|No. 10 Penn State tries to keep Nebraska down|
It is possible that Nebraska will not have its regular quarterback when the Cornhuskers visit No. 10 Penn State on Saturday.
It's also possible that the Huskers will have a new coach in the offseason.
With Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten) amid a poor season, there are persistent rumors that the job of third-year coach Mike Riley is in peril, rumors that athletic director Bill Moos did nothing to quash when asked about the state of the team Monday.
"Well, it's not very productive," he told the Omaha World-Herald. "There's certainly reasons why and that's what I'm trying to look into and decipher. But our momentum's going the wrong way, and so many times that's hard to turn around."
He also told the Lincoln Journal Star on Tuesday morning that his evaluation of Riley and the program will likely be concluded before the season ends.
"Observing the games is part of it and we, for the most part, haven't played very well," he said. "There's a lot more in regard to observing and assessing the program and a lot of it is internally. That has occupied quite a bit of my time during the week."
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee suffered a head injury in last week's 54-21 loss to Minnesota, and has since entered the concussion protocol. While Riley said on Tuesday's Big Ten conference call that Lee "cleared the first hurdle," freshman Patrick O'Brien was slated to take the first-time reps in practice later in the day.
O'Brien has gone 18 of 30 for 192 yards in limited action this year, without a touchdown pass. He has been intercepted once. He has two solid receivers in JD Spielman (49 catches, 734 yards, two touchdowns) and Stanley Morgan (47, 727, seven), but the Huskers are 13th in the 14-team Big Ten in rushing offense (115.6 yards per game).
Nebraska is also last in the conference in rushing defense (200.1), and next-to-last in scoring defense (32.5) and total defense (412.0).
Penn State (8-2, 5-2) snapped a two-game losing streak with a 35-6 rout of Rutgers last Saturday, as quarterback Trace McSorley passed for two touchdowns and ran for one. Saquon Barkley also rushed for two scores, but was limited to a season-low 35 yards on 14 carries.
As has often been the case in recent weeks, coach James Franklin said Tuesday that his team needs to be more physical along the offensive front, but added that he doesn't plan any lineup changes.
"We're playing the guys that we feel like give us the best chance to win on Saturdays," he said.
Franklin, who is notoriously mum about the health of his team, did not address the status of offensive tackle Ryan Bates, who suffered a leg injury against Ohio State on Oct. 28 and has missed the last two games.
Defensive end Ryan Buchholz also suffered a leg injury against the Buckeyes, and has also been held out the last two weeks.
"Hopefully we'll have some guys back this week," Franklin said.
One player who definitely will not return this week is outside linebacker Manny Bowen. He was held out of the Rutgers game for violating a team rule, according to Franklin. The coach would not say Tuesday when Bowen will be back.
Despite his recent struggles, Barkley has rushed for 899 yards (5.4 per carry) and is second in the nation in all-purpose yards per game (184.6). He also leads the Big Ten with 16 touchdowns, and last week became PSU's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage (5,055).
The Lions are, however, just ninth in the Big Ten in rushing offense (146.0), and former NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma, now an ESPN analyst, has said they are telegraphing their plays through their pre-snap alignment. Franklin said every team has telltale signs about what's coming, and doesn't believe it is a fatal flaw in Penn State's case.
"I still think we're averaging ... (37.7) points a game," he said. "And if everybody knew what they were doing on most of our plays, I would think we'd be scoring a lot less than that."