UNIVERSITY PARK -- The Nov. 12, 2011 game was supposed to be a big one at Beaver Stadium because it was the renewal the Penn State-Nebraska rivalry and marked the first time the Cornhuskers traveled to Happy Valley as a member of the Big 10.
But in the week leading up to the showdown last year, Penn State and its football program were turned upside down. Joe Paterno and former university president Graham Spanier were relieved of their duties, a riot in downtown State College ensued and was then followed a couple nights later by a candlelight vigil.
While the Penn State community was in a state of mourning, confusion and anger, more than 1,000 miles to the west, the Cornhuskers were preparing to come and play the 8-1 Nittany Lions.
"That was a crazy time," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said Monday. "There were a lot of emotions that obviously were flowing through me that day and leading up to that game."
The coach said he could not imagine what was going through the minds of the Penn State players and coaches during that week and on game day.
Nebraska received great feedback from Penn State for the way the players handled themselves with class and dignity during a difficult and emotional time.
Pelini said he wanted his team to be as supportive as it could be toward Penn State.
"They are another Big Ten institution that was going through a tough time," the coach said. "You want to rally around each other."
Just prior to kickoff, the teams came together at midfield and joined hands for a prayer led by Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown. It was a powerful moment that brought more than 107,000 fans in attendance to their feet in silence on a sunny and crisp fall afternoon.
"It was an awesome experience with how many people showed up and with Coach Brown doing the prayer before the game," Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez said.
Nebraska held on for a 17-14 victory over the Lions, but Pelini said the day was about far more than just winning or even playing a football game.
"That was a unique experience to be a part of," he said. "A game amidst a tragedy that was a lot bigger than a football game."
Pelini credited Penn State for the way it has since handled the situation and for bringing in Bill O'Brien to be the new coach.
O'Brien has impressed many in his first run through the Big Ten. He has his team in position to go 4-0 in league road games for the first time since 1994. Pelini said that not only speaks to what kind of coach O'Brien is, but also the character of the players, who have stuck together through so much adversity.
"It is as tough of a situation as you can possibly imagine, and I think they have done a phenomenal job of managing it and overcoming it," Pelini said
O'Brien's pro-style offense has taken the Big Ten by storm. Penn State is averaging 33.8 points per game and has tallied at least 34 points in four of the five conference matchups. But the defensive-minded Pelini said he thinks he has a pretty good sense of what to expect from the Penn State offense.
"They do what they do, and they try to do it well," he said. "They keep it fairly simple for the quarterback, and I think he is coached well."
Pelini said he has seen Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin improve significantly since the last time the two teams played. McGloin has been a beneficiary of playing in O'Brien's offense, and Pelini said he sees that the senior quarterback has complete command of the offense.
Penn State has found success with its NASCAR offense at times, but Cornhusker linebacker Alonzo Whaley said he does not think the tempo is so fast that his defense cannot calm down between plays.
"I think the tempo is not super fast, so it allows us to regain our thoughts and keep our composure," he said. "Especially when the moments heat up you have a chance to kind of calm down before each play."
Whaley said teams that allow the Nebraska defense to settle down and regain their thoughts are the ones that the unit has the most success against.
SUBHD: Burkhead update
Pelini said the status of Rex Burkhead for Saturday's game remains uncertain.
The all-Big Ten running back is continuing to rehab his left knee, which he injured in the season opener against Southern Mississippi. Since then, Burkhead has missed time in seven games.
"He is progressing well," Pelini said. "When he is feeling 100 percent that is when we will put him back out there."
Pelini said Burkhead has been "pushing very hard" to get back, but the coach did not commit to him playing Saturday.
Ameer Abdullah has stepped in during Burkhead's absence. He has rushed for more than 100 yard in his four games as a starter this season.
"I think Ameer has played really well, but obviously Rex Burkhead is a heck of a football player," Pelini said. "You're a better football team when you have him, there is no question."
SUBHD: Indiana kickoff
The next time Penn State plays at Beaver Stadium, it will be a noon kickoff against Indiana in two weeks. The game will air on BTN.