Penn State – Saturday November 23
2012 Record: 8-4 (6-2)
Best Returning Player: Offense – WR Allen Robinson
The biggest surprise in the conference last season, Penn State had many players break out onto the national scene, including running back Zach Zwinak and his 1,000-yard season. The emergence of junior wideout, Allen Robinson, though, gave the Nittany Lions a much-needed presence out wide for quarterback Matt McGloin. An All-Conference selection, Robinson became the Big Ten's best wide receiver that no one ever heard of. After having just three catches the year before, he went on to lead the conference in receptions (77), receiving touchdowns (11) and was the only wideout with over 1,000 yards. Adding to his value in 2013 is the fact that Penn State has two quarterbacks competing for the starting role who are highly-touted, including five-star recruit Christian Hackenberg.
Best Returning Player: Defense – LB Glenn Carson
Seriously, when thinking of Penn State defense, the first thought that comes to your head is "Linebacker U." Despite losing Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, the team's two top linebackers a year ago, to the NFL, the Nittany Lions are fortunate to return another stud in Glenn Carson. Compared to his former running mates, he's not as talented as Mauti or Hodges, but he is one special player in the middle. Playing third-fiddle last season, Carson racked up 85 tackles and one sack. As he enters his senior season, he'll certainly be ready to reach the 100-tackle plateau that many great PSU linebackers have achieved.
Biggest Loss: LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges
As mentioned above, Mauti and Hodges were two of the best linebackers in the nation. Despite having his final season cut short due to an injury, Mauti ranked sixth in the Big Ten with 8.7 tackles per game en route to 96 total. If he had been healthy for the entire season, he probably would have led the conference. While Mauti provided the energy and leadership for the Nittany Lion, Hodges gave them the spark. His 109 tackles led the team and resulted in him being selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. When a team loses their two best players and two men who gave it their all on the field every Saturday, there's going to be a noticeable decline in production and more importantly, a loss of leadership.
Last Meeting vs. Nebraska: November 10, 2012
Despite holding a 20-6 lead over the Cornhuskers, Penn State couldn't seal the victory and watched the game slip away in the second half as they fell to Nebraska, 32-23. Quarterback Taylor Martinez became a new player in the third and fourth quarter, finishing the game 12-20 with 171 passing yards and 104 rushing yards.
Ameer Abdullah and Martinez had strong second halves and helped set up three scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns. Two of those scores came on short runs by Imani Cross with the third being a five-yard reception by Jamal Turner.
The Nittany Lions received a major contribution from Zach Zwinak, who had a game-high 141 yards and one touchdown. Likewise, Allen Robinson caught six passes while falling just short of 100 yards.
How They Matchup with Nebraska
Scoring Offense: Penn State (29.1), (Nebraska (34.8)
Scoring Defense: Penn State (19.1), Nebraska (27.6)
Passing Offense: Penn State (273.2), Nebraska (207.4)
Passing Defense: Penn State (226.2), Nebraska (168.1)
Rushing Offense: Penn State (144.3), Nebraska (253.4)
Rushing Defense: Penn State (130.1), Nebraska (192.5)
Total Offense: Penn State (417.5), Nebraska (460.8)
Total Defense: Penn State (356.3), Nebraska (360.6)
Surprisingly, Penn State had one of the most efficient offenses in the conference last season. They were the only team who had a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver. With both players returning, they'll certainly continue to be a potent offense.
Opposing defenses will need to decide whether or not they want to attack their run or passing game. This is why Santos and Anderson, as well as the other linebackers, will be pivotal in their late-season matchup. With the Nittany Lions having a reliable passing attack, Anderson, an outside linebacker, will often be matched up with one of Penn State's tight ends while Santos will have to do his best in the middle to hit the gap and cut Zwinak short before he can break loose. This game will be a classic chess match between the Nebraska linebackers and Penn State's Bill O'Brien.
Interesting Penn State Fact
Remember how Bill O'Brien utilized his tight ends with the New England Patriots? Through his recruiting endeavors, he's about to unleash, arguably, the nations' best tight end group in 2013. After landing the No. 1 tight end in Adam Breneman, Penn State now has at least five stockpiled at the tight end position. Kyle Carter was the team's second leading receiver last season and was the catalyst of a "tight end by committee" approach that hauled in over 1,000 yards. Nebraska's linebackers and safeties will have their hands filled when O'Brien tries to create mismatches with a wide array of talent and size from his tight ends.
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