Nebraska won for the eighth consecutive time in a game decided by seven points or less. Here’s what we learned in the Cornhuskers 23-20 win over Penn State:
Special teams can be a plus for Nebraska: The Huskers decidedly won the kicking game for the first time this month. Brandon Reilly blocked a punt. Kenny Bell returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Pat Smith kicked three field goals, including a 42-yarder in overtime to win the game. He made the game-winner twice, in fact, after Givens Price was flagged for a false-start penalty on the first attempt from 37 yards. Meanwhile, Penn State’s Sam Ficken missed an extra point that loomed large and a field goal from 37 yards in overtime that put the Huskers in position to win. Nebraska still struggled to generate traction on punt returns, but hey, let’s not split hairs after that performance.
There’s no quit in this team: This we knew before Saturday, but the circumstances changed after Nebraska lost to Michigan State, eliminating the Huskers from contention for a league title. Nebraska is a beaten-up team five weeks into a brutal, six-week stretch, and it played just as hard and determined as ever at Beaver Stadium. Credit the Huskers for their resolve after a bad personal foul call on Sam Burtch negated an Ameer Abdullah touchdown in the fourth quarter. Nebraska kept its composure and, despite a few close calls, tied the game. It dug out of a hole on its final possession and won it in overtime. On paper, Penn State had more motivation on Senior Day in search of a winning season, but the Huskers played like a team that wanted it just as badly.
The quarterback rotation paid off: Questions persisted through October as Nebraska played Ron Kellogg III for a series or two in the first half after Tommy Armstrong Jr. took over the starting spot from the injured Taylor Martinez. At times, the insertion of Kellogg appeared to disrupt the offensive rhythm. If he didn’t prove the value of the two-QB system with his game-winning drive against Northwestern, Kellogg succeeded in showing on Saturday the reason behind it. He relieved Armstrong, slowed by an ankle injury, after three series and drove the Huskers to a touchdown on his first possession. From there, Kellogg settled in and executed the game plan. Kellogg wasn’t spectacular, but he largely avoided mistakes. Without the experience gained this season, who knows if Kellogg could have performed as well against the Nittany Lions.