LINCOLN, Neb. — Deion Barnes flew off the edge toward Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and threw him down hard for a sack. A few plays later, the defensive end met running back Ameer Abdullah in the backfield and forced him to the turf for a loss of six.
At that point, early in the first quarter of Penn State’s 32-23 loss on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, it looked like the Nittany Lions’ defensive front was prepared to halt the Cornhuskers’ ground attack in its tracks.
As the game wore on, though, Martinez and Abdullah found cracks, and lots of them.
By game’s end, the duo had combined for 220 rushing yards, a total on its own far among the most the Lions had conceded in the running game all season. It excludes the 47 additional yards gained by Braylon Heard and Imani Cross.
“They out-executed us. They outplayed us,” Barnes said after the game. “They did a good job of finding what we did and they capitalized off that.”
Martinez, the Huskers’ junior quarterback, amassed 104 yards on just 15 carries, good for a healthy 6.9 yards per carry average. He added 171 yards and a touchdown through the air, proving to be a dual-threat that Penn State was unable to counter.
His performance was eerily similar to that of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s at Beaver Stadium two weeks ago, when the Buckeyes topped the Lions, 35-23. In that game, Miller also broke the century mark on the ground, passed for 149 yards and scored three total touchdowns. Martinez left Penn State coach Bill O’Brien again giving credit to a dual-threat quarterback for giving his defense fits.
“In this league we face a lot of really good offensive quarterbacks,” O’Brien said. “You look at the kids at Northwestern, Ohio State and Taylor Martinez. These guys are good players. They can throw, so he was difficult tonight.”
Abdullah also put up triple-digit rushing yards, finishing with 116 on 31 carries. Though his 3.7 yards per carry average was significantly lower than his teammate, he served as Martinez’s wing man on the numerous option reads the Huskers ran, opening up space for the quarterback to run.
He also got the ball for many of the clock-killing carries after Nebraska took the lead in the fourth quarter.
Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill praised the Homewood, Ala. native for just finding the holes his linemen were giving him.
“It felt like they were just pulling everybody on their offensive line. They’d run a toss and he’d just follow them,” Hill said. “He’s a good back. He’s a young kid. A lot of credit to him.”
Only a sophomore, Abdullah figures to be in the mix the next couple of times the Lions and Huskers clash. With his performance on Saturday, he now has 942 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
For now, though, the Lions will lick their wounds and try to figure out what went wrong, even though they had a good idea of what to expect before the game.
“They did what they usually do, just pound the ball, give it to Martinez, give it to the running backs,” cornerback Stephon Morris said. “They did what they were supposed to do and we knew it was coming, we just couldn’t stop them when we needed to.”