Big Ten: Huskers-Lions 111112

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Jay Paterno walked over to an acquaintance on the Beaver Stadium field after Penn State lost to Nebraska, 17-14, shook hands and said with a hint of his typical humor, “I’ve had better weeks.”

The quarterbacks coach, the only member of his family still coaching football at Penn State, dropped by his father’s house on his way to work Saturday morning. He had written his parents a letter.

He didn’t stay. He had to maintain his focus on the game.

“That was the extent of it,” Jay said. “I didn’t want to spend a lot of time over there. It was going to be tough for him. It was going to be tough for me. So I dropped the letter off. I said, ‘Don’t read it yet. Let me get the hell out of here before you read that.’ I had to get myself prepped to focus. I had to get ready for this game.”

With receivers coach Mike McQueary being put on administrative leave Friday, someone had to signal the plays into quarterback Matt McGloin. For the first time in his 17 seasons on PSU's staff, Jay Paterno spent the game on the sideline.

Jay had to focus, even as the world in which he had grown up had been turned upside down. Jay had to focus, even though he never slept Wednesday night, the night that Penn State fired his father.

Jay went over to Joe’s house shortly after 6 a.m. Thursday morning and talked to him about what to do. His father quashed any idea that Jay wouldn’t coach.

“He said, ‘You owe it to your kids (players), you owe it to Penn State, and that’s how I raised you,’” Jay said. Still, he added, just walking into the Lasch Football Building on Thursday morning “was tough. I’m not going to lie to you. It was tough.”

Jay Paterno declined to discuss his emotions concerning the firing. But he said his father is doing OK.

“I had my kids over there for dinner Thursday night, and he was actually OK with it,” Jay said. “I thought he’d be like, ‘Get them the heck out of here.’ ... We’ll see. I think he’ll find another challenge.”

Jay said that he and interim head coach Tom Bradley called McQueary from the locker room before the game, but the cell phone connection faltered, and they didn’t really get a chance to talk to him.

So the letter? The one he wrote to his parents? Jay Paterno declined to discuss some of its contents. But he shared one message.

“One of the things I told him,” Jay said, “was that you and I through my life haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. Generally, that’s because I had to grow up and catch up to make eye contact with you. There are a lot of lessons I’ve learned.”

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Earlier this week, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini thought Saturday's Penn State game would -- and should -- be canceled.

Running back Ameer Abdullah's mother called him, worried about her son's safety when the team traveled to Beaver Stadium.

And the Cornhuskers were constantly reminded all week of the imbroglio they were about to enter every time they turned on the TV or radio or got on the Internet.

Nebraska got roped into the Penn State sex abuse scandal by mere association as the first team to play the Nittany Lions after the story exploded on the national scene. While the Huskers didn't have to deal with nearly as many distractions as Penn State's players did, this still wasn't a normal week for them by any means.

"You talk to them about it, but the fact is there were times it was hard as a coach," Pelini said. "Obviously, the coverage was all over the place; everywhere you turned, that's where the focus was."

But the Huskers managed to keep their focus on the game. There will be much written about how the Nittany Lions battled through their adversity to acquit themselves well in a strong performance. Don't forget the team that actually earned the 17-14 victory, one that showed plenty of grit on the road.

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesRex Burkhead rushed for 121 yards and a score against the Nittany Lions.
"You could just feel it before the game," running back Rex Burkhead said. "There was something in the air that let you know you were in a different type of game. We did a terrific job of staying away from those distractions."

Penn State actually outgained the Cornhuskers 375-331 in total yards. Both teams had 21 first downs, and both lost fumbles near midfield to set up touchdowns for the other side. So it was a remarkably even game in many ways. Except when it mattered most.

The Nittany Lions had cut a 17-0 third-quarter deficit to only three points and faced fourth-and-1 at their 37 in the final two minutes. Naturally, they handed the ball to Silas Redd, who had been the Big Ten's best running back in a spectacular October. But Huskers linebacker Lavonte David met him just before the first-down line and pushed Redd backward, a classic mano-a-mano confrontation between two of the league's star players.

