Penn State travels to Nebraska this weekend for their first road game since the season opener. These two haven’t played each other since the 2017 Penn State win 56-44. Both teams are winless, so someone will be leaving with their first win this season. A lot has been discussed this week since the loss against Maryland. Starting wide receiver Jahan Dotson stated after the loss, “We’re not as one right now. We’re not a unit right now. …” This has been abundantly clear by the performance on the field this season. Further, starting quarterback Sean Clifford echoed some of the same sentiments, “We talk about being better. We talk about what kind of football team we are. It’s very apparent what kind of team we are. We’re an 0-3, poor performing football team right now.” Something has to change and the leaders on the team know it.
Penn State Travels to Nebraska
Several announcements were made throughout the week that could be contributing to the poor play by the Nittany Lions. Head Coach James Franklin admitted that he has not been dealing well with being away from his family. His wife and daughters are in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the team had their first in-person meeting this week. Until this team meeting, all team meetings have been over Zoom. Franklin stated that he will be leading the team with love and several players have stressed their support for their head coach.
The news that fans have been dreading the most is that star running back Journey Brown has had to medically retire from football. Brown is not just going to be out for the year. Current players, former players, and fans across college football have shown their support for Brown after it was announced that he has been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. If you watched One Tree Hill it is the same heart condition that Lucas Scott was diagnosed with that kept him from playing basketball. Brown is going to do great things in his life and will always be apart of the Penn State family.
What Penn State Needs to Do to Win
Several things need to occur this weekend to get in the win column. First, better quarterback play. Second, get the run game going. Third, keep the wide receivers involved. Fourth, limit explosive plays. Fifth, win the turnover battle. Finally, leadership.
Better quarterback play has been a topic of conversation since the loss against Indiana. Clifford has thrown five interceptions through three games. He looks off-balance and unsure of himself and his decision making. He needs to get his confidence back, but the coaches need to put him in a position to be successful as well. Clifford cannot be the leading rusher, but he currently is. Nebraska has given up 445 passing yards through two games this season. Dotson and the young receivers have proven that they are ready for more attention. Short passes that get the ball out of Clifford’s hands quick is going to be key moving forward. Opening the passing game will likely allow for the run game to follow.
Get the Run Game Going
It is time to get the running backs more involved. Being without Brown and Noah Cain is tough, but Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and Keyvone Lee are all capable of running the football. Getting the backs out in space will be key moving forward. The offensive line has been struggling to not only keep Clifford upright but with opening holes for the running backs as well. Getting the young backs out in space could alleviate some of that pressure on the offensive line. Nebraska gave up 215 rushing yards to Ohio State and four rushing touchdowns. Then only 148 rushing yards to Northwestern. The Huskers have undoubtedly improved on defense since the performance against Ohio State, but if Penn State plays quick this weekend and keeps the wide receives involved, the run game should open up.
Limit Explosive Plays
The Nittany Lions did not eliminate explosive plays against Maryland on Saturday. In fact, two touchdowns were scored on the exact same crossing route. Fans have been wondering where the speedy Keaton Ellis has been in the secondary to help eliminate these issues and even though Franklin stated that he hoped Ellis would be available moving forward, the sophomore was not present in the loss last weekend. As a true freshman last season Ellis forced three fumbles in nine games. The Nebraska offense has been struggling this season. The Huskers have not scored one touchdown in the air through two games. Nebraska has utilized two quarterbacks this season, Adrian Martinez has a 57.1 completion percentage, throwing for 230 yards through two games. In addition, Luke McCaffrey is 16 for 21 with 148 passing yards through two games.
Nebraska is a run-heavy offense so Shaka Toney, Jayson Oweh, and Jesse Luketa will need to make stops in the backfield on Saturday. Keeping the run game stifled will force the quarterbacks to go to the air which hasn’t been their strong suit this season.
Both teams are looking for their first win this season. Scott Frost is trying to build the Nebraska program back up, but Franklin cannot go 0-4. This is the most athletic team Penn State has had in several years. Adversity can bring a team together or tear it apart. Hopefully, the leadership for the Nittany Lions is working to bring the team together.
Penn State vs. Nebraska is scheduled for 12:00 pm ET on FS1.