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November 10, 2012

Penn State keys to victory and HOL predictions

Nebraska will try to keep their lead in the Legends Division on Saturday with a crucial game against Penn State.

The Huskers enter today's game as a 7 point favorite over the Nittany Lions. As things get closer to kickoff, here are today's keys to victory for Nebraska over PSU.

The first quarter

You can always pull stats and come up with number breakdowns for each game. However, I don't think I've ever seen something like Penn State's first quarter dominance.

Through nine games PSU has outscored opponents 76-3, or by an average of 8.4 to .3 over the first quarter. That stat really shows how prepared Penn State is each week under head coach Bill O'Brien.

They come out ready to go and they make teams play their style of football. I know this stat has caught Nebraska's attention and it will be interesting to see how they approach the first quarter on Saturday.

Limiting mistakes

Another interesting stat to look at in this game is Nebraska currently ranks last in the Big Ten in turnovers (23) and turnover margin (-9), while PSU leads the league in turnover margin at +9.

You aren't going to see Penn State make a lot of mistakes and give teams free points. Quarterback Matt McGloin has only thrown three interceptions on the season, so rarely are they going to give the ball away.

If Nebraska throws three interceptions in this game like last week it's going to be very hard to win simply because Penn State will make you pay for those mistakes.

Fourth down defense

Penn State may have one of the worst kickers in the entire country. Sam Ficken is just 7-of-14 and his long kick of the year is from 34 yards out. He's also had two kicks blocked.

For O'Brien to even call a field goal and feel somewhat comfortable PSU has to be inside the 20 yard line. If they are in the 20 to 40 yard line range you can almost bet he's playing for four downs every time because of Ficken's inability to kick with any kind of consistency.

Nebraska has to be ready to play four downs at all times on defense, as Penn State goes for an average of four fourth downs per game. They will go for fourth downs that most other top BCS programs would kick field goals on instead.

Confusing and pressuring McGloin

NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis called McGloin the most improved player in the Big Ten this year and that's hard to argue. McGloin is completing 62.1 percent of his passes and has thrown for 2,436 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Give credit to O'Brien. He's really trained and groomed McGloin to fit his system almost the way former Husker head coach did with Zac Taylor in 2004 and 2005. Like Taylor, McGloin is smart and doesn't beat himself with bad decisions and that makes up for some of his lack of physical tools.

Papuchis and head coach Bo Pelini need to dial up pressure packages and confuse McGloin with as many different pre-snap looks as possible to create potential turnover situations.

Play championship football

Nebraska is in the midst of a championship run where they control their own destiny, but in all reality this team has yet to play consistent championship football over the last month. NU has been very fortunate to get some of the breaks they've gotten, but they've also shown unbelievable resolve in some very tough situations.

I want to see this team learn from the experiences over the last four games. Come out today and play a clean game and show 85,000 people this team has what it takes to win a conference championship for the first time since 1999.

Callahan's weekly predictions

Penn State will try to slow this game down as much as possible and make Nebraska play at their pace. I see the Huskers using the home crowd to pull out a 27-17 victory mainly on the ground from Ameer Abdullah and Nebraska's other running backs. Look for the strong winds out of the south to play a factor for both teams in the passing game.

Nebraska 27 Penn State 17
Michigan 38 Northwestern 31
Wisconsin 34 Indiana 23
Iowa 31 Purdue 21
TCU 23 Kansas State 20

Season Record: 32-12 overall; 31-13 vs. points



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