It was an emotional scene before the game – senior day ceremonies, the pregame prayer in the middle of the field, and all the support for Joe Paterno in the crowd – but the Nebraska players were able to put that aside and play a great game.
The game itself was a reverse of what I thought it would be. I figured the biggest adversity would come right at the outset, and the first quarter or so would give the Huskers the most trouble.
However, Nebraska played the most complete half of football all season in the first half. They were nearly perfect: ten points against a tough Penn State defense, no points allowed, no penalties and no turnovers. There were some dropped passes, but I don't think Bo Pelini could have asked for better concentration.
That changed in the 2nd half. After the Huskers forced a turnover and subsequently went up 17-0, there was a letdown on defense. Penn State made some adjustments as well and wore the Blackshirts down, but from what I saw, it was mostly a loss of concentration. It was impressive that they were able to hold onto the lead once Penn State came within three – Lavonte David's stick on 4th down with about two minutes remaining in the game was huge.
Offensively Nebraska was solid, especially against a stingy Penn State defense. Early on the Nittany Lions keyed on Rex Burkhead. But as the game progressed, Burkhead found some holes and had a nice day running the ball finishing the game with 121 yards and a touchdown. (A side note: Nebraska is 10-0 when Burkhead has 100 or more yards on the ground) This was due in part to some creativity on offense (i.e. the wildcat and diamond formation) but was mostly made possible because Taylor Martinez showed he was a threat to pass.
His statistics weren't overly impressive, but Martinez made the throws and decisions he had to. It didn't help he had some key drops from Brandon Kinnie and Kenny Bell. The option pitch to Burkhead for a touchdown was a thing of beauty. The 17 points may not seem great, but considering the defense Nebraska was playing against, it was enough.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Huskers had a gutty performance. Sure Penn State's offense is anemic and there were some breakdowns later on in the game, but the Blackshirts did what they had to when they had to. The first touchdown was just a letup following the Burkhead score. The second touchdown they allowed was after the Husker offense gave Penn State a short field due to a turnover. Again, the play by David on 4th down was simply Nebraska's best defensive player making a play when all the momentum was against them.
Overall, it was a nice win for the Huskers given the distractions. They didn't get any help from Iowa, and will have another tough road game next week in Ann Arbor against Michigan, but they were able to get in and out of Happy Valley with a win… and at this point in the season, that's all they needed.
* Brett Maher was an unsung hero for Nebraska. His punts held Penn State in check. He averaged 45 yards per punt and pinned the Nittany Lions inside the 20 yard line five times including late in the game with a tremendous 61 yard effort in a key situation.
* Kyler Reed had a nice game. The junior has been almost non-existent in the offense this season, but had three catches for 40 yards, including a couple in important situations.
- Josh Harvey -