Following a loss to Michigan State to put them out of contention for a Big Ten Leaders division championship, the Nebraska football team defeated Penn State on a 42-yard field goal in overtime to win 23-20.
Pat Smith hit the game-winner for the Huskers, improving their record to 8-3 with a 5-2 Big Ten conference mark. Smith was perfect on the night, connecting on all three of his field goals, including a 19-yard attempt with 4:29 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 20, and both of his extra-point attempts.
Huskers quarterback Ron Kellogg III got the start because of redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s turnover troubles, and played well, going 20-of-34 with 191 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State (6-5, 3-4) outgained the Huskers on the ground and through the air, but was unable to convert on third down, as the Huskers held them to 2-of-14 on third down.
However, Nebraska didn’t do much better, and were 3-of-17 on third down. In fact, aside from another 100-yard performance by Ameer Abdullah (25 attempts, 147 yards), the Huskers weren’t too impressive against Penn State. The Huskers didn’t score a single offensive touchdown after early in the second quarter, when Kellogg III found Quincy Enunwa for a 27-yard score.
Their only other touchdown was a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Kenny Bell, which gave the Huskers a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. Nebraska was 0-for-3 in redzone possessions.
It was all Smith after that, as he hit all three of his field goals in the second half to give the Huskers the win.
The Huskers defense was able to keep Penn State receiver Allen Robinson largely in check, not allowing him to score. He did, however, finish with 106 yards on 8 catches. They also kept quarterback Christian Hackenberg under 50 percent passing, as he threw for 217 yards on 16-of-33 passing to go along with two touchdowns and a pick.
Lions running back Zack Zwinak really wore the Huskers defense down, carrying the ball 35 times for 149 yards. As a team, Penn State ran for 170 yards on the Huskers.
The result is a good sign for the Huskers because it showed they could win when they don’t necessarily play great on either end of the field. The true difference for the Huskers this week was their special teams, which accounted for 16 of the 23 points they scored, and made up for their lack of production outside of Abdullah.
The victory also means the Huskers have a quarterback issue at their hands. Kellogg III has been impressive through the air with a 67 percent completion percentage this season, and was the hero against Northwestern, but nobody can deny he’s one–dimensional. Armstrong Jr. simply presents defenses a more dynamic quarterback, and is a dangerous threat in the option. His one drawback is the turnovers; Armstrong Jr. has seven interceptions to go along with his seven passing touchdowns on the season, and has fumbled the ball a couple times, including once last week against Michigan State.
It’s doubtful Taylor Martinez will play in next week’s season finale against Iowa, and the Huskers quarterback situation heading into next week will surely be something to pay attention to.