Nebraska 30, Penn State 23
The mighty, resurging Nittany Lions (0-4) woke up in the second half only to fall short of climbing out of the hole they dug for themselves in the first half, bowing to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-2). 30-23. Penn State won the second half, 20-3. Ain’t no thang, though.
Bringing in Will Levis to replace Sean Clifford at QB with 11:28 left in the second quarter after the latter screwed up miserably in the first half seemed to give a boost to the team on both sides of the ball. Suddenly, the offensive line wasn’t getting pushed around and the defense was making plays. Goes to show you the depths of the doldrums James Franklin’s misplaced loyalty to Clifford had reached.
The switch was long overdue, as was graphically exemplified by Clifford’s screw-ups in the first half. An interception, an ugly, errant, off-target throw downfield to Jahan Dotson that could have been an interception, and finally, a fumble during a sack that wound up being a scoop and score for Nebraska were just too much for even Franklin to let pass.
Red Zone Woes Continue
Penn State had red zone issues all day. They seemed to get there, then turn conservative and sputter, having to settle for field goals on three occasions that could have easily produced touchdowns, given that Nebraska’s defense has been crappy this year. But alas, our play-calling decisions and execution have been crappier than Nebraska’s defense.
A chance at the end of the fourth quarter to tie the game fizzled on a first and goal from the Nebraska 9 yardline. Two incomplete passes, a sack, and another incomplete pass sealed Penn State’s fate.
Forty-some years ago, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach John McKay was once asked after an ugly loss what he thought of his team’s execution. “I think it would be a good idea!” quipped the ever-sarcastic McKay. Yep. That’s what I’m thinking, too. Everyone wants to can James Franklin, but I think the motivation issues boil down to an absence of field leadership, lack of talent, and shitty attitudes.
Yes, I did say lack of talent. This team is not as talented as we had thought, so the underachieving excuse might not apply. They might be achieving just what their talent level allows. (Why do we always think Penn State has the best and brightest? We even though that about Anthony Morelli, who could throw the ball sixty yards but had a crappy attitude and kept his head up his ass most of the time).
Running Game and O-Line Improved
The running game picked up once the quarterback switch occurred and the offensive line woke up. Penn State wound up with 245 yards from its running back committee. Devyn Ford looked really punped with 16 carries for 66 yards, and Levis was the second leading rusher with 18 for 61.
The offensive line was giving Levis better protection, too. He was able to complete 14 of 31 for 219 yards with no TDs and no INTs. Clifford’s numbers were 5-8 for 37 yards, no TDs, and one bad INT. Pat Freiermuth was the leading receiver with seven grabs for 113 yards. On the day, the O-line allowed only two sacks, a welcome break from Maryland’s seven-sack day.
Penn State Defense Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks!
Penn State’s defense is subpar. No doubt about that at this point. However, they did show signs of life stopping Nebraska a couple of times in the second half. They can turn it on and off. It was too little and too late after the hole that they had dug for the Lions in the first half. Nebraska was running over them like they were a Pop Warner squad.
After the game, Nebraska Head Coach Scott Frost said they were throttling back the offense because they were scoring too fast and not giving their own defense enough of a break. Those worries were unfounded, because Penn State’s offense shot itself in the foot so many times, that Nebraska didn’t have to do much defending.
Motivation to Win
It did look to me — viewing with a jaundiced eye — that Nebraska was the better motivated team on both sides of the ball. Their defense was swarming to the ball and looked to be charged up. Penn State’s was walking around with their thumbs up their asses. The shitty attitude has to stop. No excuses — I don’t want to hear about no fans in the stands, Covid-19, we didn’t get enough practice, or other lame-o crapola. They’re just poorly motivated. You can blame that on Franklin and Pry, but these are young adults, and they’ve got to take responsibility for their own attitudes, too.
