After a dismal 54-21 loss to Minnesota, Nebraska’s road swing concludes with a trip to State College, Pennsylvania, to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The 11th-ranked team in the country, Penn State started the year 7-0 before losing in consecutive weeks to Ohio State and Michigan State before beating Rutgers 35-6 last week. With a roster full of talent, here are five players to watch on Saturday:
Saquon Barkley, RB
Barkley is not only one of the best players in the Big Ten Conference, but in the country, evidenced by his Heisman hopes. The junior running back has done it all this season, gaining almost 900 yards on the ground, catching the second-most receptions on the team and even throwing a touchdown pass.
A presumed first round pick in the NFL Draft, Barkley finished every game so far this year with 10 or more carries, a testament to his role in the Nittany Lion offense. His best game of the season came against Iowa, as he had 40 touches for 305 yards and a touchdown. The last three weeks haven’t been Barkley’s best though, with 49 carries for 142 yards in those three games combined. It will still be an incredibly tough task for the Nebraska defense to stop Barkley, especially after allowing over 400 rushing yards to Minnesota.
Trace McSorley, QB
Although Barkley gets the headlines, McSorley is just as important to Penn State’s offensive success. The 6-foot senior has thrown for 2,666 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, with his passing yardage topping the Big Ten charts. A two-way threat, he represents just as much danger using his legs as his arms. With 349 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns this season, McSorley has the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in the Big Ten.
He had a monster performance against Michigan, throwing for 282 yards and a touchdown and adding another 76 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Although he only has eight interceptions this season, his three against Michigan State were costly as the team lost. Look for the Nittany Lions to keep it on the ground with McSorley, especially after Minnesota quarterback Demry Croft ran for 183 yards and three touchdowns against a hapless Husker defense.
Jason Cabinda, LB
One of the team’s captains, Cabinda is a run-stopping linebacker who patrols the middle of the field for Penn State. His tackle numbers are up-and-down, recording as few as three and as many as 14, but his playmaking ability is always on display. He had 14 tackles and a sack against Indiana early in the season, but his signature performance came against Michigan; he recorded 12 tackles, combined for half a sack and forced a fumble, which led to Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Cabinda had another phenomenal performance against Rutgers last week, when he recorded 11 tackles. As a great open-field tackler, Nebraska’s already struggling run game will engage in a tough battle with Cabinda all game, with the defender favored in that matchup.
Mike Gesicki, TE
As one of the nation’s top tight ends, the 6-foot-6 senior has a strong chance of being an early pick in the NFL Draft. He leads the Nittany Lions in receptions and has a knack for catching passes in clutch moments, although the end zone has been an elusive place for the pass-catcher.
He scored two touchdowns in each of the team’s first two games, but only has one touchdown since. His worst performance in recent memory came against Northwestern, when he caught two passes for nine yards, but things have looked up in recent weeks. An eight-catch, 89-yard performance in a loss to Michigan State gave way to his first touchdown since week two against Rutgers, one of four catches for 45 yards. Although Gesicki had his fair share of struggles this season, his tall frame still remains a top target for McSorley.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR
Apart from Gesicki, Hamilton is McSorley’s next favorite target. The team’s leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, the 6-foot-1 senior is best utilized as a deep threat. With 646 yards and seven touchdowns on the season, he appears to be a consistent cog in the Penn State offense, but multiple weeks of two and three reception games tell a different story.
Despite this, Hamilton’s yards-per-catch never dropped lower than 13 for a game this year, a testament to his penchant for the long ball. The bulk of his production came against Indiana, when he caught nine passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns. That type of game doesn’t come around very often, but Hamilton always has the talent within him to scorch a defense at any time.
Kickoff in State College, Pennsylvania, is set for 3 p.m. CST against Penn State on Saturday, Nov. 18, with the game airing live on FS1.