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Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Nebraska

It’s almost time for another football Saturday for the Penn State Nittany Lions (6-4, 3-3). The team will take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-3, 4-2) tomorrow afternoon at Beaver Stadium. The Cornhuskers are without star quarterback Taylor Martinez who will likely miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. Here are our staff predictions for tomorrow’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

Zach Berger: 

Penn State 31, Nebraska 27

Call me crazy, but I think that the Senior Day factor plays a big role as the Nittany Lions win an emotionally-charged game against a tough Nebraska Cornhuskers team tomorrow. The run game will get going early, whether it be Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, or some combination of the two pounding the rock. Bill O’Brien will stick with the ground-and-pound this week against a mediocre Nebraska run defense.

The Cornhuskers will do the same against Penn State, giving Ameer Abdullah the ball as often as possible to let the junior running back do what he does best. Abdullah is a dangerous back who has 100 or more yards in all but one game, coming up with 98 in that one game. If Penn State’s front seven can limit him to somewhere just around that century mark, it will force Nebraska’s freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to throw the ball against a secondary that gets better by the week.

It will be close all game long, but I think that the Nittany Lions have a lead going into the fourth quarter and hold on to give the seniors one last win at Beaver Stadium.

Bill DiFilippo:

Nebraska 38, Penn State 24

I hate this game so much. Nebraska brings its excellent running game and solid defense into Happy Valley, and if there’s one thing that we have learned about Penn State this year, it’s that the team tends to get flustered when it faces a team that features those two elements.

Look for Nebraska to give the ball to star running back Ameer Abdullah early and often. Abdullah is one of the three best running backs in the conference, and against Michigan State, which gives up less than 60 yards per game on the ground, the junior ran for 123 yards.

As for Penn State, I think they stop Abdullah and the rest of Nebraska’s rushing attack early, and it’s actually a close game going into the fourth quarter. However, I think the Cornhuskers continue to pound away, put their foot on the gas late, and walk out of Happy Valley with a win.

The only way Penn State wins is if Christian Hackenberg has a monster performance. I think that’s certainly possible, I’m just not 100 percent sure that happens. And no, this is in no way, shape, or form a reverse jinx because I want Penn State to walk away with a win on the last game I see as a student.

Ben Berkman: 

Penn State 30, Nebraska 24

Nebraska’s 7-3 record may be a bit misleading. They haven’t really beaten anyone other than Michigan and narrowly escaped a 4-6 Wyoming team, beating them by three at home. If Penn State can limit the combination of Zwinak, Belton, and Lynch to at most one fumble, and if Hackenberg is able to manage the game like he has in most home efforts this season, I think the Nittany Lions should win this emotionally charged Senior Day at Beaver Stadium.

Nebraska’s Walter Camp Award watch list quarterback Taylor Martinez isn’t expected to play, and a much less experienced Tommy Armstrong will likely struggle in Beaver Stadium, regardless of the low expected student turnout. The secondary, especially Jordan Lucas, has showed great improvement in recent games. If they can keep up this momentum, Penn State will tame the Huskers.

Mike Reisman:

Penn State 27, Nebraska 24

Nebraska, on paper, seems to be the better team. They have a better record, have been consistently ranked higher, and have only lost to one unranked team. That team is Minnesota, which went on to be ranked in the polls later in the season. But for some reason, every sign points to the Nittany Lions winning this game.

Call me a homer; I probably deserve it, but Penn State is 5-1 at home with its only loss coming by three points to a school that will most likely play in a BCS bowl. The Senior Day atmosphere will give the Nittany Lions an emotional advantage, full stadium or not. Even the secondary has the chance for a big game against Nebraska’s true freshman quarterback who hasn’t thrown for over 175 yards in a game yet — Hackenberg has in eight of ten games — and probably won’t handle Beaver Stadium well.

Unless Nebraska’s defense finds a way to stop an emotionally charged Penn State offense and their running game dominates the Nittany Lion defense, I see the Class of 2014 finishing its career in Beaver Stadium with a win.

Ted Hozza: 

Penn State 24, Nebraska 21

This game is a complete toss-up. Both teams have had similar seasons, but the lack of Taylor Martinez might just be the difference for Penn State. With a banged up offensive line and a freshman quarterback on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Penn State’s defense might continue its recent resurgence. Look for the defensive line to cause fits for Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who has thrown seven interceptions in three games this year.

