For the second straight week, Nebraska was handed a win by the sad excuse of Foot Locker employees the Big Ten calls its referees.
Thankfully, I don't expect we'll see too many Penn State players express their frustrations publicly, as did their Spartan counterparts a week ago. They're better than that, and Penn State is better than that, and Bill O'Brien wouldn't stand for it. But that's what fans and bloggers like us are for: to pout and shout, and throw a tantrum, because just like Michigan State a week ago, these Nittany Lions were screwed out of a win they deserved.
The reason the NCAA has instituted replay reviews, and why the NFL has joined them in that regard, is to ensure that horrendously bad calls like that don't prevent teams from winning, so that the balance of the game doesn't rest in the whims of the referees. I won't blame the officials on the field for getting the call on Matt Lehman's touchdown catch wrong. It was a bang-bang play, one that easily could've gone either way, and live on TV, it looked like a fumble, too.
But every single impartial observer of that instant replay--the one that showed Lehman with two hands on the ball, reaching out over the goal line--could tell that the ball crossed the plane. Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman didn't even pretend, as so many announcers tend to do, that it was a call that could have gone either way. They didn't hedge with their consternation. The legion of football writers across the country echoed in agreement. Even all but the most defiant of Nebraska partisans, I'm sure, can't deny that Lehman scored Penn State a go-ahead touchdown before losing the ball.
The only possible explanation, then, is that the replay official was clouded by bias. Maybe he grew up a Nebraska fan. Maybe Tom Osborne slipped him a couple hundred bucks before the game. Maybe, like so many indignant reporters around this time a year ago, he wanted to show the world just how much he hates child abuse, and decided to take it out on Penn State.
Sound farfetched? Sure, but what's the alternative? That he, objectively, watched the same replay we all watched, studied it as closely as we did, and decided that no, it didn't clearly show, beyond any reasonable doubt, a Penn State touchdown? Does he not have eyes?
It's honestly come to this: the call that lost Penn State this game was so bad that conspiracy is more likely than incompetence. And these Nittany Lions have seen enough of one or the other, or maybe both, have had so many calls go against them that broadcasters have brushed aside as "questionable" or "dubious", have suffered, now, two losses in Big Ten play where stunningly inexplicable officiating was, if not the deciding factor, then certainly a major one in their losses, that we, as fans, have been left increasingly speechless and furious and left asking, "WHAT? WHY? HOW?"
No, it shouldn't have had to come down to that. Yes, Penn State's defense, as it has in each of the losses, failed to adjust after halftime. Yes, Matt McGloin struggled, and yes, Bill O'Brien, frustratingly, went away from the bruising Zach Zwinak attack that Nebraska could barely slow down, much less stop. Yes, Penn State left a whole lot of points on the field, and yes, they could've won this one on their own merits and not let the referees decide it. And yes, even if the replay official doesn't decide to screw over Penn State, the Lions still have to hold Nebraska for the rest of the game.
But the fact of the matter is this: Penn State played well enough to win, and had victory snatched from them, not by a Cornhusker, but by a zebra. There will be time to analyze the offense and the defense, and Sam Ficken's rise to mediocrity later. For now, we will stew in our righteous anger, because maybe we can gain some catharsis from it.
And guys, it could always be worse: just imagine how much more painful this would feel if we were jockeying for bowl position and a Big Ten title!