By Randy York
Having already scored 14 unanswered points, Penn State had the ball, fully primed to write a storybook finish in the Nittany Lions' first game without their legendary coach in what seems like forever. It's fourth-and-one at their own 37-yard line, plenty of time to make a first down and then march down the field to complete a comeback for the ages before a national television audience.
Everyone inside Beaver Stadium and watching across the country on television were thinking the same thing: Can Penn State win another nail-biter without Joe Paterno? Can it complete the comeback and remain the only unbeaten team in Big Ten Conference play? Nebraska's biggest defensive playmaker decided the answer to that not only would be "No!" but "Not on my life!" as Lavonte David met Silas Redd head-on with traffic jam-clearing collaboration from fellow linebacker Will Compton and safety Daimion Stafford.
A perfectly leveraged David flew forward, anchored his hips, caught Redding at full force, wrapped his arms around him and took him down like he was Jordan Burroughs shooting in to send another surprised soul to the mat ... just another big play in another big game from what Bo Pelini Monday called a big-time player. "It's not easy to make a tackle like that but you know what, I've seen him do that before," Nebraska's head coach said. "It looked just like the one he had on the goal line against our offense in practice in fall camp. He has a knack. He's just such a fierce competitor. He wanted to make a play, and he made it."
Huskers Have Beaten Both 5-1 Division Leaders
Stopping Penn State's top running back dead in his tracks is nothing new for a player like David, who has this habit of coming through when pressure reaches a peak. I mean, if he made the play that defined the season in Nebraska's greatest comeback win ever over Ohio State, where does the fourth-down rescue rank? Well, it helps Nebraska continue to cling to some measure of hope if the Huskers can win at Michigan and at home against Iowa and somehow Michigan State can stumble against either Indiana (highly unlikely) or against Northwestern (realistic possibility). Nebraska is the only team to beat the 5-1 Spartans in its own Legends Division and now is the only team to beat the 5-1 Nittany Lions in the Leaders Division. Unfortunately, Michigan State controls its own fate despite a 24-3 thumping at Nebraska when the Blackshirts looked like they'd found themselves.
Saturday's another great challenge for David, (Fonzo) Dennard and the Defense that will try to neutralize Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the Big House. Asked what kind of problems Robinson presents, Pelini quipped:"You have about an hour? He's quick and obviously can beat you by a lot of different things. You can watch him on film, and he's fun to watch. I won't get a lot of sleep this week because there are times he will make 3-4-5 guys miss on a play. He's elusive and has a lot of ability."
Seems like a perfect time for David to step up and seize control. I mean, Nebraska's All-America linebacker once tackled future Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton 18 times when his Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College team played Newton's Blinn (Texas) team for the junior college national championship.
If you're looking for an even bigger performance in a bigger game, dial back to Nebraska's 23-20 loss to Oklahoma last December in the Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium. All David delivered in Arlington were a game-high 17 tackles, including 11 solo stops.
Two-Star Prospect Becomes Five-Star Performer
Here's the irony of a big-time player contributing his biggest plays in the biggest games: Lavonte David is an indictment of the over-glorified star rating system that so many Division 1 fans follow like truth unchallenged. Coming from prep powerhouse Miami (Fla.) Northwestern, the No. 1-rated high school team in the country, according to USA Today, David was given only two stars in a five-star system. Yet he became the nation's best junior college linebacker, set Nebraska's single-season tackle record in his first season as a Husker, was a unanimous All-Big 12 linebacker, was named the league's defensive Player of the Year in the Kansas City Star and made two first-team All-America lists (CBSSports.com and Rivals.com).
So expect another superlative performance from David Saturday, even if it will require an awful lot of help from his friends. It is, after all, a big game in the Big House ... the perfect time for a 2-star recruit to deliver another 5-star performance.
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