Both teams took the first quarter off (completely understandable given the events of the week). Nebraska played the 2nd and 3rd quarters and took most of the 4th quarter off. Penn State sat out most of the 2nd quarter, and started up midway through the 3rd quarter, and really got going in the 4th. I think it is safe to say that if the game had gone on another five minutes, we would have seen a different outcome.
Frankly, I think Nebraska is glad to be done with this game. Nobody in red (or otherwise disguised in the stands) wanted to be the footnote to an ugly, sickening chapter in PSU history, so I would imagine Bo and company are happy to be leaving Penn State with a win - no matter how close they came to losing.
Fortunately, Nebraska made plays when they needed to. They got the key 4th down stop, scored two tough TDs, and tackled the PSU receiver on the final drive setting up 4th and 1 with the clock running instead of 1st and 10 with the clock stopped. Good teams do that, and after the Northwestern debacle, it was refreshing to see Nebraska execute.
So what did we learn?
Tim Beck made Tom Bradley's job even tougher. Part of the fallout from events of the week was PSU's Tom Bradley had to shift his focus to being the defensive coordinator to interim head coach and new face of the storied program. Nebraska's Tim Beck took advantage of this by showing some different looks and wrinkles. Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez swapping places before the snap? I guarantee Penn State was not ready for that. Beck continues to impress with his ability to keep defenses on their toes.
Taylor Martinez is a much better quarterback with gloves on. Starting with the Minnesota game, Taylor Martinez has been playing with receivers gloves on both hands. While that is rather unconventional for a quarterback, it has definitely helped him to improve. In the six games pre-glove, Martinez completed 54% of his passes, with 6 TDs, 6 INTs, and 9 fumbles. In the four games with gloves, Martinez has completed 62% of his passes, with 4 TDs, 1 INT, and 2 fumbles. It's worth noting the two fumbles were in his first game with gloves, and the INT was in the hands of the intended receiver before being picked off.
Nebraska fans need to root for Northwestern and Penn State to win out. Nebraska can still win the Big Ten title. First and foremost, they need Northwestern to beat Michigan State. If that does not happen, then MSU wins the division. (Yes, in theory, Indiana could beat Michigan State. That same theory also says the Nebraska basketball team could make the Final Four this year). Additionally, I'd suggest rooting for Penn State to win out - or at least beat Wisconsin, so they can win the Leaders division. Say what you will about the difficulty of beating the same team twice in one year, but I would much rather face Penn State than Wisconsin.
So what don't we know?
Can anybody besides Alfonzo Dennard defend a slant pass? In the first half of the season, teams found great success running the ball right up the middle. Nebraska is improving in stopping the run, but it is unknown if that is due to better performance or because teams have found a better way to attack NU - the slant pass. Nebraska's secondary (minus Alfonzo Dennard) really struggles to defend the simple slant route. Northwestern gained a ton of yards on the play, and Penn State definitely had its share of success with it too. I'm guessing Michigan will be practiced up on the slant route for this week.
Do the coaches trust any of the freshman RBs to carry the ball? Another week, another two combined carries for Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard, and Aaron Green (both by Abdullah, for 2 yards and a TD). Rex Burkhead played another great game, racking up 25 carries and 121 yards, but this was also the second game in the last three where Rex has limped off the field. Somebody needs to step up and take some of the load off of Rex.
How did this team lose to Northwestern? The Nebraska team that took the field in Happy Valley was not the same Nebraska team that sleepwalked through the game against Northwestern. No disrespect to the purple NU, but the loss continues to boggle the mind. As a columnist pointed out this week, the PSU scandal definitely kept a lot of the focus off of NU's lackluster performance against Northwestern.
5 Players I Loved
- Ron Brown. I've been a fan of Coach Brown for a long time. He is an inspirational man of faith, who is easily the most quotable person on the coaching staff. The pre-game prayer was a beautiful, genuine, and much-needed moment for the teams and everyone else who has been exposed to the ugliness of the alleged acts. And it was awesome to see Coach Brown in the middle of that prayer. On a lighter note - if you think Martinez has an ugly-looking throwing motion, come early to the Iowa game and watch Coach Brown rifle passes during warm-ups. He has a side-arm lefty motion that just looks painful.
- Lavonte David. You love him, I love him, Chris Spielman raved about him. His stop on 4th Down likely saved the game. Okay - it is time to ask the question: Is Lavonte David the greatest linebacker to ever play at Nebraska? With all due respect to Barrett Ruud, Ed Stewart, and others, I think the answer is "Yes".
- Rex Burkhead. A very impressive bounce back performance from Rex. While you rave about Rex, be sure to share some love with the O Line whose good day made Rex's day possible, as well as with Tim Beck whose new wrinkles made Penn State think instead of react.
- Brett Maher. Eight punts for a 45 yard average is impressive. Then consider that five of those punts were inside the 20, and none went for touchbacks, and we bump things up to amazing. Maher was an integral part of Saturday's win. I know that Bo opted against a late field goal attempt, but I guarantee you that was no slight against Maher's ability to make the kick.
- Alfonzo Dennard. Alfonzo is playing some beautiful corner right now. Tight coverage, great break on the ball, and solid open-field tackling. He is overdue for an interception, and here's hoping he can pick one (or more) off in the closing weeks of his career.
5 Areas for Improvement
- Brandon Kinnie. There are three certainties in life: 1) Death, 2) Taxes, and 3) Every game, Brandon Kinnie will drop a pass that hits him in the hands. It is very frustrating to watch, as you know he has the physical tools and talents to be a great receiver, and potentially make the jump to the NFL. But it is just not happening for him.
- Dropped Passes. It wouldn't be fair to call out BK without calling out the other receivers who are also dropping catchable passes. Martinez is improving as a passer, but his receivers aren't consistently helping him out. Nebraska could have put more points on the board Saturday if it weren't for the dropped balls.
- 4th Down Execution. When Nebraska faced a 4th & 2 at the PSU 29 with 54 seconds left in the game, my vote was to punt and make Penn State go 80+ yards against the Blackshirts. That said, I didn't have a problem with Bo's decision to go for it. I do have a problem with NU's execution on that play, and several of the other 4th-down attempts this year.
- Pass Rush. The Blackshirts recorded only one sack against PSU. The lone sack (by Cam Meredith) was more a result of excellent coverage than a strong (or even average) pass rush. Nobody will ever confuse Penn State's Matt McGloin with Michigan's Denard Robinson, yet Nebraska generated almost no pass rush.
- ESPN. Seriously, did we need to have a reporter camped out in front of Joe Paterno's house? What did ESPN think was going to happen: JoePa would take advantage of a free Saturday afternoon and rake up the leaves? I know this is the story of the decade in college sports, but there is a fine line between complete coverage and overkill. All we learned from the JoePa House Cam was his son stopped before the game, two guys knelt on his sidewalk, and the postman brought a package.