After losing four of its last five games, Nebraska has another tough matchup ahead as the team takes on Penn State on Saturday, Nov. 18, on the Nittany Lions’ home turf. After starting the season 7-0, Penn State lost back-to-back games to Ohio State and Michigan State before defeating Rutgers 35-6 last week. As the Huskers look to avoid losing a chance at bowl eligibility, here are a few storylines to follow.
Uncertainty on offense for Nebraska
The Huskers enter the game with a number of question marks on offense. Starting quarterback Tanner Lee is questionable to play, leaving redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien the presumed starter. He played the entire second half against Minnesota, completing 12-18 passes for 137 yards and withstanding intense pressure from the Golden Gopher defense.
It will likely be a baptism by fire for O’Brien in his first college start as he goes up against the fourth-best scoring defense. The Nittany Lions only allow 13.9 points per game, and it looks like Nebraska’s struggling run game will offer little help. The team rushed 69 yards against Minnesota, with Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon looking equally ineffective. Whether Nebraska leans on the run or pass, there is no shortage of uncertainty.
Penn State run game vs. Nebraska run defense
Nebraska’s run defense was completely demolished against Minnesota, as it gave up over 400 yards on the ground. In Nebraska’s last five games, opponents have averaged 294.4 yards per game on the ground. Over the course of the entire season, that would be good for the 128th-ranked run defense out of 129 teams. As it stands, Nebraska is No. 105 on the charts for the season, but the team may slip lower after this week.
Penn State actually utilizes its passing game more than its run game, as the team is No. 16 in the nation in pass yards per game, but No. 87 in rush yards per game. The Nittany Lions have a mobile quarterback in Trace McSorley and a bruising running back in Saquon Barkley, and will undoubtedly be eager to go after a Husker defense that has struggled mightily to stop the run in recent weeks.
Mike Riley’s last stand
After Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota, many critics said that the team appeared to give up against the Golden Gophers, and used it as an example for why head coach Mike Riley should be fired. Riley is still the head coach and has the chance to save his name by delivering a shocking road upset against Penn State.
Nebraska has hardly had success in road games against ranked opponents, going 5-24 in such matchups since 1998. However, crazier things have happened. Nebraska beat 12th ranked Penn State in Happy Valley in 2011, but Bo Pelini’s team was 7-2 at the time, not 4-6. No one expects Nebraska to beat Penn State, or even come close, which offers the perfect chance for Riley to rally the troops and win a big game. The odds are less than favorable, but it is truly Riley’s final chance to show he deserves to be the head coach of the Nebraska Huskers.
The game is set for a 3 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast live on FS1.