Published Friday, November 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm / Updated at 5:22 pm
Home site the biggest edge for Penn State

Two sets of numbers suggest that Saturday’s Nebraska-Penn State football game is a toss-up.

Total offense: NU 440.6 yards a game, Penn State 434.6.

Total defense: NU 373.5, Penn State 375.7.

“Statistic-wise, it’s almost even,” NU football administrator Jeff Jamrog said Friday in Omaha.

But another stat might explain why oddsmakers have made Penn State a two-point favorite: The Nittany Lions are 5-1 at home this season, with their only loss a three-point setback to Central Florida — a team that is 8-1 and, in Jamrog’s view, a strong candidate for a BCS bowl game.

“They play really well at home,” Jamrog said at this week’s Big Red Breakfast.

But Jamrog expects the Huskers to play well, too, even though last week’s loss to Michigan State knocked them out of Big Ten title contention.

“There’s a lot of pride in that room,” NU’s assistant athletic director for football told about 120 fans at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Convention Center. “It is a close-knit group. Coach Pelini has our players’ backs. Our players have Coach Pelini and our staff’s. Everyone is on the same page.”

The Huskers are 2-0 against Penn State since joining the Big Ten, but they had to rally from a 20-6 deficit to beat the Nittany Lions 32-23 last year in Lincoln.

While the Nittany Lions have had to replace last year’s quarterback, Matt McGloin, who is starting this weekend for the Oakland Raiders, they’ve seen steady progress from 18-year-old true freshman Christian Hackenberg. Jamrog said Hackenberg is getting comfortable reading defenses and changing plays at the line of scrimmage.

Other key Lions from last year’s game return, including running back Zach Zwinak, who ran for 141 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska, and star receiver Allen Robinson.

While Husker receivers Quincy Enunwa and Kenny Bell figure to be All-Big Ten candidates, they have combined for 80 catches and 1,002 receiving yards. Robinson has 81 for 1,204.

“Allen Robinson’s a heck of a player,” Jamrog said.

Other comments from Jamrog:

Ľ Among the 70 players on NU’s travel roster, 41 are freshmen or sophomores. But Jamrog, a former Husker defensive end and defensive line coach, likes the talent he’s seen from the underclassmen. Freshman I-back Terrell Newby, who failed to corral an option pitch against Michigan State, “has star written all over him,” Jamrog said. He also likes defensive tackle Maliek Collins, a freshman from Kansas City, Mo. “Really keep an eye on him. Great balance. Explosive.”

Ľ NU coaches are taking 13 offensive linemen to State College because of uncertainty over the playing status of several veterans. Jamrog said coaches think they’ll be able to get at least some snaps out of junior guard Jake Cotton.

Ľ Jamrog, who started his NU playing career as a walk-on, noted that the travel roster to Penn State includes 17 current or former walk-ons, including Ryker Fyfe, a redshirt freshman quarterback from Grand Island, Neb. Jamrog said Fyfe is good enough that he may influence the number of quarterbacks Nebraska signs. “He has the talent of a scholarship player.”

Ľ Another walk-on, wide receiver Sam Burtch, was invited to join the program after a late pitch from his high school coach at Elmwood-Murdock, Leigh Schmale. Jamrog said Schmale told him Burtch was every bit as good as Matt Davison, the Nebraska prep boys athlete of the year at Tecumseh who went on to play four years for the Huskers and then become one of their radio announcers.

“So I told Matt that,” Jamrog said, “and of course Matt didn’t like hearing that.” When Burtch made a big catch in the spring game, Jamrog sent a text message to Davison in the radio booth. “He said, ‘He’ll probably break all my records,’ ” Jamrog said. “I texted back: ‘What records are you talking about?’ ”

Ľ A fan question: “Can you talk about how we don’t get anything out of our punt return game?” Jamrog’s answer: “You sound like my wife.”

* * *

Video: The Big Red Today Show, Nov. 19:

Contact the writer: Doug Thomas

Doug Thomas edits and writes stories for the Omaha World-Herald. He has worked at the newspaper since 1986 and filled roles such as Husker football writer, health and fitness writer and assistant sports editor.



< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >