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Penn State Football: Nebraska Scores 26 Second-Half Points to Beat Nittany Lions

by on November 10, 2012 4:15 PM

LINCOLN, Neb. – One Penn State fumble in the first quarter came within five yards of a touchdown. And that really was a fumble.

Another Penn State fumble – which came on the goal line in the fourth quarter – may have been a touchdown. But it was called a fumble.

Penn State lost out in both instances. And together, they cost Penn State 14 points.

Those two lost -- but not forgotten -- touchdowns were the difference on Saturday, as Nebraska defeated the Nittany Lions, 32-23, before a 325th consecutive sellout crowd in Memorial Stadium.

The first fumble came early in the game, with the Nittany Lions ahead 7-3, when running back Zack Zwinak lost the ball five yards from a Penn State score. The Lions overcame the miscue and led convincingly at the half, 20-6.

The Nittany Lions’ second fumble came much later, midway through the fourth quarter. Following a Nebraska touchdown that put the Cornhuskers ahead for the first time, 27-23, Penn State’s offense quickly responded. In eight plays, it alternated pounding runs by Zwinak and passes by quarterback Matt McGloin.

Then, on a second-and-goal from the Nebraska 3, Penn State was faced with a game-changer. McGloin connected with tight end Matt Lehman and as Lehman turned to dive over the goal line, he was hit by Husker linebacker Daimion Stafford. 

Lehman fumbled and lost the ball, and the referees on the field ruled no touchdown. The call was upheld by the replay officials, but…but…but countless replays on the ABC television broadcast left a lot of doubt about whether Lehman had scored or not.

Nebraska’s David Santos recovered in the end zone and Penn State never got close again.

If the catch and short run had been called a touchdown, Penn State would have taken a 30-27 lead following a successful PAT. As it was, the Nittany Lions not only lost the TD and the lead, they lost the momentum and -- ultimately -- the game.

“We felt like it was over the goal line,” said Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. The referees “did not think they could reverse it, though. There wasn’t enough evidence to make the call. I think (Matt) tried to reach it out.”

McGloin was much more vociferous: “We’re not going to get that call,” he said. “We’re not going to get it anywhere. It’s us against the world. We’re not going to the calls in those kinds of games.”

As it was, the Nittany Lions didn’t help their own cause:

-- The Cornhuskers outscored Penn State 26-3 in the second half, the fourth time in 2012 they overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to win a Big Ten game.

-- Then there was the third-quarter interception thrown by McGloin deep into his own territory. That led to an easy seven Nebraska points.

-- While you are at it, count the eight PSU penalties for 60 yards – two by offensive tackle Mike Farrell – as well a near-10 minute deficit in time of possession.

-- And why not throw in the safety Nebraska recorded when McGloin, facing a Nebraska blitz, was called for intentional grounding?

Doesn’t matter how it happened, really. The loss dropped Penn State to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten, with home games against Indiana next Saturday and Wisconsin on Nov. 24. Nebraska remained in the hunt for the Big Ten Conference title and is now 8-2 and 5-1.

Zwinak led Penn State in rushing, gaining 141 yards on 21 carries, while McGloin was 18 of 37 for 240 yards, with one TD and one pick. Allen Robinson contributed 97 yards on six catches.

Nebraska was led by quarterback Taylor Martinez, with 104 yards rushing on 15 carries and 171 yards passing (12 of 20, with one TD). Ameer Abdullah paced Nebraska’s ground game with 116 yards on 31 carries.

Ironically, another lost fumble was almost the play of the game. Almost, as midway through the fourth quarter, Michael Mauti delivered. Again.

With Nebraska threatening to take the lead at the start of the fourth quarter and faced with a third-and-goal from the 12, Martinez pulled down the ball and ran. It was designed to be a draw. What it turned out to be was a fumble.

Martinez scooted by a double-team block of Lion defensive tackle Jordan Hill, then headed straight for the end zone. He didn’t see Mauti flying in from his left, his arms spread wide.

The Lion linebacker caught Martinez three yards from the goal line, and stripped the ball one yard later. Penn State safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong recovered the fumble in the end zone, and the Nittany Lions dodged a large bullet that would have inflicted a 27-23 wounds.

