It was a game and a day as tasteless as oatmeal, flakes of snow falling into a stadium where two teams whose greater days were in the 70's and 80's would begin to write their long off-season narratives, either trying to build on success or feeding off failure. Fittingly, it was never more than an one-score game, and amidst another Penn State's emotional senior day and their pride fueled by two close losses at his hands, Bo Pelini kept his streak of winning close games alive.
Last year, Penn State folded when a questionable call went against them. This year, Nebraska did not. Matt McGloin lost his cool, took off his helmet on the field, and blamed the then year-old Sandusky scandal when video review didn't give Penn State a touchdown on a close call at the goal line. The Huskers, on the other hand, stayed calm after Ameer Abdullah's long touchdown run got called back and kept fighting. If Nebraska's three wins over Penn State the last three years don't prove them to be the better program, the Huskers' composure should.
If Sam Burtch's block on Ameer Abdullah's touchdown run was a penalty, there should have been three more late hit out of bounds and/or personal fouls on both sides. Granted, it wasn't a necessary play, but one where the officials could have picked up the flag.
I'm done with turnovers inside either ten yard line. Those of you who follow me on Twitter saw my strong reaction to the possibility that Ron Kellogg III might have fumbled two yards from the goal line on that third down. I always tell myself, turnovers are random. Don't be like a fan, eventually, things will swing the other way. Over the last two weeks, my eyes have been telling me something different.
At some point, all these turnovers do come back to Pelini. It's too much of a trend, and even if Pelini is winning in spite of them, he's working a heck of a lot harder to beat teams that aren't as good as his. All that work to win those close games that should not be close games means the coaches have less to put into the games that Nebraska does lose.
Penn State's running game versus Nebraska's defense was a bad match-up. While this wasn't Minnesota offensive line, Penn State's line ran a zone-blocking scheme that took away the Blackshirts' aggressive streak. In the first half, Nebraska (who will have the most tackles for losses as a team since Ndamukong Suh's senior year) over-pursued, and what in other games were three-yard losses were instead five-yard gains. Then, as the game wore on Nebraska's defenders trusted their instincts less and less. Even though Penn State's longest run was only 11 yards and totaled a mere 162 yards on the day, they stayed out of a lot of third-and-longs, which could have played right into Nebraska's hands.
Nebraska held Penn State to 0-out-of-6 on third downs of 6 yards or more. Bill O'Brien opted to protect freshman Christian Hackenberg from himself, running and throwing on short on the first two third-and-longs to keep Pelini from sending the house at the young quarterback. Had the Husker succeeded in limiting the Nittany Lions' run game, they could have saved field position and perhaps forced Hackenberg into another interception or two.
Penn State made two sizeable errors, which Nebraska turned into three points and an error of their own. It's the human flaw: a person or a group commits one error and pays dearly for it, and yet when his opponent commits the same error, he fails to inflict maximum punishment. Nebraska's two turnovers had a direct impact on the score (again), one taking away a touchdown, another adding an easy one. Meanwhile, if either the drive after the blocked punt or Ciante Evans' interception had ended in a touchdown, Penn State could have been put away eariler.
Should Pelini have gone for the touchdown on the 2 yard line instead of kicking the field goal? In the moment, Pelini would have had to have sent Tommy Armstrong in cold for the fourth down play, unless he had utilized a timeout. After Armstrong fumbled a snap on his own one yard line last week (not to mention how bad is injury was), Pelini must have feared for the worst, even though there was a reasonable chance Nebraska would have gotten another possession. That left either Ryker Fyfe or another wildcat plays, so the field goal was a reasonable choice.
Barring a blowout loss to Iowa or a collapse in a bowl game, Bo Pelini has earned the right to come back in 2014. Pelini won two games in hostile road environments with quarterbacks that had little experience. He got a young defense that was terrible at the beginning of the year to grow up and carry the team at times. Pelini's proved his weight in gold, and, as the Big 10 Network keeps reminding us, he is 19-5 in November, meaning his teams get better as the season goes on. It's not worth it for Shawn Eichorst to press his luck in the coaching market.
In the program for a cup of coffee, Pat Smith takes a nice place in Husker history. The transfer from Western Illinois notches a close win for Nebraska, and will certainly go among the lesser-knowns who stepped up when their number was called. Smith actually may have benefited from the penalty that pushed Nebraska back, as his second kick was much straighter than his first.
Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on**Twitter @derekjohnson05.