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Under cloud of controversy, Penn State hosts Nebraska

Happy Valley is more like Gloomy Gulch ranked Penn State Nittany Lions entertain the 19th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The Cornhuskers come in sporting a 7-2 overall record, but both losses have occurred in conference, including last week's 28-25 setback to visiting Northwestern. The loss snapped Nebraska's eight-game home winning streak, and going back a bit further, the Huskers had knocked off nine straight Big Ten foes in Lincoln.

Long considered a bastion of pride, integrity and doing things the "right way", the Penn State football program and its legendary head coach are currently embroiled in a controversy of monumental proportion. It's unclear if the alleged deviant sexual misconduct by a former assistant coach, and the subsequent cover-up will cost Joe Paterno his job, but the reality is the once-revered program is under heavy scrutiny.

The Nittany Lions had a bye last weekend, giving them extra time to prepare for this visit from the Big Ten's newest member. At 8-1 overall and 5-0 in conference, PSU sits atop the league's Leaders Division, two games up on both Ohio State and Wisconsin, which the Lions will face the following two weeks, on the road, to close out the 2011 regular season. A win this week will earn Paterno's team no worse than a tie for the Leaders Division title, and wins in two of its final three outings will send Penn State to the inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship Game to be played on December 3 in Indianapolis.

Penn State owns a 7-6 lead in the all-time series with Nebraska, and this is the first meeting between the two since 2003. The Lions are 5-1 against the Huskers at home.

In last week's narrow loss to Northwestern, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez was highly-efficient in completing 28-of-37 passes for 289 yards and two TDs, while also rushing 12 times for 53 yards, but the usually tough Cornhusker defense was on its heels for much of the contest, yielding 470 total yards (207 rushing, 261 passing), 7-of-12 successful third-down conversion attempts and three TDs on NU's four trips to the red zone.

Now a sophomore, Martinez has matured quickly during his brief time in Lincoln. "From last year to this year, I've grown a lot. Just from being able to look at different receivers and know where the routes are coming from." He went on to say, "I think that I'm kind of using myself as a drop-back passer instead of dropping back and running."

Speaking of running, Rex Burkhead found little breathing room last week against Northwestern, accounting for just 69 yards on 22 carries, but he did manage to reach the end zone for his 13th rushing score of the season. Overall, Nebraska rushed for a season-low 122 yards against the Wildcats.

Lance Thorell logged 15 tackles and Lavonte David had 11 stops and came up with an INT for the Huskers, who are giving up 23.1 points and 349.4 total yards per contest this season. David is the team's leading tackler after nine games, logging 88 stops -- 30 more than his closest teammate, Daimion Stafford. Cameron Meredith leads the club with four sacks, and David and Austin Cassidy have two INTs apiece.

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini knows his team is going to see a ton of run plays this weekend, and his defense will need to be on top of its game to stop the Nittany Lions. "I think that's probably their plan. And we got to have a plan to counteract that and try and keep guys fresh." Pelini continued, "We'll have some ways to defend them and use different fronts and maybe move a little bit more than we typically do."

Paterno recently became the winningest coach in major college football when his team slipped past Illinois, 10-7, on October 29. Unfortunately, what should have been an extended celebration of that fact during the bye week, took a decided turn toward the negative when the news broke late last week about the serious charges levied against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, and the apparent attempt by the Penn State administration to sweep his indiscretions under the rug. While Paterno has been cleared of any criminal misconduct, the court of public opinion has, by and large, found the legendary coach guilty of failing to do all he could to bring the situation to light, and to further protect the rights of the helpless victims of his former minion.

With regard to matters on the football field, the Penn State offense hasn't done a whole lot this year to force opposing defenses to come up with anything special in an attempt to keep the Lions at bay. In fact, only RB Silas Redd has done anything of note, rushing for 1,006 yards and seven TDs. The PSU quarterback situation has been murky at best, with both Matt McGloin (90- of-162, 1,193 yards, seven TDs, three INTs) and Rob Bolden (44-of-102, 526 yards, one TD, four INTs) taking snaps, and their lack of consistent production has hampered a receiving corps that features Derek Moye (30 receptions, 514 yards, three TDs), Justin Brown (29 receptions, 393 yards, one TD) and Devon Smith (19 receptions, 314 yards, three TDs). In all, Penn State averages a modest 21.8 ppg, doing so on nearly 356 ypg.

The Penn State defense has been as stingy as any unit in all of college football this season, as the Lions have logged 23 sacks, 22 turnovers and permit just 282.3 total ypg. All that means that the opposition scores just 12.4 ppg, which is the third-lowest yield in the country coming into this week's action. LB Gerald Hodges leads the way with 77 tackles, which includes a team-high 4.5 sacks. He has also forced a pair of fumbles and notched an INT. DT Devon Still has been credited with 15.5 TFL, four of which are sacks, and DE Sean Stanley has four sacks as well.