As it was Mauti, the team’s emotional and on-field leader all year long, saved the day. But not for long.

After Penn State’s offense went three-and-out, the Cornhuskers drove 71 yards in just six plays on a touchdown drive capped off by a five-yard scoring strike from Martinez to Jamal Good, who sliced the coverage of Obeng-Agyapong and Jacob Fagnano. The big play of the drive was a 56-yard completion from Martinez to Kyler Reed, when Reed beat both Gerald Hodges and Fagnano. With Maher’s PAT, Nebraska led for the first time, 27-23, with 10:37 left in the contest.

The Big Fumble loomed, though no one knew it at the time.

Following the kickoff, Penn State’s offense took over at its own 25 and quickly went 72 yards in eight plays – featuring a 38-yard pass from Matt McGloin to Allen Robinson. Facing a third-and-goal from the 3, McGloin flipped a short pass to Lehman, who turned and ran two yards before being hit by Stafford. Lehman then fumbled the ball into the end zone. Santos recovered.

And the Nittany Lions’ hopes of taking the lead were forever dashed.

Later, Penn State got the ball on its own 2, and in short order McGloin – facing a Nebraska blitz – dumped the ball off in the end zone with no receiver in sight. The PSU quarterback was called for intentional grounding, which is also a two-point safety, and Nebraska’s lead increased to 29-20.

Brett Maher added a 34-yard field goal in the final minute for the final 32-23 margin.

THIRD QUARTER: Penn State 23, Nebraska 20

Penn State’s defense did a good job of keeping Martinez in check for the first two quarters, holding the dual threat to 97 yards.

It didn’t last. Martinez and the Huskers took the second half kickoff and moved 75 yards downfield quickly and efficiency, scoring a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Imani Bell in just 3:12. The score and a PAT by Maher pulled the Huskers to within 20-13.

The most important work of the eight plays was done by Martinez. He had runs of 2 and 21 yards, the latter on a pump-fake draw that stopped just short of the goal line. He also completed two passes for 31 yards to Kenny Bell.

The Cornhuskers scored again just 2:01 later, on a two-yard TD run by Cross. The score was set up when Nebraska’s Stafford picked off McGloin at the 22 and ran it back to the Penn State 4. McGloin tried to jam the throw into Trevor Williams between two enveloping Husker defenders and he got caught.

With Maher’s PAT, the game was tied, 20-20, with 9:37 left in the third quarter.

The Nittany Lions almost answered with a touchdown of their own. Almost. After going 57 yards on a 12-play drive, the Lions stalled on the Nebraska 17. On third down-and-9, McGloin threaded the needle between two Nebraska defenders to tight end Kyle Carter, who was five yards deep in the end zone. The ball hit Carter in the hands, but the freshman dropped it.

Penn State had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Sam Ficken, his third of the game, to give the Lions a 23-20 lead with 6:01 left in the third quarter.

HALFTIME STATISTICS

Rushing: Penn State – Zwinak, 12-82; Zordich, 4-8, McGloin 1-6, Belton, 1-0. Nebraska –Abdullah, 5-66; Martinez, 7-41; Heard, 3-25.

Passing: Penn State – McGloin, 10-18-160, 0 int., 0 TD. Nebraska – Martinez, 6-14-56, 0 int., 0 TD.

Receiving: Penn State – Robinson, 4-56; James, 2-21; Zwinak, 1-31; Moseby-Felder, 1-23. Nebraska – Abdullah, 3-24.

Tackles: Penn State – Hodges, 6; Hull, 5; Willis, 5; Morris, 5. Nebraska: Evans, 6; Compton, 5; Stafford, 5.

HALFTIME: Penn State 20, Nebraska 6

It took awhile, but Penn State’s defense bailed out Zwinak after his first-quarter fumble. And it did so in a big way. On a critical third-and-goal from the 10, Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges reached over the Huskers' Reed in the end zone and knocked down a Martinez pass. Malcolm Willis was also in on the play. The previous three plays Abdullah carried three times for minus one yards.

