LINCOLN, Neb. - Five things to look for as Penn State goes for this season's signature win against a No. 18 Nebraska team that could be headed to the Rose Bowl.
No. 1: No quit
Penn State outclassed, in every way, the opponents in its three Big Ten road blowouts. But the biggest difference between this Nebraska team and Illinois, Iowa and Purdue is that the Cornhuskers aren't going to roll over and quit if they fall behind against the Nittany Lions.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn?State linebacker Gerald Hodges crushes a ballboy to celebrate with guard Eric Shrive (75) and wide receiver Eugene Lewis after stopping Northwestern on fourth down as defensive coordinator Ted Roof (right) looks on. Roof will be challenged to make in-game adjustments against Nebraska.
Nebraska is better than those other three teams, but not so much better that Penn State won't have a good chance to win this game. To do so, the Lions will have to play well for the entire four quarters, and that's been the team's problem in its three losses to Ohio, Virginia and Ohio State.
Nebraska has shown character in rallying for three fourth-quarter comeback victories, including last week at Michigan State when it trailed by 10 midway through the fourth quarter and won on a TD pass in the final seconds.
The Cornhuskers aren't going to be fazed if they fall behind PSU by seven or 10 points and will continue to fight. The Lions are good enough to jump out to an early lead on Nebraska, but they still have to prove they're good enough to maintain their composure and keep playing well after a tough opponent makes adjustments and changes momentum.
No. 2: Stop the run
Penn State rarely goes into a game as a question mark against the run, since stopping opponents on the ground has long been a staple of the program.
But Nebraska will run the ball. And keep running it. And run some more.
The Cornhuskers have built their program for decades on taking pride in still being able to run over people even when defenses know it's coming. Here it is, try to stop it.
Nebraska averages a whopping 270 yards rushing, and even without star running back Rex Burkhead (out with a knee injury), they're still dangerous because of quarterback Taylor Martinez (205 rushing yards last week) and running back Ameer Abdullah (92 yards per game).
It's doubtful that standout PSU defensive tackle Jordan Hill will play because of last week's knee sprain. Even if he does, one would expect he'd be limited. Fill-in tackle James Terry will need a big game, as will the guy beside him up the middle, DaQuan Jones.
No. 3: McGloin's moment
Few players in college football have been a bigger surprise than PSU quarterback Matt McGloin, who has benefited greatly from Bill O'Brien's offense and improved coaching.
McGloin, though, needs a big game and a win today to really solidify his season. That may be unfair to say about a guy coming off back-to-back 300-yard games, but there will always be people in the anti-McGloin camp who overlook his big games against bad defenses and judge him on things like throwing a costly pick-6 that helped Ohio State take control two weeks ago.
McGloin is having a prolific season by traditional PSU standards - which obviously have changed under O'Brien - and if he beats Martinez today, he likely would be in line for second-team all-Big Ten honors, behind Ohio State's Braxton Miller. But to have a big game, McGloin needs to figure out a defense that allows only 156 yards passing and has some very good defensive backs.
If McGloin can go into one of the great venues in college football, overcome incredible crowd noise and deliver the signature win of the season, even his biggest detractors would have to be impressed.
Tight end Kyle Carter (ankle) practiced this week and is expected to play, which should make things better for McGloin.
No. 4: ZZ time
Even if McGloin struggles, Penn State can still win if Zach Zwinak has a big day on the ground. As good as Nebraska's pass defense is, its run defense gives up 183 yards per game.
Zwinak, coming off a career-high 134 yards against Purdue, is the kind of tough, physical runner who can help keep the PSU offense on the field and, more importantly, keep Nebraska's explosive offense off it.
No. 5: Player to watch
Mixing things up this week, let's go with defensive coordinator Ted Roof instead of a player.
Roof has not been able to make the appropriate adjustments in the second half of PSU's three losses, all of which were winnable games until the opposing team's offense figured things out and got on a roll.
Dual-threat quarterbacks have given Roof trouble (Ohio's Tyler Tettleton, Ohio State's Miller), and Martinez is probably the best true dual threat PSU has faced because he runs and throws well.
Roof cannot let Martinez get loose on the ground. If that means putting nine in the box and forcing him to beat you through the air, then so be it. Martinez is capable of winning games with his arm, but if PSU takes away his running lanes, he becomes easier to defend.
Prediction: Nebraska 30, Penn State 24
Follow Cory Giger's live game updates and analysis on Twitter @CoryGiger.