One more defensive stand was needed when Penn State got the ball back at its 28 with 49 seconds left. The Lions only got as far as their 46 before running out of time. Nebraska's defensive players were rewarded with their traditional Blackshirts after the Michigan State win but were left black-and-blue in an upset loss last week to Northwestern. They bounced back Saturday.

"We really had to man up," safety Austin Cassidy said. "We had to refocus because we gave up a lot of yards against Northwestern."

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck knew he had to loosen up a Nittany Lions defense that was allowing just 12.4 points per game this season. So he added a few wrinkles, most notably putting Burkhead under center and switching quarterback Taylor Martinez to Burkhead's I-back spot a few times. Burkhead was supposed to throw it twice, but the receivers were covered both times.

"Rex is a great thrower," Abdullah said. "He could play quarterback."

Beck is happy just to see Burkhead run the ball like he did Saturday. A week after a disappointing 69-yard day against Northwestern that had fans wondering if Burkhead was worn down, he ran for 121 yards and a touchdown against one of the nation's top defenses.

"He took it personally," Beck said. "He was very upset at himself after last week's game. I'm proud of him."

The new formations helped, but Nebraska really got going after a listless first quarter when it turned to the option game. Martinez continues to improve his decision-making on the option and made a perfect pitch to Burkhead just before getting dragged to the turf for what turned out to be the decisive touchdown.

"He made some good decisions today," Beck said. "There's some instinct involved in that, but a lot of it is just repetition. He's just got to keep practicing."

The Huskers are lucky that they can just focus on improving in the coming days. They know Penn State has a lot more difficult road ahead. Several of the players expressed empathy for the Lions, and they showed that empathy by joining Penn State in a moving pregame prayer at midfield before the game.

"That helped put everything at ease and let us just play the game," fullback Tyler Legate said. "I feel for those guys, and I hope they get over it."

The road win was big for the Huskers, who lost control of their fate in the Legends Division race with the Northwestern loss. They trail Michigan State by one game in the division and need the Spartans to lose at least once in the final two weeks to earn a trip to Indianapolis. That's assuming Nebraska wins out, and it faces another tall challenge on the road next week at Michigan.

"All we can do is worry about us," Cassidy said.

Or at least now they can.

Video: Sounds from Beaver Stadium

November, 12, 2011

Penn State players walk off the field after the loss to Nebraska to thunderous applause from the capacity crowd at Beaver Stadium.

Video: Penn State-Nebraska postgame

November, 12, 2011

Brian Bennett and Ivan Maisel discuss the atmosphere at Beaver Stadium today.

Video: Nebraska safety Austin Cassidy

November, 12, 2011

Brian Bennett talks with Nebraska safety Austin Cassidy.

Photoblog: Penn State comes up short

November, 12, 2011
PSU Post GamePatrick Smith/Getty ImagesPenn State students react after the Nittany Lions lost, 17-14, to Nebraska.

Final: Nebraska 17, Penn State 14

November, 12, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State showed a lot of heart in nearly coming back from a 17-0 deficit and making it an exciting finish, but Nebraska made the biggest play of the game.

Lavonte David stuffed Silas Redd on a fourth-and-1 play from the Penn State 37 with 1:55 left. It doesn't get any better than two of the Big Ten's best players at their positions deciding things, and David won.

Penn State had one more chance in the final minute but wasted too much time on short passes and didn't get into field goal range.

The crowd still gave both teams an ovation as they left the field and did the "We are Penn State" cheer. The Lions' players acquitted themselves very well, as did the fans.

The Huskers stayed very much alive in the Legends Division race. Penn State remains in first place in the Leaders Division but now has lost any margin for error.

