Nebraska loss shows best and worst of Lions
The Nebraska loss was as tough as Ohio State, though in different ways.
Ohio State was at home, in front of a frenzied white out crowd. Nebraska was on the road in front of a frenzied sea of red. Ohio State held the possibility of an undefeated Big Ten season. Nebraska the chance to win all conference games on the road. Both brought the chance to beat really good teams and show Penn State belonged in that gbroup.
Penn State doesn’t belong, in pure talent terms. While Ohio State simply beat Penn State, Nebraska showed the Lions can compete with really good teams, but as had been the case in the past decade or more under Joe Paterno, they find a way to make the key mistakes to lose these games.
Don’t confuse Bill O’Brien’s approach with Paterno’s. JoePa’s teams famously went into a shell in big games on the road, playing cautiously and trying not to lose, or at least not lose by much. With O’Brien, there is none of that, and it is refreshing.
But, yesterday against the Huskers, PSU played its usual open offense in the face of the crowd, the Nebraska defense, and a very tough wind. The Lions built a 20-6 halftime lead, which could have been more, had not Zack Zwinak fumbled in side the Nebraska 10-yard line in the 2nd quarter. Even Sam Ficken hit two first half field goals.
Penn State still might have won this game, if not for another fumble. Matt Lehman was ruled to have fumbled before he crossed the goal line on a swing pass–a great call in my mind–that would have given PSU the lead back with eight minutes left. Penn State and the TV broadcasters believe Lehman broke the plane before he fumbled. The officials, after review, still felt otherwise. It was a close call, the kind the Lions don’t seem to get often these days. As many Penn State players correctly said after the game, you can’t pin the blame for a loss on one play, and they did give up a big lead to get to that point. True.
If I’m going to gripe, it’s going to be more about the lack of holding calls on the Huskers on what several times seemed very obvious violations right in front of the refs. Penn State was called for several holds, good calls, but it didn’t seem to be going both ways.
Still, two fumbles in the red zone, a key interception by Matt McGloin, the Lions inability to control Nebraska’s running game, and letting some receivers get very open on key plays–that sealed the team’s fate.
Still, you can’t help but root for this team, after what they’ve been through. Though these big mistakes and simply being overmatched at times says Penn State isn’t quite in the top echelon of college teams, the fact they compete and make it exciting and fun to watch is a big step forward, and bodes well for the future.