Nebraska football: 5 thoughts on the Huskers’ win over Penn State
Nebraska won a game on Saturday, but of course it didn’t come without late dramatics.
Luke McCaffrey started at quarterback against Penn State — much to the delight of Husker Nation — and although he had good moments running the offense at times, the redshirt freshman from Colorado didn’t wow in his 1st career start.
Nebraska’s offense was outgained 501-298 and was aided by its defense all game long. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s unit saved the day, scoring a touchdown in the 1st half while holding a driving Penn State offense scoreless on its last 2 drives to seal the win.
At the end of the day, though, a win is a win. Huskers fans can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s on to Illinois next Saturday.
Here are 5 thoughts on Nebraska’s 30-23 win over the Nittany Lions.
Just how bad is Penn State?
While things were going well for Nebraska on Saturday — mostly in the 1st half — Huskers fans wondered out loud on social media: Is Nebraska finally clicking on both offense and defense, or is Penn State just that bad?
Both were true.
In the 1st half, the Huskers offense looked okay, the defense continued to look good and, yes, the Nittany Lions looked bad. Bad enough that quarterback Sean Clifford was benched in favor of Will Levis, who guided Penn State to the comeback.
Nebraska’s 1st drive of the game was quicker-paced than we’ve seen with Adrian Martinez at the helm, and noticeably so. McCaffrey looked like a player on the old NCAA football video games the way he just ran around Nittany Lions defenders.
McCaffrey is a roller-coaster sometimes — while he’s an exciting runner, the ball never looks particularly pretty coming out of his hand. He gets wild at times, too — see his left-handed completion that turned into a 1st down late in the 2nd quarter.
I share it earlier but this was a LH throw on third down. Playmakers just make plays and Nebraska Cornhuskers QB is a playmaker. All he needs to do is be a better passer. pic.twitter.com/ylEItWt35j
— ᴄᴀᴍᴇʀᴏɴ ᴘᴀʀᴋᴇʀᴾᴼ (@CameronParkerPO) November 14, 2020
The defense came to play — again
Chinander’s defense, which continues to impress, won this game. The Huskers had 4 players — Marquel Dismuke, Will Honas, JoJo Domann and Collin Miller — finish with double-digit tackles, with Dismuke leading the way with 15.
The Huskers held the Nittany Lions to 4.7 yards per rush and helped account for 13 of the 30 points. Cam Taylor-Britt’s interception turned into a field goal, while Deontai Williams strip-sacked Clifford and scoop-and-scored from 26 yards. A defensive stop just before halftime allowed the Huskers offense to travel 35 yards and get a field goal.
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) November 14, 2020
When Scott Frost needed it the most, his defense came through with huge stops, like this one from his lone senior, Ben Stille, a local kid from Ashland, Neb., to end the game:
THE SACK SEALS THE VICTORY! 💪
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 14, 2020
Also, how about Connor Culp, Nebraska’s kicker? He went 3-for-3 on field goals Saturday. Frost has to feel somewhat confident he can get 3 points once in range. It wasn’t like that last year.
The same problems still popped up, but not as much
Problems, as in penalties and other miscues. Nebraska was flagged 5 times in the game, but 1 doesn’t count in this regard because it was an intentional delay of game to give the punt team more field to work with.
But on the opening drive of the game, the Huskers were called for a false start to make the down 3rd-and-10. That’s the beauty of having McCaffrey at quarterback, though, as he picked up 12 yards and a 1st down on the next play.
Another pull-your-hair-out moment for Nebraska came on their 2nd drive, which started at the Penn State 15 thanks to Taylor-Britt’s interception and return. Receiver Kade Warner dropped a sure touchdown pass from McCaffrey — it went right through his hands. For a team that clearly struggles to score touchdowns in the red zone, that was tough to watch.
Also, what about the Huskers staff needing to take timeouts to avoid delay of games while substituting? I understand that Penn State was intentionally slowing down their guys when it was their turn to sub, but if Nebraska’s players were on the field more quickly, the timeouts wouldn’t have been needed.
But overall, Huskers fans will take only 4 penalties all day. That’s improvement.
New guys getting involved
True freshman receiver Zavier Betts picked up where he left off at Northwestern, when he caught 2 passes for 17 yards in crunch time. Against Penn State, he essentially took a handoff on a jet sweep motion in the backfield and took it to the house on a 45-yarder.
Betts is one of the highly-touted recruits in the class of 2020 and a local kid from Bellevue West High School in Omaha whom fans have wanted to see more of. He’s a smooth-looking athlete.
Another young player who saw the field on Saturday was running back Marvin Scott, another true freshman. Starting running back Dedrick Mills got banged up and didn’t play after the opening drive. Scott is a load at 5-foot-9, 210 pounds, and he played well in limited action.
The struggles continue for Wan’Dale Robinson
Coming into the season, it seemed that the coaches wanted Robinson, Nebraska’s best weapon on offense, to stick to being a receiver in the slot and not use him in the backfield as a running back like last year.
But after 2 games in which Robinson hadn’t been a factor, that plan was scrapped. He was used in the backfield on Saturday — probably more than what was originally planned due to Mills’ injury — and rushed for 60 yards, but he needed 16 carries to get there. He didn’t make an impact in the passing game, either, with 5 catches for 11 yards.
But here’s the thing with Nebraska’s passing game: It’s nonexistent. No one made an impact, and it’s not Robinson’s fault.
Betts’ 45-yard touchdown was technically a pass on the stat sheet, but let’s be real — it was a run. Without Betts’ score, Nebraska passed for 107 yards. The Huskers continue to struggle throwing the ball down the field.