Photoblog: Beaver Stadium security

November, 12, 2011
PSU HorsesCourtesy of Wayne DrehsPolice are in position outside the gates of Beaver Stadium.
TBDPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesPenn State fans send a message while watching Saturday's game against Nebraska.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- On the field it looks like any other college football game. And there are moments when it feels like that, too, when the only thing that matters is whether the guys in the blue shirts can keep the guys in the white shirts from getting those 3 additional yards. But all around the players, all around the field, there are reminders.

Reminders like many in crowd of 107,903 wearing blue, the color of the ribbon for child abuse awareness. Reminders like the 70-plus Penn State lettermen cluttering the sideline in a show of solidarity, or the impromptu chats of “Joe Pa-terno.”

Reminders like new Penn State president Rodney Erickson speaking to the crowd on a video board during a pause in play admitting "this has been one of the saddest weeks in the history of Penn State."

And then there are the signs.


For an entire half, Nittany Lions fans desperately sought something to cheer for, something to help them escape from a week of horrific stress. And the players gave them little. When Nebraska went up 17-0 early in the third quarter, it looked like the game was over. But minutes later, Derek Moye caught a 40-yard pass from quarterback Matt McGloin. Two plays later, Stephfon Green rumbled into the end zone from 5 yards out.

And suddenly, they could yell. They could scream. They could wave their hands and, just for a second, be fans.

It didn't mean they had forgotten. It didn't mean they were ignoring the truth of what had taken place. It was just a way, for a few seconds, to let go.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- You had to wonder, after Penn State fell behind 17-0 early in the third quarter, if the weight of this awful week would finally cause the Nittany Lions to break.

Nope. Call it inspiration. Call it determination. Or just call it a great play by Derek Moye. The senior receiver made a terrific adjustment on a ball thrown by Matt McGloin for a 40-yard bomb, by far the biggest play of the day for Penn State. Stephfon Green scored two plays later, and Beaver Stadium finally came back alive after the energy had been sucked out of the building.

Still, Nebraska leads by 10 and the Nittany Lions are not known for scoring easily. The Huskers' option game has been outstanding, and Taylor Martinez has really improved his decision-making in that area throughout the season. His perfectly timed pitch to Rex Burkhead gave Nebraska that 17-0 lead. Also give credit to the Huskers' offensive line, particularly the guards, for creating gaps against a really good Penn State defense.

That score was set up by a McGloin fumble in Nebraska territory. The Nittany Lions have been moving the ball well in the second half but can't afford any more mistakes. And their defense has to figure out how to stop that option. Penn State may need a big play on special teams or defense to win this game.

Halftime: Nebraska 10, Penn State 0

November, 12, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Quick halftime analysis from Beaver Stadium, where Nebraska leads Penn State 10-0:

Turning point: After a listless offensive first quarter that was too pass-heavy, Nebraska started to get going with its option attack in the second period. That loosened the stingy Penn State defense, and quarterback Taylor Martinez started hitting open receivers. A pass interference call on safety Nick Sukay when the Huskers had third-and-9 from the Nittany Lions' 14 led to the game's only touchdown late in the half. Given how much Penn State's offense struggles, the 10-point lead is bigger than it seems.

Stat of the half: After starting just 2-for-8, Martinez completed 7 of 9 passes in the second quarter for 81 yards.

Best player in the half: Though his team is trailing, Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still is showing why he's the favorite to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. He's been nearly unblockable and is a constant presence in the backfield. He's a big reason Nebraska is only averaging 3.1 yards per carry.

What Penn State needs to do: Get the running game going. Silas Redd had some nice gains but appeared to aggravate the shoulder stinger that's been bothering him. It's hard for the Lions to win when they have to rely so heavily on the passing game.

What Nebraska needs to do: Remain disciplined on defense. Penn State is not a big-play offense, so just minding assignments and being tough up front is helping the Huskers pitch a shutout. Offensively, keep using the option game, drain some clock and get out of here with the win should be the goals.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- After one quarter at Beaver Stadium, we're still waiting for our first points.

Is the lackluster offensive play a result of the distractions for both teams? I don't think so. This is just how Penn State plays.