Nebraska settled for a second field goal by Maher, this time from 27 yards. Nebraska’s drive lasted 12 plays and went 84 yards in 4:05, as Penn State maintained its lead, 7-6.

Noteworthy: Jordan Hill, injured last week against Purdue, saw action on the drive for Penn State.

Penn State gained 33 yards on an ensuing exchange of points. The Nittany Lions’ Alex Butterworth throttled a 56-yard punt to pin back Nebraska back in its own territory. Then, on a punt by Maher, Jesse Della Valle returned the kick 16 yards to give Penn State the ball on the Nebraska 31.

Penn State has a hard time gaining traction. On its last five plays of the drive, the Lions ran three times for six yards, McGloin threw an incompletion out of the end zone and the Lions were called for a delay of game penalty. They had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Ficken, kicking with the wind. Penn State led 10-6 with 6:58 left in the first half.

Then, Mike Hull was Mike Hull on the Spot.

On a Butterworth punt, Hull -- the backup linebacker Penn State special teams whiz who scored on a blocked punt vs. Ohio State -- recovered a fumble by Nebraska punt returner Tim Marlowe on the Nebraska 32.

Just 125 seconds later, McGloin converted the Husker miscue into six points, on a 10-yard scoring pass to freshman tight end Jesse James, who ran into the end zone untouched. Ficken’s PAT gave Penn State a 17-6 lead. Of James’ 11 catches this season, four have been for touchdowns. McGloin’s third-and-7 completion to Allen Robinson for nine yards and a Nebraska offsides call aided the drive.

Penn State quickly got the ball back, when a poor Maher punt was offset by a Penn State penalty when a ref bumped into a Penn State player along the sidelines. Starting at their own 44, the Nittany Lions drove to the Nebraska 16.

On fourth-and-1 from the 16, Penn State went for it on a dive up the middle by McGloin. He made the first down, but Penn State didn’t get it – the Lions were whistled for offsides. That set up a fourth-and-6 from the 21 and after a timeout, Penn State’s offense lined up as if were going to go for it. But Bill O’Brien called another timeout, and Ficken and the PSU field goal unit went out on the field.

With 1:12 left in the first half, Ficken made a 38-yard field goal for a 20-6 halftime lead.

FIRST QUARTER: Penn State 7, Nebraska 3

It didn’t take Penn State very long to run to an early lead against the Cornhuskers. And that run was right up the middle from midfield, as Zwinak burst through the Nebraska defense on the game’s fourth play from scrimmage for a 50-yard touchdown.

Zwinak’s TD was set up by a third-and-nine completion from McGloin to Brandon Moseby-Felder for 23 yards. The very next play Zwinak, a redshirt sophomore with 543 yards in his previous six games, outran three Nebraska defenders for the score. That was in sharp contrast to the first two plays of the drive, and game, when Zwinak carried twice for one yard.

With Sam Ficken’s PAT, Penn State led 7-0.

Nebraska responded with a 15-play drive that went 51 yards in 6:17, culminating with a 32-yard field goal by Maher. The score pulled the Cornhuskers within 7-3. With the score, Penn State has outscored the opposition 86-3 in the first quarter.

On the drive, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez completed 3 of 4 passes for 45 yards, but a swarming Penn State defense – led by D-linemen Deon Barnes, who had a sack of Martinez, and Sean Stanley, who tackled Nebraska back Jamal Turner for an eight-yard loss – held when it counted. On a third-and-goal from the 14, Martinez scrambled and was tackled along the sideline by Stephon Morris.

With 1:34 left in the first quarter on Penn State’s ensuing, Zwinak figured again in the equation. This time on the negative side. On the ninth play of a 70-yard drive, Zwinak went up the middle from the 13-yard line, and was whaled by Husker linebacker Alonzo Whaley. Zwinak fumbled and Nebraska received on its own 5.

Through the first quarter, McGloin completed 5 of 6 passes for 90 yards, while Zwinak had seven carries for 65 yards. Martinez was 3 of 4 for 43 yards passing, and Nebraska's Abdullah ran 8 times for 49 yards.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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