One Year Later: Penn State Meets Nebraska

One Year Later: Penn State Meets Nebraska

It has been quite the year for Penn State and the football program. Now a
year and change removed from the startling and haunting revelations
from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and a full year and more removed from
the final game coached by Joe Paterno, one hugely scrutinized trial,
unprecedented sanctions and the naming of a new head coach, here we
are.

It is difficult at times to think about just how
much has changed over the past year in the once quiet and isolated town
of State College, Pennsylvania. Putting anything in to words, at times,
can be challenging because there simply is still now way to fully
comprehend just what happened.

But as we enter the
second weekend of November this year’s Penn State football team is
already marking their place in program history as one of the most
inspirational and memorable teams in school history. Those who have
stayed committed to the program -- be it due to a lack of options so
close to the start of the season or a desire to see this program through
tough times -- will forever be remembered for their dedication and
loyalty to what is a still a proud program looking to show what they are
really all about. No matter if Penn State loses their last three games
of the season, no matter who stands by the idea there should not be
football played in Beaver Stadium this season, and no matter how long
jokes related to their university will be shared by rivals, this year’s
team is deserving of respect.
This week they look for a
signature win to add to their bizarre 2012
season.

Penn State visits Nebraska for a
mid-afternoon Big Ten crossover matchup with plenty riding on the
outcome. Penn State’s division championship hopes are still within
reach, sitting just one game back of Ohio State. Penn State will not be
heading to the postseason but at least a share of a division
championship is still out there to grab. On the other hand, Nebraska has
become the team many suspect will represent the Big Ten in Pasadena in
the Rose Bowl in January. A win for either in Lincoln this weekend will
move the winner one step closer to a division
championship.

Penn State has played exceptionally
well on the road in Big Ten play this season, which should be a
tremendous credit to Bill O’Brien and the coaching staff. The Nittany
Lions have outscored their opponents 72-6 in the first half of road
games this season, and 123-47 overall. Matt McGloin’s passing, the
blossoming of sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson and the consistent
play of the tight ends has proven tough to combat by Big Ten foes, but
Nebraska figures to be the stiffest road test of the season for Penn
State.

Nebraska has always run the ball well, form
the glory days of the triple-option led by guys like Tommie Frazier to
today’s team led by Taylor Martinez. Nothing should shock anyone who has
been watching Nebraska for a while now. The Huskers will run, run, run.
Rex Burkhead may not be fully available this weekend but even without
last year’s breakout Big Ten player in the backfield, Ameer Abdullah, is
more than capable of picking up the load for Nebraska, and Martinez has
been known to do his damage on the ground. Last week Martinez rushed
for over 200 yards to lead the Huskers to a key victory. For Penn State,
strength and conditioning will have to be the key in order to avoid
being run down the way they were Ohio State against two weeks ago in
Beaver Stadium. It will be important for Penn State to realize that it
is going to give up yards on the ground.

It just has
to make sure it doesn't overcommit agains the run, making things easy
for Martinez downfield. Martinez this season appears to be a more
confident passing game, but he is still prone to make some questionable
decisions with the football. Forcing Martinez to scramble for his life
will be easier said than done. You also never know which Martinez will
show up. Will it be the two-interception or four-touchdown
QB?

Penn State has the defense to keep things
interesting, and the offense has the potential to give Nebraska a solid
test as well. But playing in Lincoln is tough.

This
season has Penn State shown it knows what tough is. On Saturday
afternoon we find out just how tough they really are.

The Sixers without Joel Embiid: Still just the Sixers

The Sixers without Joel Embiid: Still just the Sixers

Well, if anyone hoped the Sixers' performance at game's end against Portland on Friday night -- with Joel Embiid riding the bench, ruled out for the game's remainder with a left knee contusion -- would carry over to an entirely Embiid-less game again Saturdaynight... I guess you're not alone, 'coz I sorta did. Perhaps it shouldn't have been particularly surprising to see that the Sixers were still the same team last night in Atlanta they were the previous Saturday against the Wizards: good enough to hang against an above-average East team, but not nearly good enough to actually win. 

At least they kept this one closer longer. Normally, against the Hawks, once the single-digit lead in the first half balloons into the double-digit lead in the third quarter, it never deflates back, but this time we cut it down to seven a couple times -- just never hitting that one big shot that would've really made things interesting, ultimately losing 110-93. It doesn't help that Nik Stauskas is in the midst of one of his most refrigerated runs as a Sixer, going just 7-30 (3-16 from deep) over Philly's last five games, or that Dario Saric is similarly bricking shots near and wide, a remarkable 2 for 22 over his last couple contests. 

This, sadly, is a primary reason why the Sixers' playoff hopes, while fun to dream about, are still unlikely to be more than a flicker. Over the next few weeks, the Sixers have a trio of back-to-backs coming up, with the back-end games coming against Milwaukee, Sacramento and San Antonio -- none of which Philly, 2-12 without their star center, are probable to win sans JoJo. Even if they can take care of business with Embiid on the court, it'll be tough to make up the ground that the Sons of Sam need to while they have to drop one every three or four games as Joel sits. 

