PSU falters in 2nd half, loses at Nebraska
LINCOLN, Neb. — The coach and quarterback are alike in so many ways, as each is an intense competitor with a fiery temper.
Bill O’Brien and Matt McGloin, however, diverged Saturday in the aftermath of a 32-23 loss at Nebraska on Saturday night, Penn State’s most disappointing defeat of the season.
O’Brien chose his words carefully when asked about the fourth-quarter play in which Penn State tight end Matt Lehman appeared to score the go-ahead touchdown before fumbling. McGloin did not try to hide his disgust with how the biggest call in a back-and-forth game was ruled a fumble and then upheld after an official review.
“We’re not going to get the call here,” said McGloin, who was still seeing red after red-clad fans had emptied out of a giddy Memorial Stadium. “We’re not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn’t matter who the refs are.”
Head referee John O’Neill said there was nothing conclusive on video to convince the replay official to overturn the call.
“It looked to me and everyone else like he got across. I guess they saw something else,” said McGloin said who threw for 240 yards and a touchdown but also tossed a costly interception that set up a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter. “It’s us against the world, and we’re not going to get those calls in these types of games.
McGloin’s blunt assessment will only stoke the fire of fans who contend there long has been institutional Big Ten bias against Penn State — and one that has become more pronounced since the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and the resulting NCAA sanctions.
What isn’t subjective is the fact Penn State couldn’t protect a 14-point halftime lead, allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers and committed three turnovers.
“We could have gotten more third-down stops,” Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris said. “We could have stopped (Nebraska quarterback Taylor) Martinez, and we could have stopped the run. You can’t leave the game in the referees’ hands. We know that. They’re not perfect. That’s just on us.”
Penn State dropped to 6-4, 4-2 in the Big Ten, despite getting a career-high 141 yards rushing from redshirt sophomore Zach Zwinak. Nebraska improved to 8-2, 5-1, and maintained the inside track to the Big Ten’s Legends Division title.
Penn State plays its final two games at home beginning with Indiana on Saturday.
“I just feel terrible that we lost this game,” O’Brien said.
Zwinak got Penn State off and running when he burst through an opening and rumbled 50 yards down the middle of the field for a touchdown on the fourth play from scrimmage.
That set the tone for a half Penn State dominated, one marred only by a Zwinak fumble when the Nittany Lions were driving for another score and a few big chunks of yardage yielded by the defense.
The defense otherwise held up well against Martinez, limiting him to just over 100 yards of offense in the first two quarters and twice forcing the Cornhuskers to settle for field goals after they had driven inside the 10-yard line.
Jesse James’ 10-yard touchdown catch, his fourth this season, gave Penn State a 17-6 lead late in the second quarter.
Ficken drilled a 38-yard field goal near the end of the half, giving Penn State a commanding lead.
It took Nebraska less than six minutes to erase that deficit, and the teams went back and forth before the game turned on the fifth and final turnover of the contest.
O’Brien said the Penn State coaches in the press box told him that they thought Lehman scored on the play but that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call.
“We don’t feel like anybody’s out to get us,” O’Brien said. “We need the fans of Penn State to stick with us. This football team stuck with Penn State, and we need the fans of Penn State to stick with us at the Indiana game and at the Wisconsin game.”
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].