Throwing out both the eternal optimists and the forever doomsayers, it seemed to many Husker fans anything from a final record of 1-7 to 6-2 was on the table. I only scoffed at the outlandish idea that some people out there actually believed we’d play all eight games. But besides that? Sure, anything seemed plausible.
Now an 0-fer is staring us right in the face after two games and this week’s opponent, the Penn State Nittany Lions find themselves in a similar 0-3 boat. We know how we feel about it - as Husker fans, we have a solid history of losing our goddamned minds over much less than an 0-2 start. If it turns into 0-3, bar furniture, domestic abuse responders and delicate ears will all suffer in the coming week.
If there’s a fan base as loony as ours, it’s Penn State’s and no one in Nebraska is shedding a tear about those stands not being filled Saturday. As always, we want our opponents’ views on the coming weekend and this week, I’d like everyone to extend a heartfelt thanks to Dylan Callaghan-Croley of Black Shoe Diaries, our Penn St. SBNation sister site. He put some serious time into his answers and talks about what 0-3 feels like in his neck of the woods, how - like us - they are having QB issues and displays the same confidence in his Nittany Lions I showed in my Huskers when we were making our predictions.
Off we go...
1) Sad news first - although it was already likely Journey Brown would miss the 2020 season, how disheartening is it to hear his career is over due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
Yeah, the news regarding Journey Brown is absolutely heartbreaking on so many levels. It’s one of those deals that you don’t even care about how it impacts the football program, you’re just happy that they caught it since it could’ve definitely been a life-threatening issue. At the same time, I thought entering this year, Brown had the opportunity to be the best running back in the nation and work himself into a potential first-round selection next Spring, but at the worst a second-round pick. It absolutely sucks that he now won’t be able to live out his dream of playing in the NFL but also by the fact that by getting to the NFL and being an early draft pick, he would’ve been in line to begin making money that could set his family up for generations. That all being said, by all accounts, he a great person on and off the field and he’s certainly going to be successful no matter what he does. He’ll have a great support group around him as well with not just family, friends, and the program around him but these are the type of situations that Penn State fans and alumni often do their best work with. I’m sure he’ll be great in whatever he does going forward.
2) With so many games being cancelled this weekend alone - including Ohio St/Maryland - as Covid cases explode nationally, is the season ending prematurely becoming a possibility? (And Notre Dame - what in the serious hell?)
Yeah, it certainly is getting interesting the last few weekends to say the least especially this weekend. I don’t think the season ends prematurely, I mean we’ve made it this far into the season and I don’t see them stopping now. I do think we need to see the CFP give some leeway here, let these conferences have a little more wiggle room. I mean we all know this part of the year was going to get bad with COVID and that’s what’s happening, especially here in Pennsylvania. So no, I don’t think the season ends prematurely but I do think more wiggle room is needed to avoid a catastrophic mess a month from now. Now, on Notre Dame... you put the best, my reaction was a little more explicative but yeah, how in the hell do you let that happen...
3) It’s October 23rd and somebody offers us 500-1 that after B1G Week 3, Nebraska and Penn St will be a combined 0-6 while Indiana and Northwestern will both be undefeated and on top of their divisions. Do you laugh or curse him as a jackass for trying to steal your hard-earned cash?
I would be laughing my ass off that’s for sure. I mean, let’s not put it lightly, this season has been an absolute complete nightmare for the Penn State program and I don’t think there’s a game on their schedule that is any longer a definite win. The way I would’ve looked at that bet is along the lines of “Sure, I can see Penn State somehow losing to Indiana though it would’ve almost had to play out exactly as it did, Penn State beating themselves. I always thought the game against Ohio State was also a likely loss and that puts them at 0-2. But lose to Maryland? A team that they’ve absolutely dominated over the last four seasons? No chance they drop that game. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand here we are in week three and Penn State’s 0-3! Now, Nebraska’s tough schedule would’ve made it a little bit more enticing but yeah, I definitely wouldn’t have wasted my money on that bet... Okay, I lied, I’m a degenerate at heart so maybe $10 but my confidence level in it would’ve been a fat 0.