It's also a function of the defenses and some very sloppy quarterback play. Neither team has been able to run the ball all that effectively yet, and Nebraska has curiously chosen to throw the ball a lot early on. Taylor Martinez has had some receivers open but has missed them while completing just 2 of 8 passes. Rex Burkhead has had only three carries. It's hard to run on Penn State, especially with the way Devon Still is playing this season and today in particular, but the Huskers need to stick to their strengths. They have only 29 total yards after 15 minutes.

The Lions have moved the ball better and got in field goal range early on, but Anthony Fera missed a 47-yard field goal. Matt McGloin has missed some open receivers, too, and his best completion was a 31-yard gain that Curtis Drake caught off a deflection. The good news for the home team: Silas Redd finally started to put together some nice runs at the end of the quarter. Penn State needs its best offensive player to have a big day.

Emotional start at Beaver Stadium

November, 12, 2011
PSU Nebraska GatheringAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State and Nebraska players gather at midfield for a pregame prayer.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It was a powerful scene here before kickoff, as Penn State and Nebraska players and coaches, along with the dozens of former Nittany Lions players here, gathered at the 50-yard line to kneel together and pray.

Goosebumps. The crowd roared as the teams headed back to their sidelines after several minutes of prayer led by Nebraska assistant Ron Brown.

As far as the action early on, Penn State went three-and-out on its first offensive series, but that's probably not a function of emotion as much as it is the Nittany Lions' season-long struggles. Devon Still made a tremendous play to stop a Taylor Martinez run as Penn State got a stop on Nebraska's first series. The Huskers can't try to block him one-on-one today and succeed.

One man's Penn State protest

November, 12, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With a thick piece of black duct tape covering the Penn State logo on his baseball cap and a pair of signs criticizing the university, Jon Matko knew he wasn’t going to make many friends at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. But he didn’t care.

The 2000 Penn State graduate and father of a 4-year-old boy said he felt he had to do something to remind Nittany Lions fans about the victims in the school’s sexual abuse scandal. So while kids posed for pictures next to the Joe Paterno statue and others did the “We Are” chant before Saturday’s game, Matko stood on a street just outside the stadium quietly holding his signs and accepting the abuse that came with it.

Read one: The kids are what this is all about. Not wins or losses. Put the kids first. Don’t be fooled. They all knew. Tom Bradley and all must go.

“When I think of that moment in that shower, I feel rage,” Matko said. “All week I felt I had to do something. Right or wrong, agree or disagree, I had to be here for those kids. I can’t stop thinking about those kids.”

Matko, who lives in Pittsburgh, thought the university should have canceled the game and the rest of the season. He knows the importance of the games to university revenue and how canceling wouldn’t be fair to the players who had nothing to do with the scandal, but he said he felt Saturday was too soon to play.

“It’s the right thing,” he said. “It’s not about Joe. It’s about the kids.”

Matko’s other sign featured the famous Albert Einstein quote: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

When he arrived at Beaver Stadium on Saturday morning, Matko was shocked to find himself alone. He thought he would show up at Beaver Stadium and join other protestors. But he couldn’t find any.

“It’s shocking that I’m the only one here,” he said. “It’s shocking and disturbing.”

But a few feet away, a group of women passed out bookmarks that outlined telltale signs to look for indicating that a child may have been abused, as well as phone numbers for the national and Pennsylvania child abuse hotlines.

Matko, for the most part, was ignored. A few fans offered a colorful word or two of "venom," as he called it. But that was about it.

"I know these people better than they know themselves," he said. " I used to be one of them. I was brainwashed, too. Ten years ago I probably would have thought somebody holding a sign like this was a fool. But I’ve grown up. I have a family now. I don’t subscribe to this any longer. Instead, I think it's important to stand up for what you believe. And I believe this university needs to start doing the right thing."

Video: Penn State atmosphere

November, 12, 2011

Penn State fans greet the team on Saturday.