the Nittany Lions offense will need to know where he is at all times and prevent him from forcing a game-changing turnover.
Brett Maher #96 — The senior kicker was very accurate in 2011, converting 19 of 23 field goal attempts but has been a bit more inconsistent this year. Maher has made six attempts from beyond 40 yards out but is only 12 of 18 on the season so far. Kicking was a factor last year, and it should be again tomorrow as he and Sam Ficken will be interesting to monitor.
A few things to watch for from Penn State:
The Defensive Tackle Position — Jordan Hill was very limited in practice on Wednesday after suffering a knee injury against Purdue. James Terry will fill in if Hill cannot play but his absence would no doubt be a big void against a solid rushing team like the Cornhuskers.
Kyle Carter’s Status — The redshirt freshman missed last Saturday’s game with a foot injury but participated fully in Wednesday’s practice this week. Against a weak Purdue team, the Nittany Lions offense did not miss a beat even with him out of action, but he would be a welcomed addition tomorrow against the Cornhuskers.
Bill Belton — The sophomore running back played sparingly last week and did not receive any touches as Bill O’Brien rode with Zack Zwinak and Michael Zordich much of the way. Could it be more of the same tomorrow against a physical Cornhuskers defense?
Weather and Conditioning — Temperature is expected to be around 70 degrees in Lincoln at kickoff tomorrow, almost unheard of for a Big Ten game in November. With two teams that run up-tempo, fast paced offenses, depth and conditioning will come into play in the second half.
The Third Quarter — In their three losses this season, the third quarter has been disastrous for the Nittany Lions. They have been outscored 42-3 and will need to prevent that from happening tomorrow against a Cornhuskers team that is normally good at halftime adjustments.
Tomorrow’s contest should be an entertaining game from start to finish with a decent amount of offense. The Nittany Lions will not have much room for error and must avoid turnovers and blown opportunities that plagued them two weeks ago against Ohio State. If they do that, they will be in a position to conquer their toughest road test and remain undefeated in conference away games.
By the Numbers: McGloin has thrown three interceptions all season while Martinez threw three last week against Michigan State.
Blast from the Past: These teams met at Beaver Stadium in 2002 for a primetime contest. The seventh ranked Cornhuskers were upset 40-7 by a rejuvenated Nittany Lions team following two straight losing seasons. With the Nittany Lions leading 19-7 midway through the third quarter, cornerback Richard Gardner intercepted a Jamaal Lord pass and took it 42 yards for a touchdown. Fans who were at the game describe the aftermath of the play as the loudest moment ever in Beaver Stadium.