Huskers make the best of a bad situation
Not often will you hear Nebraska coach Bo Pelini as emotional and heartfelt as he was after his team's 17-14 victory on Nov. 12 at Penn State.
And his feelings had nothing, or at least very little, to do with the win -- which, by the way, kept No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) alive in the Legends Division race of the Big Ten Conference.
Pelini spoke from the heart in light of the tumultuous, week-long events at Penn State: Breaking news of a sex abuse scandal, with allegations against former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The firing of long-time head coach Joe Paterno. The ensuing riots by students.
Nebraska found itself as a part of history, and not for the best of reasons. The Huskers were facing a Penn State team playing without Paterno as its head coach for the first time in 46 years.
Pelini said he didn't feel the game should be played. He said the decision also wasn't his.
"In the end, I look at my job as a football coach is to educate, and to prepare the kids in the program for the rest of their life," Pelini said. "That's what we are. We're in a university system, and the situation going on is bigger than football, it's bigger than that game that was just played, it's bigger than the young men involved that would have missed it had they called it off."
Pelini was candid and emotional in a postgame media session that focused as much on the importance of helping children as the specifics of the game itself.
"I always think it's about the youth, the young kids. I have a 12-year-old boy. ... I think there are a lot of young kids that all week ... were really confused for a lot of different reasons because there's a lot out there that people don't know. There's a lot of speculation. There's a lot of things going on. And I think it's not about the adults, it's not about the football. It's about education and it's about the youth. And I think that gets lost in the whole situation."
--Ever see an FBS football team hit the road with no scholarship offensive guards on the travel roster?
That's what Nebraska did Nov. 12 at Penn State. Injuries to Andrew Rodriguez and Brandon Thompson meant the Huskers had to rely on two -- that's, right two -- offensive guards. Walk-ons Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi played every snap.
Marcel Jones, the starter at right tackle, could've moved inside in a pinch, Husker offensive line coach Barney Cotton said. Reserve centers Cole Pensick and walk-on Mark Pelini -- NU coach Bo Pelini's nephew -- also were prepared to play guard.
--Nebraska used running back Rex Burkhead under center for the first time this season. While Burkhead has taken shotgun snaps in the wildcat formation in previous games, this is the first time he's played true quarterback since he was a high school sophomore.
Coaches wanted to keep a stout Penn State defense off-balance with different formations and looks, and Burkhead at quarterback did the trick. He kept the ball on option carries for gains of 7 and 2 yards the first two times he was under center. The third time, in the final minute of the first half, he handed off to Ameer Abdullah and provided a lead block for him on a 2-yard touchdown run.
"The defense, they kind of looked a little puzzled when they saw him under center," Abdullah said, "and that's what we were looking for, just that split second of hesitation and we were going to take advantage of it."
--With a victory over No. 12 Penn State, Nebraska defeated its highest-ranked team on the road since 1997, when the Huskers won at No. 2 Washington. It's the highest-ranked team Nebraska has defeated away from home since 2000, when the Huskers defeated No. 6 Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TE Kyler Reed -- He'd been slowed the previous three games because of a hamstring pull but had three receptions on Saturday for 40 yards. If Reed, a speedy, dependable receiver playing at tight end, can return to form, that gives emerging quarterback Taylor Martinez another target.
LOOKING GOOD: Sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez has been making better decisions, particularly in the passing game, and been more on-target with his throws. With some more help from his receivers, Martinez could almost be labeled a passing threat, something nobody would've said three weeks ago. He was 13-of-26 for 143 yards against Penn State, with freshman Kenny Bell catching four passes. Defensively, Nebraska had two key plays -- a sack of Matt McGloin and forced fumble that led to a touchdown, and senior linebacker Lavonte David's fourth-and-1 stop of running back Silas Redd in the fourth quarter. Redd appeared to have a hole to pick up the necessary yardage before David suddenly emerged to stop him short of the first-down marker. "For a guy who everyone wants to talk about his size (225 pounds), he's maybe the best tackler I've ever worked with," NU defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said of David. "He sinks his hips. He tackles like he weighs 270 pounds. That was a downhill run and he stopped that kid dead in his tracks. What a great play that was."
STILL NEEDS WORK: Senior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie dropped two crucial third-down passes. It's come to the point now where coaches may have to re-think putting Kinnie in those same situations. Drops and miscommunication by receivers are a key reason quarterback Taylor Martinez hasn't had a better completion percentage in recent games. Protection of Martinez was a problem at times, but given Nebraska's situation at guard -- two walk-ons playing the entire game, with no backups on the travel roster -- that wasn't a big surprise. Burkhead, taking a snap under center, fumbled a handoff intended for fullback Tyler Legate when Penn State stunted directly into the play. The turnover at midfield led to a Penn State touchdown.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We came here on a mission. We came here on a business trip. At halftime, Coach (Bo Pelini) said, "We're not leaving here without the W ... I just had faith in my team." -- Nebraska senior offensive tackle Yoshi Hardrick.
--P Brett Maher punted eight times for a 45-yard average, including five punts that pinned Penn State inside its 20-yard line -- at the 19, 16, 14, 13 and 11. None was bigger than his 61-yard punt late in the fourth quarter that forced Penn State to begin its series at its 11-yard line with four minutes remaining, down three points. Maher also kicked a 41-yard field goal in the second quarter -- the difference in the game.
--RB Rex Burkhead rushed 25 times for 121 yards, pushing his season rushing total to 1,072 yards, the first 1,000-yard rushing season for the junior. It's the third straight season Nebraska has boasted a 1,000-yard rusher (Roy Helu in 2009 and 2010). Burkhead also scored a rushing touchdown for the 10th straight game this season. The 100-yard rushing performance was his sixth of the season.
--LB Lavonte David had nine tackles, including a fourth-down stop with 1:49 remaining that all but sealed Nebraska's victory. His nine tackles pushed his career tackle total to 249. The Butkus, Bednarik and Lott Trophy semifinalist moved into 10th place on the Nebraska career tackle list.
--TE Ben Cotton left the game in the first half and didn't return. After the game, his right arm was in a sling. Coach Bo Pelini said he didn't believe Cotton's injury would be long-term.
--OG Andrew Rodriguez suffered an ankle injury during the week of practice and did not make the trip.
--DT Chase Rome, who missed last week's game because of a pulled muscle, wasn't 100 percent but played at Penn State in a reserve role. He had one tackle.
The TSX Files: Nebraska
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