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.

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers (28-25-7) at Penguins (37-14-8)
8 p.m. on NBC, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

It’s time for some outdoor fun.

The anticipated Flyers-Penguins Stadium Series game has arrived, as the two rivals clash Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Let’s get you ready for it all with five things to know.

1. Eye on the ice
The one caveat of playing ice hockey outdoors is, of course, the weather.

The forecast is calling for rain showers from morning until noon with temperatures in the low-to-mid 50s. The precipitation is expected to taper off and temperatures are expected to dip into the high-30s for puck drop.

The ice can still be playable with some rain. Both teams are expected to have their morning skates indoors. No matter what, the game ice will certainly be a bit different than playing in a concealed arena.

“I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready,” Michael Del Zotto said this week (see story). “Unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors.

“It doesn’t matter what the ice conditions are because both teams are playing with it. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage for either team. Both have to deal with it.”

Ultimately, players are ready for anything weather-wise -- with the wind being just as big of a concern as the ice (see story).

2. Two directions
The Flyers and Penguins are in contrasting spots.

Pittsburgh is built for another Cup run.

The Flyers are not yet. Instead, they are fighting simply for their postseason lives.

The orange and black have lost seven of their last 10 games. Since the 10-game winning streak, they are 9-15-4 with the NHL’s second-fewest points at 22.

When the Flyers won 10 straight, they had a plus-14 goal differential over that span. In the 28 games since, they have scored an NHL-low 48 markers and own a minus-36 goal differential.

So, like last season, the Flyers have a mighty mountain to climb for a playoff berth (see story). They are now five points back of the Islanders, who currently hold the second wild-card spot with 68 points. The Flyers, at 63 points, also trail the Bruins (68) and Panthers (66), while the Sabres (62) and Lighting (62) are right there in the mix.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Penguins are third in the NHL with 82 points and first with 3.47 goals per game, spearheaded by Sidney Crosby’s league-best 33 scores.

3. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Brayden Schenn is on a three-game goal streak and ranks No. 1 in hockey with 14 man-advantage tallies. Since Jan. 8, he is tied with Wayne Simmonds for the Flyers’ lead in goals at eight. He also owns eight goals and eight assists in 23 career games against Pittsburgh.

Penguins: Right winger Patric Hornqvist, who plays alongside Crosby, was super active in the first meeting with the Flyers, recording two assists, five shots on goal, three hits and three blocked shots. The 30-year-old has 17 goals, 18 assists and a plus-19 rating, while the Penguins are 12-3-0 when he scores a goal.

4. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is making his sixth straight start and ninth in the last 10 games. He is 2-2-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in seven lifetime matchups with Pittsburgh.

• Penguins goalie Matt Murray is 5-1-2 in his last eight games with a .940 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average. In two career games (one start) against the Flyers, the 22-year-old is 1-0-0 and has stopped 39 of 41 shots faced.

• Pittsburgh has won four of the last five meetings with the Flyers. This is Game 2 of the four-game regular-season series between the teams. The Penguins won the first matchup, 5-4, on Oct. 29 at the Wells Fargo Center.

• Penguins defensemen Justin Schultz (upper body) and Kris Letang (upper body) will be game-time decisions. Schultz is a team-best plus-31 on the season, while Letang is a two-time All-Star.

• Jakub Voracek has 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 29 career games against Pittsburgh.

5. The rivalry
Relive some great moments from the Flyers-Penguins rivalry with these terrific pieces from CSN’s Orange Line.

Danny Briere recalls brawl in Pittsburgh

The origin of Philly’s hatred for Crosby

Reliving Flyers’ five-overtime playoff win

Mario Lemieux returns to form in first game back

Top Flyers-Penguins moments

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

PITTSBURGH -- At this point, the Flyers are sick of talking about Saturday night's Stadium Series outdoor game against the Penguins at Heinz Field.

They just want to get it on and get it over with. Too much buildup.

“Yeah, kind of,” Simmonds said Friday. “For us, this is an extremely important game. We’ve got to get all the points we can possibly get going down the stretch if we want to make the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s going to be an exciting time. A lot of guys have families here. But we have to stay focused on the goal.”

To say the Flyers need points right now is a huge understatement. They are five points behind the New York Islanders for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot.

That’s the farthest they have been behind since occupying the wild card on Dec. 4. When the Flyers won their 10th consecutive game Dec. 14, they were 14 points ahead of the Islanders.

That’s a 19-point swing in the standings since then.

“So, we just have to find a way to get two points and get some wins in a row here,” Jakub Voracek said. “Every game against Pittsburgh is special. Playing an outdoor game -- I don't know how many people are going to be here -- but it's going to be a great experience.

“For us, every game is a huge game. So, if you play Pittsburgh or Colorado, it doesn't matter. You have to get two points.”

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Friday night he believes his team can still make a playoff run and salvage a wild card.

The thing is, when the Flyers made their second-half push last season, it actually began in mid-February -- earlier than now.

A couple players got hot, as did Michal Neuvirth and then Steve Mason, and you could see momentum building in the team over weeks.

That hasn’t been the case here. It’s almost March and the Flyers are floundering, no one is scoring and they are losing games despite playing pretty good hockey with no answer on how to turn things around without a major scoring increase across the board.

“It's a different season,” Voracek said of the comparison. “Different teams. You could use it as an advantage. … We have to play our hockey. The last two games, we went 1-1, but we played pretty good. We have to be ready [Saturday].”

Hextall said what happens this weekend and Tuesday against Colorado will have a trickle-down effect on what he does Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline (see story).

“We’ve played well enough at times this year that we can mount a run,” Hextall said. “I have no doubt in my mind. We’ve been playing pretty good the last eight, nine games. Except for the Edmonton game.

“But we haven’t gotten results. We need to get results. It’s not about moral victories or playing good against Washington. That’s fine and dandy, but not good enough. We have to win games.”

It starts tonight.