Penn State offense will need to keep pace

Five things to look for as Penn State plays its final home game and tries to clinch a winning season against Nebraska.

No. 1: Score – a lot

The Nittany Lions probably will need to put up a big number to win – upwards of 30 points. Nebraska had 28 against a tremendous Michigan State defense, and that was even with five turnovers, so the Cornhuskers will find ways to score.

The offense has been disappointing in losses to Minnesota (10 points) and Indiana (24 points against a very bad defense), plus it hasn’t played well for large chunks in several other games. The defense has received most of the criticism, but the offense has to be able to keep up against other high-scoring teams, and that’s been an issue.

This could be the type of game where the last team that has the ball wins, but only if Christian Hackenberg, Allen Robinson, Zach Zwinak and others help PSU score early and often to keep pace with Nebraska.

No. 2: Stop the pass

Freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. comes in completing just 53 percent and has seven interceptions to go along with seven touchdowns. He is not an overly dangerous passing quarterback at this point in his career, but then again, PSU’s pass defense has struggled mightily against just about every team with even a decent quarterback.

The Lions are not going to stop Nebraska’s running game. The Cornhuskers will get their yards on the ground – they almost always do against any competition – and Ameer Abdullah leads the Big Ten in rushing for a reason.

But if PSU can find a way to protect the middle of the field in pass coverage, something the defense has failed to do, and keep Armstrong’s arm in check, then the Lions should be able to slow down Nebraska on some drives.

No. 3: Protect the ball

These are two of the most turnover-prone teams in the Big Ten. Nebraska is the worst in the conference with a minus-8 turnover margin, while PSU is tied for ninth at minus-6.

Zwinak and Bill Belton should be able to run on the Cornhuskers, but they cannot fumble.

Conversely, Armstrong could be ripe for the picking in the interception department, so the Lions need to be in position and be ready to catch his errant throws.

No. 4: Senior sendoff

Penn State is 20-3 on senior day going back to 1990, a very impressive record and one that shows the Lions are fired up ready to play and don’t let the emotions of the day affect them.

That should be the case again today, so expect PSU to put forth a good effort. Whether it will be good enough to beat a team that is better on paper will be determined.

Nebraska does have its full allotment of 85 scholarship players. By comparison, in this game, Penn State will have only 50 players who were recruited to be on scholarship, with four others injured and seven true freshmen who haven’t played.

The Lions do have a lot to play for, but people who think Nebraska doesn’t are mistaken. The Cornhuskers are 7-3 and have a shot to finish 9-3 and go to a good bowl game, plus coach Bo Pelini is trying to save his job with a strong finish.

No. 5: Player to watch

Armstrong is not as dynamic as Taylor Martinez, who’s out with a foot injury, and if he makes a lot of mistakes then Penn State probably will win. But if the quarterback has a good or even decent day, then Nebraska likely will prevail.

Prediction: Huskers, 31-27.