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Penn State tasked with trying to slow down Nebraska back Abdullah

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah vaults over Michigan cornerback Trae Waynes on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013.

There are numbers that would suggest Penn State is capable of limiting Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah from having one of his typical workmanlike performances.

Abdullah is the Big Ten's leader in carries and rushing yards. But the Nittany Lions have held nine of their 10 opponents to fewer rushing yards than Nebraska averages. Over a 23-game span dating to 2011, Penn State has allowed one opposing running back to match the 133.6 yards that Abdullah is averaging this season.

That said, don't bet against Abdullah. In fact, don't even make a prediction against him. ESPN analyst Desmond Howard found that out the hard way last week.

Howard, in advance of Nebraska's game against Michigan State this past Saturday, said Abdullah wouldn't gain as many yards as the 43 Spartans' opponents were averaging through 11 weeks.

After Abdullah had 123 yards (albeit in defeat to Michigan State), he said of Howard: “That's his job, to make predictions. And it's my job to shut him up.”

Abdullah has gained at least 98 rushing yards in each game this season. He rank seventh in the FBS with 1,336 and is a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back.

“He's a heck of a player and somebody who's had a great career,” Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said of the junior. “He has great change of direction, great vision, he's tough — and there's really nothing he can't do.”

At a school long known for a run-first offense, Abdullah ranks fifth in Nebraska history in 100-yard rushing games (15) and third in all-purpose yards (4,481). He's the eighth Cornhuskers player to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Abdullah is versatile (22 receptions in 2013), explosive (seven rushes of 30 yards or more) and consistent (can become the second Big Ten player in the past decade to have at least 100 rushing yards in all eight conference games).

“Even since (quarterback Taylor) Martinez has been out, he's become even more of a focal point for them,” Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. “He's … one of the best players in this conference, an explosive guy who runs with a great lean and great quickness. I think he's, obviously, got a pro career ahead of him. We have to make sure we know where he is on every play.”

The Lions (6-4, 3-3) host the Cornhuskers (7-3, 4-2) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Abdullah has had milestone games in his meetings with Penn State. As a freshman in 2011, he had his first career rushing touchdown in a 17-14 win. The following year, he had a career-high 31 carries and 145 total yards in a 32-23 win in Lincoln, Neb.

“We're excited for the challenge,” Penn State leading tackler Glenn Carson said. “We've seen a lot of great things from him.”

Martinez, a four-year starter, has been limited to four games this season because of a foot injury. Abdullah is averaging 23.1 touches per game in games Martinez does not play.

“A player of his caliber, it's really hard to stop a player that's as explosive as he is,” Penn State safety Malcolm Willis said. “We just have to try to contain him and have to limit the things he can do and change the looks up. We have to make sure we're a very good tackling team come Saturday.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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