Know Your Penn State Football Opponent: Nebraska Cornhuskers

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 22: Wide receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El
LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 22: Wide receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El /

Can Penn State defend its home turf against the Nebraska Cornhuskers?

Penn State has a real opportunity to go undefeated at Beaver Stadium this season. In order to do that, the Nittany Lions are going to have to take care of Nebraska in the final home game of 2017. There could be a lot on the line for the Nittany Lions, and the Cornhuskers would love to play the role of spoiler.

Head coach Mike Riley and his Cornhuskers will look to build on a 9-4 showing from last season.

The ‘Huskers ended the season in a bit of a slump, losing four of their final six games, including a loss to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. They were in contention for the Big Ten West division crown before a crushing overtime loss to Wisconsin, followed by a 62-3 drubbing by Ohio State.

Heading into the 2017 season, Nebraska has to replace its top passer (Tommy Armstrong Jr.), runner Terrell Newby), and receiver (Jordan Westerkamp) from last year.

Nebraska was a bit lackluster on offense last year, finishing ranked 79th in points per game. The fact that the top three producers are gone might cause some bigger struggles on offense in Lincoln this year.

Tulane transfer Tanner Lee will lead the offense at quarterback. In two seasons as a starter he threw for 3,601 yards with 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. The offense will certainly look different in 2017, as the Cornhuskers will no longer have a  dual-threat quarterback on the field.

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A big challenge will be replacing the rushing production of both Armstrong Jr. and Newby. There doesn’t appear to be a clear starter yet, but it should come from the trio of Devine Ozigbo, Tre Bryant, and Mikale Wilbon. Ozigbo was third on the team last year with five rushing touchdowns.

Like running back, it will be interesting to see who steps up at receiver for the Cornhuskers. With Westerkamp gone, others will need to produce. Stanley Morgan Jr. will be the likely No. 1 top receiver. He finished second on the team last year with 453 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Morgan was arrested on a drug charge back in May, something that put his eligibility for this year in doubt. However, the charges against him were dropped in July.

Wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El will be a player to watch. He was an All-American punt returner as a freshman, but dealt with injuries the past two seasons. Even if he’s not a big part of the offense, he still be an impact player in the return game.

Keyan Williams could also make a big impact at receiver.

Defense was a strong point for the Cornhuskers last year, as they ranked 34th in points allowed per game. However, some key pieces will be missing this season. Leading tackler Josh Banderas is no longer around, and neither is second-leading tackler Nate Gerry.

Nebraska could struggle on defense, particularly early on with new guys getting used to significant playing time. Linebacker Alex Davis, who saw limited playing time last year, has been impressive during camp.

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The Cornhuskers might find themselves down a bit in 2017, but a win in the Big Ten is never easy, so Penn State will need to be focused in order to pull out a victory in the final home game of the year.

Penn State has lost the last four games against the Cornhuskers, with the last game coming at Happy Valley in 2013.