We all know what’s going to happen here... Nebraska will screw around in first three quarters, and come roaring back in the fourth. The only question is who will screw up, and how big of a hole the Huskers will have dug. I like this matchup, though, for Nebraska; I think Nebraska’s pass defense is much improved in recent weeks, and can shut down Penn State’s. Huskers 31, Penn State 21
The game started well for Nebraska - for two plays. Then the Pinkshirts re-emerge. Nobody covers Brandon Moseby-Felder on an underneath route on third and nine. Then Zack Zwinak bursts up the middle, seemingly untouched for 50 yards. Two great plays, two horrible ones...and Penn State quickly takes a 7-0 lead. The Husker offense responds with an impressive drive, but bogs down inexplicably in the red zone and settles for a field goal. The Blackshirts seemed to have Penn State stopped at midfield with a third-down incompletion. But Bo Pelini inexplicably accepted a 10 yard holding penalty to give Penn State a second chance - albeit with a third and fourteen. Penn State converts this time, and the drive goes all the way to the Nebraska 5 yard line where Alonzo Whaley strips Zwinak to keep the Lions off the scoreboard. I guess Bo Pelini expected Penn State to go for it on fourth down. Still, if you expect Bill O'Brien to go for it on fourth and three, you probably have to expect to stop Penn State twice in that situation. And frankly, I'd rather face Zwinak on fourth-and-three than McGloin trying to complete two passes in that situation.
Another coaching question would be putting Tim Marlowe back to field a punt when he's obviously injured. He muffs a second quarter punt and gives Penn State 40 yards of field position. Boom...Nebraska's down 17-6. Nebraska nearly went down 24-6 after Brett Maher shanked a punt just before halftime. All told, the Nebraska offense went MIA in the second quarter as Taylor Martinez only completed three of ten passes against the wind.
Not sure if other Husker fans share this same opinion, but I've become numb with halftime deficits. Nebraska didn't play well in the first half? Tell me something I haven't heard before. What was a little different this time was that the comeback started with the start of the second half. The drive had a little luck as linebacker Michael Mauti tipped a pass intended for Quincy Enunwa to Kenny Bell instead for a first down. A nifty Taylor Martinez run down to the Penn State one yard line set up Imani Cross for a touchdown plunge, and the comeback was on. The Blackshirts halftime adjustments looked good...Baker Stienkuhler sacks Matt McGloin for a big loss, then more pressure forces McGloin to throw into double coverage. Daimion Stafford returns the interception to the four yard line, where Cross bangs it in to tie the game at 20-20.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Nebraska's offense made it into the red zone again...only to bog down again and come away without points when Martinez fumbled the ball at the five yard line. And like last week, that meant it was Martinez Magic time. A little more subdued this week though; on third and five, Martinez hit Kyler Reed who sprinted 56 yards to the Penn State 10 yard line. Three plays later, Martinez threaded the ball to Jamal Turner for the game-winner.
Penn State is loudly disputing that. Andrew Green lost the coverage (what's new?) on Allen Robinson for a 38 yard completion. Eric Martin would have forced a field goal with a sack of McGloin, but got called for an unnecessary face mask call. Just push him out of bounds! Two plays later, Matt Lehman appeared to score when the ball popped out, recovered by Stafford in the end zone. Well, the replays indicated that he appeared to score, but the officials ruled the instant replay inconclusive.
Did the officials screw Penn State on this call? Maybe. The replays I've seen show that it was "probably" a touchdown, but "probably" a touchdown on instant replay is not a touchdown. Did this cost Penn State the game? Maybe. Possibly. But probably not. Keep in mind that Nebraska still had over seven minutes left to make up a three point deficit. They trailed Michigan State by 10 with that much time last week, let's not forget.
Nebraska tried to run clock from that point on, but had to punt. In comes Maher to boom a 69 yard punt to pin Penn State at their own two yard line. Two plays later, Cameron Meredith forces McGloin to ground the ball in the end zone...a flag that seemed to take forever to get thrown. McGloin insinuated after the game that officials are out to get Penn State this season. That's probably frustration talking...certainly McGloin was lucky to not get hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet to yell at the officials after the penalty was finally called. That's a call that certainly went McGloin's way today.
So Nebraska has survived the Northwestern/Michigan/Michigan State/Penn State gauntlet with three comeback wins and a 4-0 record. Only Minnesota and Iowa stand in the way of Nebraska "winning out" and getting to Indianapolis. That trip to Indianapolis is by no means locked up; Nebraska could easily be 1-3 in those games and be sitting at 5-5 instead. That's not to minimize what Nebraska's accomplished to this point, but rather to point out that fans shouldn't assume anything at this point.
Two-thirds of the way to the goal. Indy is coming into view, but it's been a struggle to get to this point. Let's hope that Nebraska is done needing another fourth quarter comeback this month. It's long time for Nebraska to seize control of a game in the first quarter.