That's fine, though. This season's been super-fun, but we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves: Let's ensure Embiid's health, maybe get Ben Simmons out there too, secure a nice draft pick or two (though the plummeting Kings could be of significant help with that themselves), and focus on making next year even more of a thing. The future remains impossibly bright, even if the present is going to have to be borderline-unwatchable once or twice a week.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers (22-19-6) at Islanders (19-17-8)
6 p.m. – CSN/CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBCSports app; Pregame Live begins at 5:30.
 
The struggling Flyers head north Sunday night to battle the Metropolitan Division rival Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
 
Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s matchup.
 
1. New week, same Flyers
Those hoping the Flyers would be a refreshed, recharged team after the bye week met a harsh reality Saturday night.
 
The Flyers were blown out of the Wells Fargo Center in a 4-1 loss to the Devils that saw the same things continue to haunt the home team — defensive breakdowns and a lack of offense, among other things.
 
It’s no secret this season is quickly slipping away from the Flyers. They’ve lost their hold on the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference to the upstart Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, Panthers and Devils are breathing right down the Flyers’ backs. To pile on the good news, every other team in the East is within four points of the Flyers, including the last-place Isles, who have 46 points compared to the Flyers’ 50 points.
 
Needless to say, the margin for error is all but gone.
 
This has been said many times recently, but the emphasis still hasn’t waned — if the Flyers want to save this season, it has to start with the next game.
 
2. What’s the mindset?
Michal Neuvirth, who was pulled before the third period of Saturday’s game for “precautionary reasons,” had a striking quote after the loss to the Devils.
 
“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” he told reporters.
 
He’s not kidding, and further proof of that came in the loss to the Devils, when the game was tied 1-1. In the second period, Radko Gudas was whistled for a clipping penalty and, boy, was it an awful call. It was nothing more than a hard hip check, aka a solid hockey play. Gudas got the two-minute minor and then Wayne Simmonds received an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting the call, giving Jersey a full two-man advantage.
 
Predictably, the Devils scored to take the lead. Also predictably, the Flyers unraveled after that point.
 
It just seems lately that when something goes wrong for the Flyers, it all goes wrong for the Flyers. And that’s a troubling trend.

3. Changes in Brooklyn
Superstar John Tavares is still there, but beside that, plenty has changed since the Flyers and Islanders last met, a 3-2 Flyers shootout win in November at the Barclays Center.
 
No more Jack Capuano behind the Isles’ bench, as he was recently canned amidst his team’s struggles. Assistant general manager Doug Weight, whom you may remember from his not so distant playing days, is the interim head coach for the Isles.
 
Remember goalie Jaroslav Halak, who started the two teams’ first meeting? It’s no longer his net in Brooklyn, as he’s had a falling out with the club, lost the starting job to Thomas Greiss and was recently put on waivers.
 
And the Isles have responded positively to the changes, as they’ve won three in a row heading into Sunday night’s contest. The last-place moniker is misleading because the Isles are still just five points out of the final wild-card spot and still have tons of talent.
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let’s go with Travis Konecny. Let’s just say the Flyers are in need of an energy jolt these days and the rook has just the type of skillset to provide it. He scored his team’s only goal Saturday against the Devils and isn’t afraid to throw his body around if need be. He also scored against the Isles earlier this season. He’s now up to eight goals and 14 assists on the season.
 
Islanders: It has got to be John Tavares. The guy is an absolute star, but still could fit into the “underrated” or “under the radar” categories just because he plays for the Isles. I mean, check out this goal he scored earlier this year against St. Louis. Holy moly. While you’re at it, get a glimpse of this one he scored against Dallas last week. He’s got 19 goals and 17 assists on the year. In his career against the Flyers, he’s got 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points, the third-most points he’s tallied against any team in the NHL.
 
5. This and that
• In a scheduling quirk, Sunday evening will mark the fourth straight time the Flyers and Islanders will play in Brooklyn. They haven’t met in Philadelphia in over a full calendar year — Jan. 9, 2016, a 4-0 Flyers win

• Sunday is the second of four meetings between the teams this season. They’ll also play Feb. 9 and March 30, both times in South Philly.

• Greiss will start in net for the Isles on Sunday. He’s recorded shutouts in his last two starts. For the season, he's 12-7-2 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average.

• Reinforcements could be on the way Sunday for the Islanders, as forward Cal Clutterbuck (lower-body) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (upper-body) could be ready to return to the lineup after injuries.

• Sunday’s game will be the second of a back-to-back set for both teams. The Flyers are 6-3-2 this year in such situations.

• The Flyers’ ugly road losing streak is up to nine games. A loss Sunday would make it a not-so-perfect 10.