5 Questions: Penn State

BRR talks with Fight on State publisher Mark Brennan about Penn State and what Nebraska fans should expect his weekend.

1.) With this being the last game for a senior class that's been through a lot, what's the environment in State College like right now?

"Things are kind of back to normal. Football-wise, expectations for this season have obviously been tempered by the fact that the program is being hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. But with the success Bill O'Brien has had even while dealing with those sanctions, and the NCAA's recent decision to ease the scholarship penalties against Penn State, there is a feeling the Lions will get back to where they were before the Sandusky scandal hit -- and perhaps be even better than the last few years of the Joe Paterno era -- much sooner than originally thought.

Another way of looking at it: when the sanctions hit, a lot of people -- even around here -- likened it to a death penalty. That's hardly been the case. The last two senior classes have been big reasons why, so I'm sure you'll see fans show this group some serious appreciation."

2.) How much have you seen Christian Hackenberg grow this year? What does he do well? What does he need to improve on?

"He's improved in a lot of areas that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet. In this offense, he is often asked to make presnap adjustments on his own, and he is getting better and better at getting the team into the right plays against the right defenses (even if the plays are not executed perfectly). There are intangible things, too, like that internal clock QBs must have to judge when the blind-side pass rush will show up. He has also handed the spotlight of being the starting quarterback at Penn State extremely well.

In terms of improving even more, he really just has to become more consistent, especially early in games. He's been unreal in clutch situations, making some amazing throws. But he's also missed his fair share of wide-open receivers through the course of games, when the pressure might not be as high. I'd also say he has to improve on his check downs. Sometimes he locks in on Allen Robinson deep (which is understandable) even when someone else is open underneath.

He'll learn a lot in his first spring practice in a few months. It's just too bad he won't have the opportunity to capitalize on bowl practices, too."

3.) Last time Nebraska was in State College, it was the first game without JoePa. For the Nebraska fan or even player who only has that trip to base things off of, what type of environment should they expect at Penn State?

"My take is Penn State fans were blown away by the class and compassion the Nebraska team and fans displayed in that game two years ago. So I expect the Cornhusker contingent to be greeted as friends -- at least until the game starts.

There was so much going on two years ago that everyone here was kind of in a daze at the time. While there are still lawsuits to be settled and Paterno's legacy is still a topic of debate among fans, I doubt you'll sense any of that on game day as everyone focuses on the outgoing seniors.

Expect 100,000-plus fans. And with a 3:30 p.m. local kick, they'll probably be fairly well … uh … prepared for the game. When games are close -- and PSU has been in three OT contests at Beaver Stadium since the end of last season --the crowd becomes a huge factor."

4.) Give Husker fans a name they should watch for on defense and why?

"Cornerback Jordan Lucas, who wears No. 9. The sophomore is in his first year at the position (he had been at safety) and his first year as a starter. But he's emerged as Penn State best defensive back and probably the best play-maker on defense. He's solid in coverage, very good in run support and even blitzes on occasion."

5.) Your keys to the game and prediction?

"Ameer Abdullah will get his yards on the ground. But Penn State has to limit the damage Nebraska does through the air. If the Cornhuskers throw for more than 175 yards, the Lions are in trouble. Offensively, PSU should be able to move the ball. The key is not turning it over. Untimely turnovers have hurt the Lions in their three Big Ten losses.

That said, I notice Nebraska is at the bottom of the conference standings in turnover margin. That, coupled with the fact that Penn State usually plays very well on Senior Day, has me picking the Lions in a tight one.

Penn State 28, Nebraska 24"

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Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & Scout.com since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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