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Running game: Abdullah takes care of ball, business (A)

That’s three straight games where Ameer Abdullah has absorbed some crushing hits and hung on to the football. Ball security is part of being a dependable running back, and Abdullah has improved in that area. He’s also durable. His 31 carries were a career high. I liked seeing Taylor Martinez, directing blockers along the way, more willing to run for the chains when passing plays break down.

Passing game: Martinez-Turner connection growing (B)

Martinez had a beautiful, on-target, on-the-run throw to Jamal Turner on NU's  first drive of the game. Turner couldn’t hang on to a third-and-10 pass in the second quarter, when he took a hard hit, but redeemed himself with his second TD in as many games. Again in the slot, Turner ran a slant route and secured the football for the game-deciding points. Pass protection wasn’t the best.

Against run: Draw play a killer, but Huskers recover (B)

In Nebraska coaches’ film study, Penn State had run nothing but draws and screens when going to a four-wideout look. “And against us, they spread us out to run the fullback, basically a dive play, because they cheated him up,” NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, referring to Zach Zwinak’s 50-yard TD run on the game’s third play. “It hit too fast for our guys.”

Against pass: DBs do their part against improved McGloin (B)

Let’s say this first: Matt McGloin looks absolutely nothing like the quarterback we saw in State College last year. Much, much improved, he’s clearly thriving in Bill O’Brien’s offense. Nebraska pressured him better in the second half, using more blitzes, and the secondary did its part, too. Credit coverage for Cameron Meredith’s safety; Nebraska had all the routes perfectly covered. That atoned for a couple of uncovered receivers in the first half.

Special teams: Punt return becoming problematic (C)

Isn’t it time to consider putting two men back on punt returns? By not fielding a second-quarter punt, Nebraska lost at least an extra 20 yards on the roll. That flipped field position and set up Penn State with a short field for a field goal. (Then again, letting punts rolls is a better option than muffing them, which Tim Marlowe -- who didn’t practice all week because of a shoulder injury -- did.) Brett Maher had another shank, but his 69-yard punt was pinned perfectly and set up the safety. He also connected on all three field-goal attempts.

Play calling: Huskers figure it out in red zone (B)

The slant pass for the game-winning touchdown was a good call, and it came against a Penn State defense that’s been very stingy in the red zone -- a 63 percent rate that’s tops in the Big Ten. Earlier in the game, offensive coordinator Tim Beck made a couple of questionable calls in the red zone, when NU had to settle for field goals. “I was trying to figure out what they were doing; they did a couple of different things down there we didn’t expect,” Beck said. He also said it’s almost impossible to prepare for how teams might defend Nebraska’s many weapons. “Some games, we might as well not even practice,” he said, “because what you see isn’t what we practice, and so you’re trying to teach those kids on the run.”

Management: Play calls need to come quicker (C)

Tense. Hairy. Confusing. Uncomfortable. That only begins to describe the problems Nebraska had trying to figure out what to do on defense in the first half. Give credit to Bo Pelini for taking the blame, saying he didn’t have his players lined up soon enough, resulting in confusion. Players appreciated that, too. “The coaches put that on them, which I appreciate,” Meredith said. “They 'fessed up to it, which was nice.”

Overall: Huskers continue to overcome errors (B)

They never make it easy, do they? The self-inflicted errors haven’t gone away, but unlike last year’s team -- and even this year’s team of a month ago -- these Huskers find a way to overcome them. Yes, there’s some good fortune involved, but think of the bad breaks Nebraska’s endured in the Pelini era (and in 1982). Evens out, right? Nebraska, though, can’t continue to play with fire.

Big Ten standings

LEGENDS Conference Overall
  W-L W-L
8-0 13-1
5-3 8-5
5-3 9-4
4-4 8-5
3-5 7-6
1-7 5-7

 

LEADERS Conference Overall
  W-L W-L
8-0 12-2
6-2 9-4
4-4 7-5
3-5 5-7
1-7 4-8
0-8 1-11