Penn State players to watch

Nebraska football’s home opener on Saturday against Penn State will be a matchup of two teams searching for their first win of the season. 

The Nittany Lions (0-3) have had a rather disappointing beginning to the year after being ranked in the top 10 before the season started. Nevertheless, this is a team with a lot of talent. Here are some Penn State players to watch: 

Sean Clifford, QB:

Penn State junior quarterback Sean Clifford was an all-Big Ten honorable mention in 2019 after accounting for 28 total touchdowns. 

With the Nittany Lions’ top two running backs out for an extended period of time, Clifford has been asked to do more than he has in the past. In each of Penn State’s first three games this season, Clifford has had at least 30 passing attempts and 17 rushing attempts. In 12 games in 2019, he attempted more than 30 passes just four times and never touched 17 rushes. 

This larger role has come with both advantages and drawbacks. Clifford has scored 10 total touchdowns through three games, meaning that he’s on pace to score 30 times in the Big Ten’s nine-game season — three more touchdowns than he had in 2019. He’s also averaging about 80 more total yards per game from last season.

On the other hand, he’s racked up five interceptions in three games, just two less than he had in 2019. His completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and yards per carry are also down from a season ago. 

Despite three losses, Clifford has shown himself to be a capable quarterback at times in this larger role. He’ll have to limit mistakes against a Blackshirt defense that had two interceptions last week. 

Jahan Dotson, WR: 

Up to this point in the season, junior wide receiver Jahan Dotson has been the star of the Penn State offense. 

Dotson has collected 361 yards and five touchdowns so far this year, leading the Big Ten in both categories. In the season opener against Indiana, he had four receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown, and has only done better since. Against Ohio State, he had eight receptions for 144 yards and three touchdowns and followed that up with a 123-yard, one-touchdown performance against Maryland. 

In week one, the Husker secondary got burnt by the No. 2 and 4 wide receivers in the conference in receiving yardage. Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Garrett Wilson and junior wide receiver Chris Olave combined for 233 yards against the Blackshirts, and Dotson will also look to have a big game.

Devyn Ford, RB: 

With sophomore Noah Cain and junior Journey Brown out for the season, sophomore running back Devyn Ford has been the next man up for Penn State. 

Ford hasn’t lit it up so far, but had 80 total yards and a touchdown in the season opener. Since then, he’s had back-to-back 36-yard rushing performances.  

Penn State hasn’t run the ball much, as Ford has had under 10 carries in the last two games. With Clifford’s aforementioned growing pains in his expanded role, Ford may be expected to do more against the Huskers. Nebraska has improved in run defense this year, allowing 4.2 yards per carry, which is good for sixth-best in the conference. 

Ellis Brooks, LB:

With Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons opting out this season to prepare for the NFL draft, junior Ellis Brooks has stepped up to lead the unit. 

Brooks earned the first start of his career in week one and has since led the Nittany Lions in tackles and tackles for loss, with 23 and 3 ½, respectively. He also has forced a fumble. 

Northwestern’s senior linebacking core of Paddy Fisher, Chris Bergin and Blake Gallagher were the Wildcats’ top three tacklers last week against Nebraska, combining for 20 solo tackles, 3 ½ tackles for loss and an interception. Brooks and the Penn State linebackers will look to have a similar impact on Saturday.