Five Things: Penn State vs Nebraska

By: Thomas Frank Carr
Beat Writer

  1. Senior Day

Usually Five Things is reserved for on-the-field matchups and keys to the game but this week is an exception. This is the last recruiting class that was apart of the sanctions era at Penn State. Some were recruited by Bill O’Brien, who abrubtly left the program on New Year’s eve of 2013 like safety Marcus Allen,

“When coach O’Brien left, it hurt a little bit. It was crazy. All the recruits started texting each other like ‘what are we gonna do?’ but Mark (Allen), was 100 like, Penn State. We started building that bond before we even stepped foot at Penn State.”

Allen kept his eye on who his new coach would be, but he noticed James Franklin at Vanderbilt.

“I forget who Franklin was going against, but I was like “Man, I hope we get that guy. He looks exciting.”

James Franklin was introduced to the media on January 17th and had to hit the ground running. He was able to keep most of the players from O’Briens recruiting class and add in some of the players that he had already recruited, such as Trace McSorley, Grant Haley and Parker Cothren to name a few. What resulted was a blended class with very different backgrounds and experiences that have led Penn State to their first Big 10 championship since 2008 and back to national prominence.

  1. Side to Side

Nebraska is a team that is currently in transition. Mike Riley took over the program three years ago and has tried to bit the talent on the roster to his offensive and defensive systems. The result has been poor this year. The Cornhuskers are 4-6 and look uncomfortable in their roles on the field.

While they have size and strength up front, Nebraska’s front seven is not very athletic. They have a hard time chasing ball carriers into the boundary and making plays. Penn State has struggled to move the ball on the ground this year, but they have been very effective at getting playmakers in space and getting chunk plays with quality match ups. If the can get Nebraska moving laterally today, they are in good shape offensively.

  1. REALLY BIG 10 West

The Nebraksa defense is a large unit and not just in the front seven. Sophomore corner Lamar Jackson stands at 6’3, 210 while fellow corner Chris Jones is also big for a corner at 6’0”, 195 pounds.  Their secondary is probably the biggest that the Nittany Lion receivers have faced all year according to senior wide-out DaSean Hamilton,

“A lot of teams in the Big 10 West, their DBs and their whole team is huge but we approach them the same way and we’re aware of who are matchups are. They’re a pretty skilled group and they’ve been playing together for a long time I’m pretty sure but they’re really disciplined too, that’s the biggest thing.”

Nebraska’s secondary might be the most skilled unit on the defensive side of the ball, if not the whole team.

  1. Don’t Buy It

Nebraska comes into Saturday’s game as the third ranked passing attack in the Big 10. They’re led by redshirt freshman JD Spielman, who is an explosive, undersized receiver who operates primarily from the slot.

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will use shifts and motions to get Spielman open in space as well as off the jam at the line of scrimmage. They are also a heavy play-action team.

All of this means that the Penn State linebackers have to be very disciplined on Saturday and not bite on play fakes to running backs Devine Ozigbo or Mikale Wilbon.

Speaking of that linebacking corps, Brandon Smith will make his second straight start with Manny Bowen benched for team rules violations. Last week his play earned him a team MVP from the coaching staff for his 10 tackle performance. Smith has a natural feel for the game and is adept in both pass coverage as well as in the run game. Don’t expect any drop off in performance from Smith. Smith along with fellow senior captain Jason Cabinda at linebacker means that Penn State will have a huge advantage in the running game on Saturday.

  1. Big Day Barkley

Last week vs Minnesota Nebraska gave up over 400 yards of rushing to the Gophers. Minnesota has changed their offensive philosophy under new head coach P.J. Fleck and are running a spread option look similar to what Penn State runs. The Cornhuskers really struggled to defend the read option and were gashed by both quarterback Demry Croft and running back Rodney Smith.

That means that Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley could have a huge day on the ground versus a Nebraska team that was gashed versus players that were of a lesser caliber. If the offensive line can keep free rushers out of the backfield on even half of their rushing plays, it might be the big stat day that Penn State fans have been hoping for all season.