Not even a year into a coaching overhaul, these Penn State football players are becoming known for a fast-flowing, wide-open offense, of all things.
And Nebraska is even more freewheeling behind electric quarterback Taylor Martinez.
This isn’t your traditional meeting of Penn State and Nebraska.
Saturday’s game against the surging Cornhuskers in Memorial Stadium could well be determined by two impressive scoring attacks — and how each one protects the ball and fends off pressure.
Penn State, for the first time in a while, is a clear underdog on paper. So here are five keys for them to pull out a fourth-straight road victory:
1. Make Nebraska pay. Martinez is a dynamic game-changer with his arm and his legs. And what makes him even tougher is the “Cockroach Syndrome.” He is tough to kill, no matter how badly things look for the Huskers.
So Penn State’s defense must take advantage of his penchant for ill-timed passes and mistakes.
You can’t stop him. But you must take advantage of opportunities provided before it’s too late.
2. Handle the pressure. Certainly, defensive-minded Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini will come after quarterback Matt McGloin with a variety of blitzes.
It worked for Ohio State. It worked for the first quarter for Purdue.
The Lions know it will be coming, but can they stop it?
If McGloin has time, he should be able to pick apart an improving but still questionable Nebraska defense.
If not? Let’s just say the seven-point spread could grow significantly larger on the scoreboard.
3. Next man up. With injured star defensive tackle Jordan Hill not expected to play much, if at all, backups James Terry and Central York’s Kyle Baublitz must step up big-time.
Terry, a senior, has shown flashes as a reserve and Baublitz is a hard worker. But they must fight their battles to at least a draw for the Lions’ defense to stand a chance.
4. Time to shine. Linebacker Gerald Hodges and cornerback Adrian Amos have been praised for their standout, consistent play.
But at the end of the season, in an enemy stadium, against a game-breaking quarterback and receiver?
They must do more. They need to make a couple of game-turning plays themselves.
Hodges has been close, several times this season.
But close won’t get it done on Saturday.
5. Zach needs help. Tailback Zach Zwinak has been a running revelation, for sure. And he reprised his bull-in-the-china-shop role last week at Purdue, breaking into the secondary and running over defenders.
But he needs help in the backfield.
Penn State’s attack must be diversified, which means that Bill Belton or Mike Zordich or even one of the tight ends must be able to give the Lions some varied threats behind McGloin.
Zwinak’s success is a key. But adding a speed threat like Belton hitting an edge or a Jesse James rolling out of the fullback spot will be needed to keep the pressure of McGloin and his wideouts.