While the #12 Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) were beaten on the field by #19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) 17-14, they had chances to win. After perhaps the worst week in the history of Penn State, that the team was able to perform at all with a new head coach and hasty changes to the coaching staff is a testament to their focus.
State this out loud in stentorian tones: It was the first game of the post-Paterno era at Penn State, as the winningest coach ever in NCAA Division I was fired on Wednesday.
“I think today it just made the healing process start to begin,” said interim head coach Tom Bradley. Solidarity among players and fans, chants of “We are… Penn State!”, blue ribbons for victims of child abuse, and Nebraska’s classy empathy were all part of an emotion laden day. For some players, it spurred them on; for others, it dragged them down. “I used the emotions to fuel the fire,” said linebacker Nate Stupar.
Announced attendance was an amazing 107,903. This Turkey had expected that a significant number of those planning to attend the game would back out in the aftermath of the scandalous revelations of the preceding week. I was pleasantly surprised with this strong showing.
Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, let’s proceed with some football chatter.
With the victory, Nebraska moves up to #16 in the BCS standings while Penn State drops to #21 with the loss. Interestingly enough, of all the 8-2 teams ranked by the BCS, Penn State is the lowest ranked. South Carolina, Kansas State, Georgia, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, and TCU all are ranked above the Nittany Lions. As usual, the rankings don’t make a lot of sense. Nebraska lost to Wisconsin, but are ranked one position higher; they beat Michigan State, but are ranked one position lower. I suppose when we’re looking at #12 through #21, we shouldn’t get too picky. Those teams are not likely going to BCS bowls, anyway.
Penn State was shut out in the first half and Nebraska had built a 17-0 lead before Penn State was able to score.
At that point, senior running back Stephfon Green came alive, scoring touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. As it was Senior Day, Green got more playing time than he has been getting from Paterno, having been in the infamous Paterno doghouse due to an off-field incident during the summer. The Paterno doghouse is now up for sale and perhaps might be shipped to the Smithsonian. Green wound up with 71 yards on 17 carries and the aforementioned two touchdowns.
But it was Silas Redd to whom the coaches turned when the crucial, make-or-break fourth down came up with 1:49 left in the game. Redd was stopped for no gain. By the time Penn State got the ball back on its own 28, all of its timeouts had been used and there were only 49 seconds on the clock. Three points down, a tie to take the game into overtime or even a win was still possible, but the Lions managed to move the ball only to their own 46 when time expired. Redd finished the day with 53 yards on 15 carries.
Interestingly enough, Matt McGloin played the entire game at quarterback. His performance wasn’t great, but I’m still convinced that he did better than either the two-headed scheme or Bolden would have done. He was 16-34 for 193 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns. The Nebraska secondary did a reasonably good job, but could have intercepted a few passes that they wound up dropping. McGloin was not particularly accurate.
Moye was the leading receiver with 78 yards on four catches, the longest being 40 yards.
For Nebraska, Taylor Martinez was 13-26 for 143 yards, but added 56 yards on 19 carries in the Cornhuskers’ option oriented offense. By far their offensive star, junior Rex Burkhead ran the ball 25 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State’s special teams were, to use the hackneyed sports writer’s irony, nothing special. In fact, they especially sucked. Anthony Fera badly missed a field goal that represented the three point differential between the scores.
By and large, the two teams played even, as the game statistics show. It just wasn’t Penn State’s day. We’ve been saying that a lot lately.