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Previewing The Enemy: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Things aren’t looking great for Penn State football as it approaches the halfway point of the 2020 season.

The Nittany Lions have opened their campaign with three losses for the first time since 2001. An ugly loss to what most of us thought was an inferior Maryland team showed a lot, and now Penn State has little time to recover with a trip to Nebraska on the horizon.

The good news for James Franklin’s team, however, is that the Cornhuskers are 0-2 and haven’t looked too great so far either.

The Team

Head coach Scott Frost’s goal of reviving Nebraska’s football program has yet to come to fruition. He boasts a 9-17 record in Lincoln and has yet to go to a bowl game, and his Cornhuskers are now 0-2 to open his third season as the head coach.

Nebraska fell 52-17 to No. 3 Ohio State week one and went down to No. 23 Northwestern 21-13 two weeks later. The Cornhuskers were set to play Wisconsin for their second game of the season, but that game was canceled due to positive coronavirus tests for the Badgers.

Frost’s team certainly hasn’t had an easy start to its 2020 campaign and will be equally desperate as the Nittany Lions for a victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Offense

Nebraska is averaging a Big Ten-worst 15 points per game through two contests this season but is also putting up a fairly solid 406 yards. The Cornhuskers struggled to keep up with a powerful Ohio State attack in their first contest but still managed to put up 442 total yards in a loss to Northwestern.

The most intriguing part of Nebraska’s offense has been its quarterback usage thus far, as Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey have both gotten substantial reps at signal-caller. James Franklin said at his Tuesday press conference that he expects to see both athletic quarterbacks used Saturday.

Martinez has certainly led the way for the offense so far with 230 passing yards and 187 rushing yards. He put up a solid 85 yards on the ground and a score against the Buckeyes, while he rushed for 102 yards on 13 attempts against Northwestern.

McCaffery, on the other hand, has been used mainly as a passer for the Cornhuskers. The younger brother of Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffery hasn’t had a huge redshirt freshman campaign thus far, as he only attempted five passes against Ohio State, and threw for just 93 yards and an interception at Northwestern.

The only other productive rusher outside of the two quarterbacks has been Dedrick Mills. After a fairly strong 2019 campaign, the senior has had a slow start to 2020 with just 84 yards on 28 attempts. Despite not a huge amount of yardage, Mills has found the end zone in both of the Cornhuskers’ games thus far.

While the offense has clearly been based on the rushing attack through two games, Wan’Dale Robinson has been the favorite target through the air so far. He leads the team with 10 catches worth 81 yards on the season, and his biggest came coming against Ohio State with six grabs for 49 yards.

Defense

Similar to its offense, Nebraska’s defense has been fairly middle of the road through two games. The Cornhuskers are allowing 404 yards per game, but Ohio State’s 51-point effort in week one is also inflating the stats a bit.

The defense bounced back a bit against Northwestern, as it allowed 169 yards and two touchdowns to Peyton Ramsey, but also picked him off twice. One of the biggest issues of the day was stopping Wildcats running back Drake Anderson, who earned 89 yards on the ground and a score on 18 attempts.

Senior linebacker Collin Miller leads the group with 13 tackles on the year, while fellow linebacker Will Honas has a team-leading two sacks on the season. As for protecting Sean Clifford on Saturday, something Penn State’s offensive line has struggled to do thus far, the biggest concern will be caused by Nebraska’s linebackers. That group has all four sacks for the team this year, while the defensive line has yet to grab one.

Nebraska’s secondary understandably didn’t have a great day against the Buckeyes and Justin Fields, but the group held its own against Northwestern. Redshirt freshman safety Myles Farmer grabbed both interceptions off Ramsey on the day, while cornerback Dicaprio Bootle had a pass defended.

Despite those interceptions, high completion percentages have been an issue thus far. Fields only had one incomplete pass in week one, while Ramsey hit on just over half of his attempts this past Saturday.

Clifford and the rest of the offense have yet to have a truly impressive, full-game performance, but if it’s ever going to come this season, it could against a quiet defensive line and average secondary for the Cornhuskers.

Special Teams

LSU graduate transfer Connor Kulp has looked solid thus far in his first season at Nebraska. He’s nailed all three of his extra-point attempts and has made three of four field goals, his longest converted kick coming on a 38-yarder at Ohio Stadium.

Sophomore punter William Przystup is also in his first season starting for the Cornhuskers. He’s already attempted ten punts on the year, five in each game, and has nailed three of more than 50 yards. He hit a 56-yarder against the Buckeyes and pinned them inside their own 20-yard line once.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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