Here’s the question: Will Nebraska score a touchdown in the first quarter today? The Huskers have done it 15 times this season (eight rushing, seven passing) and are outscoring their opponents 104-49 overall in the opening quarter.
If Nebraska can get in the end zone in the first quarter it will be the first time it’s happened against Penn State this season. Through nine games, the Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents 76-3 in the first quarter.
What’s the story behind the fast starts? Penn State starts fast by playing slow. In nine games this season, equaling 135 minutes of first quarter clock time, the Nittany Lions have had the ball for more than 88 minutes. Their opponent’s average first quarter drive is clocking in at a fraction over two minutes.
It’s not pretty — in the same way that watching pre-shot clock basketball isn’t pretty — but it’s been brutally effective thus far for Bill O’Brien. The Nittany Lions have drives of 11, 10, 17, 14, 12, and 13 plays so far this season in the first quarter. Nearly 20 percent of Penn State’s total first quarter drives this season have gone for 10 or more plays. They don’t always end in points — it seems impossible but Penn State ran 12 plays, and burned 5:48 off the clock, against Temple and then punted — but they are demoralizing.
Give some credit to O’Brien here. He obviously has a good feel for teams early in the game and executes his plan, on both sides of the ball, very well at the start of games. Once teams adjust is a different story. Penn State is about even — 120 points for, 121 points against — in the second halves of games this year which makes for a convenient key on Saturday.
Nebraska fans shouldn’t be alarmed if the Huskers don’t come out to a blistering start. Few do against Penn State. But if the Huskers can, that puts the Nittany Lions in a spot that haven’t been very often this season.