4) I’m guessing the intended game plan for 2020 wasn’t for Sean Clifford to toss 40 passes per game AND be the Nittany Lions’ leading rusher. I know it’s a broad wide-open question but what has to change and can it?
Yeah, this offense is completely broken and that’s putting it in a nice way and yes, it’s fair to say that was not the intended gameplan. That being said, Penn State’s gameplans over the last few years have often featured a quality amount of designed runs by the quarterback. The problem with the offense this season comes mostly down to the running back group not having the expected success and Sean Clifford’s ridiculous regression. The running back struggles are a little bit more understandable, they lost Journey Brown as we discussed above but also lost sophomore Noah Cain who for a while last year, looked better than Brown and while they’re two different style backs, Cain is a pretty good running back in his own right. That being said, what appeared to be an ankle/foot injury knocked him out for the season. That leaves Penn State with Devyn Ford, a talented but limited experienced sophomore, and two true freshmen in Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee. Lee has looked the best of any of the running backs but has only done so over seven carries. That being said, a lot of the struggles there of course come back to the offensive line which has been a major disappointment for Penn State this season, but that’s a whole different story that we could go on and on about. Now, Clifford.... last year, Clifford was a quality Power Five quarterback who with slight improvement entering this year could help the Nittany Lions compete for a Big Ten title and possibly a College Football Playoff spot. However, his regression has been baffling and at this point, it doesn’t seem like he has what it takes to be a Power Five starting quarterback and I wonder how well he would do in quality Group of Five conferences. He often overthrows his wide receivers and he tries to do too much in the pocket, ultimately taking sacks or making poor decisions. How do you fix it? That’s the problem... I’m not sure Penn State can fix it this season. It’s not that they don’t have weapons, the backfield is still quite talented, the wide receiver group is talented, and they have one of the best tight ends in the country. But if you’re offensive line doesn’t perform to expectation and your quarterback struggles to make throws... it usually doesn’t end well. James Franklin hasn’t shown yet that he has the confidence to play backup quarterbacks Will Levis or Taquan Roberson and isn’t one to bench a guy in the middle of a game. He did say this week, we’ll see a bit of Will Levis in this weekend’s matchup but I still have my doubts. Additionally, I’m not sure Levis is all that much better than Clifford. Roberson is a guy whom we saw for a handful of snaps last season and he only attempted one pass so he’s the most intriguing guy in that room.
5) As much as ritual suicide - okay, not in weirdo Covid year, but let’s say a Hunter S. Thompson-worthy drinking binge - is tempting, do you look at the remainder of your schedule (Nebraska, Iowa, Mich., Rutgers, Mich St) and say, hey, we could run this thing?
Talent-wise? Surely, Penn State could run the rest of the schedule and outside of Michigan, I think Penn State would be able to cruise to victories. That being said, Penn State’s offense has struggled all season, the defense has looked just as bad. So, the honest answer is no, I don’t think they could run the tackle and I’m not sure they could even win three of five. I wouldn’t be shocked if they managed to win only just two of those games. There’s a lot to fix for them and unless it all just starts clicking this weekend, I just don’t know how they’re going to fix all their issues without having any bye weeks this season.
6) OK, prediction-time! Somebody’s coming away with a win and yardage stats are similar, both with an Ohio St. game mixed in. Do the Huskers insert several new starters and get over the hump or does Penn St. start the turnaround?
I’m not sure how the game will truly go down but for whatever it is worth, I have Nebraska grabbing the win here at home over the Nittany Lions. I’ve stressed it here a ton, Sean Clifford’s regression this season has been major, the defense has major issues when it comes to allowing big plays and there’s just overall a ton of stuff that needs fixing. Add in comments by wide receiver Jahan Dotson that were along the lines of there being distractions inside the program and the team not playing “as one”, I’m not sure this is something the Nittany Lions are going to be able to turn around this quickly. So give me the Cornhuskers here by a final score of 31-23.