Here are the final takes and grades following Nebraska's 30-23 win over Penn State on Saturday.
football Edit

Final take: Everybody needed this one

As Penn State quarterback Will Levis's final throw hit the ground, you could just feel the sigh of relief not only from head coach Scott Frost, but the entire state of Nebraska.

2020 has been that type of year. It's been a year that's tested us all in so many ways, and to see the Huskers close out the game against PSU on Saturday was what everybody needed.

This program has taken a beating in the last several months. From the disappointing 2019 season to Frost's August comments about just wanting to play football. They needed Saturday's 30-23 win for so many different reasons.

"The state needed it. The team needed it. I needed it," Frost told me after the game. "And we talked at halftime and I talked to them frankly that we've been in this situation before and when we came off coverage and missed a sack and they threw a long pass down to the one felt like the Colorado game a year ago.

"You need to learn how to win and I think winning will help the kids know they can win and find ways to win going forward. I'm certainly not happy with how a lot of things went in the second half. I don't think that game should have been as close as it was, but when we found a way to win. Hopefully, we've turned a corner there and next time we're in that situation we'll put the hammer down."

Coming into Saturday, Frost's team has lost 10 one-score games since 2018. They jumped out to a 27-6 halftime lead but allowed PSU to close within 7 points.

It by no means was the perfect ending, but did anyone think a win over Penn State would come easy?

“It can just push us through this whole season," sophomore wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson said. "Obviously we feel like going through the rest of this season we’re really confident with what we’ve got and who we're going against. It's just coming to work each and every day and not getting lackadaisical over this one win. We’ve just got to keep going and get the rest of them.”

Following last week's 21-13 loss at Northwestern, you could also sense the frustration with the team.

Every Husker player felt they were the better team in Evanston, but the Wildcats were able to take advantage of NU's penalties and mistakes to get the win. On Saturday, Nebraska won the turnover battle 2-1 and finished with just 39 yards of penalties. Penn State was also 0-of-4 on four third-and-goal plays.

“Well, I could say I was one of the ones that was mad last week," junior defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt said. "I’ve been here three years and for us to continue to do that, it's just very frustrating. I'm a true junior now and I've seen everything that we've done here. We get up and we get right back down because we get comfortable.

"We were just telling the guys on the sideline, ‘Don't get comfortable. It’s 0-0 again.’ We were up 27-6 or whatever and I was just like, ‘Man, it’s 0-0. We have to play a full game all over again. Let's go out here and fight to the end.'"

Now on to the breakdown...

What I saw on Saturday 

***Frost called the decision to start McCaffrey the toughest of his entire coaching career. These types of decisions are not easy to make, but they are why the head coach gets paid the big bucks.

***It was good to see offensive lineman Cameron Jurgens out there playing on Saturday. Hopefully, his turf toe injury doesn't linger much next week.

***Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has worked from the box this entire season vs. being on the sidelines. JoJo Domann told me this has really helped with their communication with the assistants on game day, and it lets the position coaches have more interaction with the players in-game. This move seems to really be working well for NU.

***On the year Nebraska has been outscored 59-6 in the second half and 31-3 in the third quarter. The Huskers survived on Saturday, but they can't keep living like this. In the second half, the Huskers ran just 24 play for 110 yards and scored just 3 points.

***It was good to see players like Noa Pola-Gates and Niko Cooper make plays for NU on special teams Saturday.

***Nebraska's defense hasn't been on the field for more than 92 plays since 2012 at UCLA.

***Marquel Dismuke led NU with 15 tackles on Saturday. When you run the quarterback as much as Penn Stat, safeties are going to make a lot of tackles.

***JoJo Domann really had a strong game. He finished with 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss. There was a moment where Domann had back-to-back stops that forced Penn State into a third-and-11.

***I loved the play call to freshman wide receiver Zavier Betts. It was straight out of the Bellevue West playbook and something he was very comfortable running. That's the perfect way to acclimate a young player like Betts and boost his confidence going forward.

***From the naked eye, Penn State had the advantage in line play on Saturday. Don't let their 0-4 record fool you, they have a lot of talent both on their offensive and defensive lines.

***It will be interesting to see what happens with running back Dedrick Mills. Pulling him from the game caught quite a few people by surprise. Hopefully, it's not a long-term type of injury.

***I think everyone got the memo Wan'Dale Robinson needs to get the ball more on Saturday. He had a team-high 21 offensive touches for 71 yards. It was good to see him get so many touches, but unfortunately, they weren't able to pop any big plays from him. There was one sequence where he got four straight handoffs.

With the injury to Mills, will we keep seeing Robinson take carries? Or was this just a one-week thing?


The final grade out

Rushing offense: C

Nebraska had just one run longer than 20 yards on the game, as they to rely on both quarterback Luke McCaffrey and wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson to take 29 out of 39 carries on the ground. It was by no means the Huskers best day running the football, but they did just enough to win.

Passing offense: C+

Nebraska turned the game early with a 45-yard shovel pass play to wide receiver Zavier Betts. Other than that, big plays in the passing game were few and far between. Austin Allen had a 25-yard play and Levi Falck had a 21-yard reception. The short passing game to Robinson only yielded 11 yards on five catches. Protection was also a struggle at times, which led to the one interception McCaffrey threw. The bottom line is the Huskers did draw up the one big play they needed early to Betts.

Rushing defense: C+

Penn State ran for 245 yards on 52 carries. It was a bend but don't break kind of day. PSU tried to live off the quarterback run, but it was going to take more than that to beat the Huskers. NU gave up two runs of 36 and 31 yards, which were the two longest runs of the game for either team. The difference on Saturday was the Huskers held Penn State to three different field goal drives.

Passing defense: B+

Nebraska got a huge interception from Cam Taylor-Britt and a sack strip fumble recovery from Deontai Williams that gave the Huskers 10 points on Saturday. This was really the difference. Credit Nebraska's corners, as they held Jahan Dotson to just two catches for 27 yards on Saturday. Coming into Saturday he was averaging over 100 yards receiving per game. The one play that really hurt NU was the coverage bust that allowed tight end Pat Freiermuth to have a 74-yard catch downfield.

Special teams: A

This should not be taken lightly, as Nebraska won in special teams arguably in all areas on Saturday. On Penn State's first nine possessions, they only started past their own 30 once. Kickoff coverage was solid, as after trying to return two they got stopped on the 18 and 20-yard lines. Connor Culp was perfect on all three field goals and William Przystup put two of his four punts inside the 20-yard line. Everything looked much better in this area. I also liked the awareness by Taylor-Britt to run the short field goal out of the end zone, along with catching the punt that only went 34 yards and then returning it 25 yards.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:45 am and 5:05 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap-Tuesday's at 7 pm.