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Smoke And Mirrors: Penn State Dominated Nebraska, Pay No Attention To The Final Score

Don’t let a couple of late plays, with the stands emptying and the game in hand throw you off. Brent Pry’s defense played very well.

Nebraska v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The final score is not indicative of the defensive effort put forth by the Nittany Lions on Saturday. When the game was competitive, Penn State shut down Nebraska, forcing three and out after three and out, while scoring 42 in the first half.

Nebraska had just 81 total yards from scrimmage in the first half, but managed ten points thanks to a mismanaged punt return that resulted in a turnover, then a poor punt that gave the Huskers the ball only 36 yards away from the end zone.

In the second half, however, the Lions got a little loose on defense. The third quarter, allowing 14 points, was mostly due to the intensity level dropping. The fourth quarter, when PSU allowed 20 points, was a case of one team pulling out all the stops with its starters in the game and the other looking at its wrist watch, wondering when this thing was going to end.

The result was an ugly-looking 56-44 win for Penn State, and a lopsided performance by the defense. Overall I would chalk this one up as a good defensive effort when it mattered most.

What Happened

Saquon Barkley took one to the house to give the Lions a quick 7-0 lead.

On the first defensive series, Penn State held solid, forcing a three and out. Here’s the third down play.

On the punt, Nebraska recovered after it hit Zech McPhearson of Penn State. After giving up a few first downs on its own side of the field, the defense stiffened, forcing a field goal. It could be considered the next-best thing to a stop, holding Nebraska to just three points after a sudden-change situation with just 34 yards to defend. Troy Apke almost picked off the third down pass, which could have gone the other way for seven points.

The Penn State offense went three and out. Then Blake Gillikin let off a horrible punt, getting the ball out to only the 36 yard line. Once again the defense had very little room for error. Two consecutive completions had the ball on the one yard line, where Nebraska completed the three-play drive with a rushing touchdown. The defense gave up ten quick points but it can’t be held completely responsible, as it twice had to defend a short field. The Huskers got their points while gaining just 69 yards total.

The offense got in gear on the next possession, taking the ball 66 yards on 7 plays, capped by another Saquon Barkley rushing touchdown for a 14-10 lead.

The defense finally had a full field to defend and it answered the call. On first down Parker Cothran had a tackle for a loss. On second down a short pass was completed, setting up third and long. The crowd inside Beaver Stadium was loud as Nick Scott made a tackle just short of the mark for the first down. Nebraska was forced to punt.

While the score was 14-10 at the end of the first quarter, the Huskers gained just 74 yards from scrimmage, 2 total on the ground. The Lions had 175 yards with 120 on the ground, 111 of those by Saquon Barkley.

Trace McSorley led another long touchdown drive, finishing it himself with his 10th rushing touchdown of the season from nine yards out. Just like that it was 21-10 in favor of Penn State. The defense answered by forcing a quick three and out to get the ball back in McSorley’s hands less than a minute later. While this looks like your pedestrian third down stop due to a low throw, listen to the crowd inside Beaver Stadium, cheering on the defense in the last game at home this year. Also, notice Yetur Gross-Matos on the pass rush and Lamont Wade with the tight coverage, ready to make the tackle short of the sticks had it been completed. The young defenders are playing a key part this season, which will pay dividends in the future.

Another well orchestrated drive by Joe Moorhead and the Penn State offense finished with a McSorley to Mike Gesicki touchdown pass. PSU led 28-10 with nine minutes to play in the second quarter and Nebraska had only 76 yards from scrimmage.

The next defensive series lasted just three plays once again, as three incomplete passes ran just 23 seconds off the clock. On second down, Troy Apke blitzed from his safety position, forcing a quick throw which Grant Haley nearly intercepted. Once again the noise inside the stadium deserves an assist on the play.

McSorley led Penn State down the field once again, this time with Saquon Barkley scoring from eight yards out for a 35-10 lead with four minutes left in the half. The defense had another quick three and out, this time needing just 1:26 to get the ball back to its offense. Before you could blink, McSorley hit DeAndre Thompkins with a touchdown pass from 15 yards for a 42-10 Penn State lead.

Penn State forced another three and out just before the half. Here’s the third down play when Tanner Lee was sacked by half the Lion defense.

A sack by Kevin Givens on second down of Nebraska’s first possession after the half scuttled their opening drive and once again PSU got the ball back after just three plays. After a short possession by the Lions’ offense, a punt by Blake Gillikin gave Nebraska the ball at their own ten yard line.

The Cornhuskers mustered a first down, featuring the first completion by Tanner Lee since the first quarter on 3rd and 2 on the next drive. It would follow with another first down before Stanley Morgan caught a 34-yard completion, the longest play of the game for Nebraska, getting the ball inside the PSU 25. Two plays later Mikale Wilbon rushed into the end zone from 24 yards out. The game was 42-17 but the effort on the Penn State side was beginning to loosen up. Nebraska had more yards on the drive (90) than it had in the game prior to that (81) and on the following set of downs, the starters on defense for PSU remained in the game.

With five minutes on the clock in the third quarter, a cold rain falling in Happy Valley and some of the fans having already left the game, Brent Pry likely wanted his best group of defenders to show its intensity one more time before making a wave of substitutions. On third down, Pry blitzed, selling out for the sack. Instead Stanley Morgan made another great reception, good for 50 yards, beating single coverage. On the next play Nebraska scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass. It was a disappointing defensive drive, making it two in a row.

When the offense took the field some of the starters remained on the bench. McSorley led a drive into Nebraska territory as time expired in the third quarter. Three plays later Mike Gesicki caught his second touchdown of the day and the Lions led 49-24.

The rain picked up and so did the Lions’ defensive intensity. Tyrell Chavis had a nice sack, aided by the coverage to put Nebraska behind on down and distance.

The defense held on the next play, getting the ball back and off the field after allowing touchdowns on the two previous drives. Tommy Stevens led the offense down the field, completing a touchdown to a fellow back-up, tight end Nick Bowers, for a 56-24.

With ten minutes remaining in the game substitutions came in for the Lions on defense. Troy Apke stayed in at safety and was given a targeting penalty on a reception by Stanley Morgan during the drive. As a result of his disqualification, Apke will have to miss the first half of the game next week versus Maryland. Nebraska scored two plays later to cut the lead to 25 with six minutes to play, 56-31.

On the next defensive set the Lions gave up some long passes with underclassmen defensive backs on the field. Nebraska ran down the field, going for it on fourth down, then finally completing the touchdown from one yard out with just over a minute to play and the stands emptying.

Nebraska attempted and recovered an onside kick, then scored on the final play of the game to make it 56-44. It was a meaningless score but it made the game look as though it had been competitive past the first quarter, which in reality it had not. The Penn State defense, along with the offense, was in full control of the game midway through the first quarter.