Luke McCaffrey, he of the strong football bloodlines, replaced Adrian Martinez as starting QB for the ‘Huskers. His first start as a dual-threat QB yielded 13-21 passes for 152 yards with one TD and one INT, along with thirteen carries for 67 yards and a TD on the ground. It was clear in the first half that the PSU defense did not have a way to stop Nebraska’s offense, and McCaffrey was a big part of that.
So Do Special Teams
Meanwhile, Penn State special teams bit the big one, with one missed field goal and a shitty 34 yard punt. We even had a kickoff out of bounds for a penalty. Nebraska’s special teams were near perfect in comparison 3/3 on field goals and four punts for an average of 40.5 yards.
One More Winnable Game Shitcanned
Overall, were it not for screwups, this game should have been won by Penn State, who dominated TOP 36:24 to 23:36, first downs 30-17, and total yards 501 to 298. However, as you well know by this time, invoking the late Frank Gifford, turnovers ‘n’ penalties’ll killya. There were enough ugly instances of both to seal the loss.
Coming home with an 0-4 record with an Iowa invasion on the near horizon sucks. Endemic problems with this team will not be solved in time to prevent another loss. One game does not show that Will Levis will be any better than Sean Clifford over the long haul. What do you think? How would you feel after an 0-5 start?
I’ll be back during the week with an assessment of the forthcoming game with Iowa, assuming the team is not mercifully quarantined for two games after exposure to Covid-19 at the behest of Maryland.
The Nittany Turkey says
The gambling line on the Iowa game inexplicably opened as pick ’em with an o/u of 46-1/2. We seem to be getting much more respect than we deserve as an 0-4 team. However, the line quickly moved to Iowa – 2-1/2 in a couple of shops. Will it widen further? Wonder who will be favored in our championship week game against Illinois?
Big Al says
The line should widen further Anything below Iowa giving 7 points is a gift. Iowa is the 2nd best team on State’s schedule right now and the Kitties are a dumpster fire. We have no quarterback, our safeties don’t know what they’re doing, and the defensive ends and linebackers can’t set the edge. (Wisconsin would have gotten over 200 yards against the Kitties just from running their jet sweep alone.)
PS the championship week game might not be against Illinois. They seem to a found a quarterback and I won’t be surprised if they beat Nebraska. How does a rematch in beautiful downtown Lincoln sound to you?
The Nittany Turkey says
It is remaining rock steady at 2.5. Taking Iowa minus the points looks like a slam-dunk at this point.
I haven’t been paying attention to Illinois, but Nebraska has a pretty tough schedule from here. I think a rematch would be useless unless something drastic happens to turn the Lions around. How likely is that?
K. John says
Where there is smoke there is fire. Too many insiders saying the same thing to discount the locker room situation as a distraction. Take Iowa, take them to cover and take the over. Iowa is hitting their stride, we are a mess. Luckily, Michigan might be more of a mess so hopefully we can notch a win the weekend after next.
I would tend to agree with you. A lot of people are starting to question Franklin’s ability as a recruiter. There are certainly gaps in the roster. The big red flag is the fact that Franklin’s early recruiting classes, of which the first two were made up heavily of O’Brien prospects, remain his best despite receiving the lowest rankings are particularly troublesome.
The Nittany Turkey says
We continually hear how much talent there is on this team, so they must be underachieving. The latter is definitely true, but I have long believed that the overall talent level of the Franklin teams is deficient. No matter how wonderfully the recruiting classes are ranked, they don’t perform at the expected level. Some of that deficit has to be produced by lack of motivational leadership, either from coaching or on the field, from peers. It’s a pernicious thing once the confidence of the team goes out the window. People stop giving a shit. And so, what started out mediocre gets worse and worse.
If they have any pride left, perhaps we’ll see some kind of redeeming effort during the second half of the season. Just seems like they take one step forward just to tease us before they regress and take the two steps backward.
K. John says
I am hoping for the same, however, I don’t see it happening this week. I see Saturday looking a lot like last weekend’s Michigan Wisconsin game. Michigan was little more than a chew toy for Bucky Badger. I think it’ll be closer to that than anything else.