Expect to see more of the same on offense with the play-calling utilizing the return of the two-headed running attack of Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak. Hopefully the run game can allow Christian Hackenberg to take advantage of the play-action pass. Penn State will need both the run and pass games working to have the opportunity to win.

This one can go either way, but I’m taking Penn State at home even if the student section isn’t as formidable as usual.

Meghan Loder:

Penn State 27, Nebraska 21

Both teams are going into this game evenly matched. Nebraska is 7-3 this season and is trying to rebound after a 41-28 loss to Michigan State. Penn State is looking to send its seniors off with a win.

The defense needs to show up for Penn State to be successful. While the unit played well against Purdue, the defense still allowed the Boilermakers to score the second most points they have all season. Freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong has shown that he doesn’t handle pressure well, so if the defense can force mistakes and the offense can capitalize off the turnovers, it should put the Nittany Lions in a very good position to win the game.

The biggest threat to the defense is going to be Ameer Abdullah, who has shown that he is an explosive running back, especially in Big Ten play, averaging 146.9 yards per game. It is going to be a true test for the defense and Linebacker U to try and contain him.

Hopefully the offense builds off of the dominating performance it had against Purdue and comes into this game with the same intensity. If Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak keep playing the way they have (minus the fumbles) they can put the Lions in very good position to win this one.

Bobby Chen:

Penn State 24, Nebraska 21

I think this game comes down to a last-minute defensive stop by the Nittany Lions defense. I know, I know — Penn State’s defense, winning a game? But look, this is a matchup of two freshman quarterbacks, and Cornhuskers freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong is not even on the same playing field as Hackenberg.

Without Taylor Martinez, Nebraska’s offense is effectively neutered. The biggest worry for Penn State is the Cornhuskers’ pass defense. They’re ranked fourth in Big Ten in both yardage allowed (212.7 ypg) and completion percentage against (54.8 percent), and they’ve matched their 12 touchdowns allowed with 12 interceptions.

The key to the game, therefore, is Hackenberg’s play. If he can avoid turning over the ball while making smart decisions to move the chains, the Belton-Zwinak backfield can carry the Lions to a win against Nebraska’s below-average run defense. Given that this is Penn State’s last home game of the season, I have faith in Hack’s ability to deliver.

CJ Doon:

Nebraska 31, Penn State 27

With Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez sitting this one out, it’s tempting to think that Penn State can win this game – especially playing at home at Beaver Stadium on Senior Day. However, the fact that the Nittany Lions are favored by most sportsbooks is unsettling. Call me crazy, but from what I’ve seen from the Nittany Lions this year, I don’t believe they’re a better football team than the Huskers.

The key matchup in this game will be Nebraska’s dominant rushing attack of Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross vs. Penn State’s front seven. Nebraska ranks 16th in the country in rushing yards per game this season, averaging 240.3 yards per contest. Penn State has a formidable defensive front led by DaQuan Jones and Glenn Carson up the middle, part of a unit that allows a respectable 144 rushing yards per game.

Ultimately, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be the X-factor in Saturday’s contest. If Armstrong can elude the pass rush, scramble, and pick up big chunks of yards with his feet, Penn State will have a tough time containing the Husker offense. But if the pass rush can contain Armstrong in the pocket, and force him to be a pocket passer, the Lions can take advantage of his sloppy throwing. The 6’-1” 220 lb. freshman has thrown seven interceptions in six games this season, with a poor completion rate of 53%.

You might not see two teams more evenly matched this upcoming Saturday, so look for a close game throughout. For Penn State to emerge victorious and send their seniors out with a win in their final home game at Beaver Stadium, the offensive play-calling will need to improve. If the Lions can establish the run early, they need to stick to it until Nebraska proves they can stop it. While Hackenberg has been exceptional this season, he still has much to learn, and will only benefit from a strong running game.

I think Penn State plays well in front of an 80% full Beaver Stadium, and I expect to see a good turnout from the student section. However, I think Nebraska’s running game wears down a porous Penn State defense en route a close victory.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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