Published Saturday, November 10, 2012 AT 9:28 PM / Updated at 9:42 PM
Nebraska-Penn State: Tracking the offense, defense
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa takes a look at Nebraska’s effort on both sides of the ball during the Huskers’ 32-23 win over Penn State.

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TRACKING THE OFFENSE

NU star: Ameer Abdullah. He was the centerpiece of Nebraska’s run-first attack in the second half and never once backed down against a physical defense. The sophomore finished with 116 rushing yards on a career-high 31 carries.

Highlight: Quarterback Taylor Martinez put the football where only tight end Kyler Reed could catch it on a fourth-quarter third down play. The speedy senior hauled in the catch, broke a tackle and gained 56 yards to set up the go-ahead score.

Busted play: Down 7-0 with a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line, Abdullah was buried on an ugly zone read option run. Penn State’s Gerald Hodges and Sean Stanley were both free on the play, dropping the sophomore for a 6-yard loss and spoiling an early chance at a touchdown.

Our take: Martinez single-handedly kept Nebraska in the game before halftime, scrambling for first downs and buying time in the pocket to create more chances. His teammates eventually settled in. Developing a specific plan seemed to help considerably. The Huskers, for the most part, scrapped their shotgun run game in the second half, choosing instead to work the edges of Penn State’s defense with a toss sweep play out of the I-formation. The Nittany Lions eventually wore down, and Nebraska took advantage with its speed.

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TRACKING THE DEFENSE

NU star: David Santos. He made the play of the game, knocking the football out of Matt Lehman’s hands at the goal line and preventing a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Santos finished with four total tackles.

Highlight: On third-and-long early in the second half, quarterback Matt McGloin was looking for Trevor Williams, but Daimion Stafford beat the Penn State receiver to the football. Stafford intercepted the pass and set up a game-tying score.

Busted play: Nebraska wasn’t ready on the game’s fourth play from scrimmage. The Nittany Lions spread out the NU defense before the snap, and 232-pound Zach Zwinak went right up the middle for a 50-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.

Our take: It certainly could have been worse for Nebraska in the first half. The Huskers weren’t ready for Penn State’s quick tempo, and while struggling to get comfortable they gave up 5.3 yards per carry and 16 yards per completion through two quarters. But the coaches simplified some of the play calls after falling behind 20-6, and the NU players adjusted to the fast-paced approach. The Nittany Lions averaged just 3.5 yards per run and 10 yards per completion after halftime. Once again, the Blackshirts made the plays when they were needed most.

About Jon Nyatawa

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008. He and his laptop, cell phone, tape recorder, pen and notebook all live in Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter: @JonNyatawa. Email him here: jon.nyatawa@owh.com. He welcomes feedback.