Penn State had four turnovers and eight penalties in dropping a heartbreaker on the road to the Cornhuskers.
I thought we had this game in the bag before kickoff. I'd just finished watching Northwestern get absolutely jobbed on at least five calls against Michigan, so I assumed the fix was in to get the Wolverines to the Big Ten title game. Apparently there's no fix - for that purpose at least.
The botched Matt Lehman replay and the intentional grounding call, resulting in a safety, that came immediately after represented a 9-point, 2-possession swing that the Lions couldn't overcome. And if you want to flip out about those calls, then Devon's got you covered. I spent time there last night. The anger kept me warm.
But the rest of the story is that Penn State didn't play well enough, particularly in the second half, to beat a ranked team on the road. Penn State had four turnovers (counting the grounding call) and eight penalties for 60 yards. Our second half possessions went as follows: INT, FG, 3-and-out, Fumble, Safety, 4-and-out. This team can't play sloppy football and expect to win against decent competition. It's not that good - very few teams ever are.
The defense followed the Bend But Don't Suck (BBDS) model for most of the game, and played well enough to win. They made some great plays, racking up eight or nine tackles for loss. They allowed five long drives, but kept the damage to 2 TD's and 2 FG's, while forcing a legitimate fumble which they recovered in the end zone on the fifth. We saw lots of zone coverage from Ted Roof, because the Nebraska passing threat is Martinez pulling the ball down and running - and you don't want your DB's with their backs to him. But on 3rd and 5 in the 4th quarter, needing a stop, Roof called man - and Nebraska TE Kyler Reed beat LB Gerald Hodges for a 56-yard pickup. Nebraska took the lead on that drive and never gave it back.
Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts
1) BO'B was asked in his postgame presser if he thought there was a conspiracy against his Lions, given the two bad calls. "No one's out to get us," he replied. He's right, of course - there's no conspiracy. Unless you consider the pathetic state of Big Ten officiating, in general, a conspiracy of fools. This is the richest conference in college athletics, with four of the largest fan bases in the nation. Yet nearly every week you can find a handful of examples of blatant incompetence. The Big Ten does quite a few things in spite of itself, such as banning night games in November, and refusing to play after Thanksgiving. But the B1G has also shown an ability to make changes, like replay, even if they are sometimes too slow in coming. Here's hoping the conference takes an honest, critical review of its officiating in order to make some improvements.
2) Nebraksa won the game, but I'd rather have BO'B over Bo Pelini moving forward, by a country mile. If BO'B can roll into Lincoln with somewhere around 67 scholarship players, with nothing to play for, and drop a close, hard-fought game after a few suspect calls while not playing its best - I mean, it's not even a real comparison, is it?
3) "We have two games left......this team stuck with Penn State, and we need the fans to stick with this team. " Don't sweat it, BO'B. By my count, this team sits at 6-2*, has been exciting to watch, plays hard every week, and has exceeded every reasonable expectation I had for them. They're one of my all-time favorite Penn State football squads, and they deserve respect, as well as our support. I'm certain they'll get it next Saturday against Indiana.
*I don't count the first two games of the season.
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