LINCOLN — Penn State, with Brian Franco providing a perfect foot and Curt Warner 238 yards of footwork, did things to Nebraska’s football team Saturday that Memorial Stadium spectators aren’t accustomed to seeing.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne was also having trouble remembering the last time he had seen some of the problems his team suffered in the 30-24 loss to the Nittany Lions.
He couldn’t recall an opponent “in recent years that has had that many runs on us...15, 20, and 30-yarders,” Osborne said.
He couldn’t recall one of his teams having so much trouble hanging on to the ball in one half of football. Nebraska and Penn State both had six fumbles and lost three, but all of the Huskers’ were in the first half.
“I don’t think I can remember many halves of football that we’ve played in the last 15 years that we’ve turned the ball over that much,” said Osborne.
Franco’s contribution to the Lion victory — five field goals in five attempts — was also something that college football fans anywhere haven’t seen too often. Franco’s effort was a Penn State record. Matt Bahr had kicked four in a game four times for Penn State and his brother Chris had matched that feat once.
Warner’s performance of 238 yards on 28 carries was the best ever by a Husker opponent at Memorial Stadium. Oklahoma’s Billy Sims was the last back to do more damage against the Huskers with the opponent record of 247 in 1978.
But perhaps the strangest sight of all for followers of Nebraska football on this day was the vision of the Husker record etched in their minds.
The loss to the third-ranked Nittany Lions left the Huskers at 1-2, the first time since 1960 that a Nebraska team has opened a season with two losses in the first three games. The 1960 team beat Texas in the opener 14-13 before losing to Minnesota 26-14 and Iowa State 10-7.
“The big thing right now as far as I’m concerned is how we react to this,” said Osborne. “There have been very, very few times that we’ve been 1-2.”
Osborne said there are two things that can happen now to his Husker team that plays Auburn here next Saturday before launching Big Eight Conference play.
“You can have a team go to pieces or you can have a team pull together and get better. I still think we have a lot of good football players here and I still think we can have a good football team. But we have to play a lot better than we did today.”
With the exception of the fumble problems, Penn State and Nebraska went after each other in a way that couldn’t have been much more exciting for the turnout of 76,308. There were seven lead changes and one tie.
It went from Penn State up 3-0 to Nebraska up 7-3 to Penn State up 9-7 to Nebraska up 10-9 to Penn State 17-10.
All of that was in the first half alone. The second half was much the same. Nebraska tied it at 17-17. Penn State took the lead 20-17. Nebraska retaliated again at 24-20 before the Nittany Lions wrapped up their first victory in three years of trying against the Huskers with 10 points in the fourth quarter.
It is difficult, make that impossible, to pick out the major reason Penn State was the winner and not the Huskers, who were a four-point favorite despite being ranked much lower in the polls. The Huskers were ranked 12th and 15th entering the game.
Was it Warner? Was it Franco? Was it Penn State’s ability to control the ball in the first quarter? Was it Nebraska’s fumbles? Was it the 33-yard touchdown that Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge threw to Kenny Jackson with 30 seconds left in the first half?
That play wiped out the 10-9 lead Eddie Neil had produced for Nebraska less than a minute earlier — with 1:25 remaining — when he kicked a 30-yard field goal.
“That could have been the difference in the ball game right there,” said Osborne, speaking of Blackledge’s touchdown pass. Blackledge hit Jackson, who was in between Husker defenders Jeff Krejci and Rodney Lewis.
It was a very well thrown ball and a great catch, but it was still one of those throws that was probably a little up for grabs.
Lewis said, “I was in position. I thought I had it. I just misjudged it.”
Lewis said he thought Jackson made a great effort, too.
Osborne said it wasn’t lack of effort that beat the Huskers.
“Other than taking care of the football and playing a little better defense, we have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Osborne. “I think the effort was pretty good.”
The Huskers’ problems started early after it first appeared that they had started the game on good footing. Penn State took the opening kickoff, was held three plays and forced to punt.
Nebraska was penalized 15 yards for having 12 players on the field, giving the ball back to Penn State in good field position at the 45. The Lions marched to Franco’s first field goal, a 20-yarder.
The penalty resulted because the Husker coaches thought linebacker Jim Corbeil, who was injured on the opening kickoff, was out for the game.
“Our kicking coach put in a substitute (for Corbeil on the punt return unit),” Osborne said. “He didn’t know that Corbeil decided he could play. The sub didn’t see Corbeil was in there. That was an awfully big play.”
It was big because Nebraska had a wind of 15 to 20 mph at its back in the first quarter and didn’t get to take advantage of it much. “That was probably as big a play as there was in the game,” said Osborne.
Penn State got a chance to exercise first quarter ball control when Anthony Steels fumbled the kickoff following Franco’s first field goal. Dean Coder recovered for Penn State at the Nebraska 50.
The Lions didn’t benefit with more points but managed to keep the ball for almost the first seven minutes of the game without the Huskers running a play from scrimmage.
When Nebraska finally did get the ball with 8:30 remaining in the quarter, the conditions weren’t the greatest. The Huskers had to take over at the 2 following a Ralph Giacommaro punt.
All told, Nebraska ran only nine plays in the first quarter and two were punts. Penn State ran 27 first-quarter plays.
“They did a great job in the first quarter,” said Clete Fischer, Nebraska offensive line coach. “They had the ball and we had the wind.”
The Huskers recovered from those problems to take their first lead on Roger Craig’s 2-yard run with 12:20 left in the quarter.
Penn State countered with a couple of Franco field goals — a 48-yarder and a 39-yarder that were set up by Husker fumbles.
Craig and Mike Rozier lost the fumbles after exchange problems with quarterback Nate Mason. Osborne replaced Mason with Mark Mauer on the series following the Rozier fumble.
“The reason we went to Mauer is that on some of the handoffs, the backs thought maybe Nate Mason was a little high,” said Osborne. “We also got into a situation where we thought we had to throw more and audible more. Mark did a reasonably good job of that.”
Mauer completed 8 of 21 passes for 87 yards. Mason was 1 for 1, a 55-yarder to Jamie Williams that was the big play on the drive that led to Craig’s 2-yard touchdown.
Mauer had an 8-yard touchdown pass to Williams in the third quarter that tied the game at 17-17 and put the Huskers ahead in the same period 24-20 with a 16-yarder to Scott Woodard.
Osborne had hoped to stabilize his quarterback situation with Mason in this game. Mauer was the starter in the opening 10-7 loss to Iowa.
The Husker coach said he would have to look at films to determine his starter for Auburn. Of the quarterback situation entering the fourth game of the season, Osborne said:
“I wouldn’t say it’s real stable.”
The statistical battle was fairly even despite Penn State’s edge in ball control. The Lions had the ball for 32:28 to 27:32 for Nebraska.
The offensive figures showed Penn State with 414 total yards to 397 for Nebraska. Penn State had a running edge of 346 to 264. Nebraska had the passing advantage, 142 to 87.
Warner’s performance was 12 yards short of the Penn State record of 250 yards by Shorty Miller in 1912.
Warner and Craig have given Nebraska fans spectacular back-to-back rushing shows. Last week Craig ran for 234 yards against Florida State. Craig gained 121 yards on 24 carries to lead Nebraska.
Warner had runs of 27, 20, 14, 11, 20 and 13 yards in the first half alone. He capped his day with a 24-yarder in the third-quarter that led to a 20-yard Franco field goal and a 56-yarder in the fourth quarter that set up Franco for a 32-yarder that closed scoring with 4:54 remaining.
Osborne said Nebraska’s defensive problems might partly have been due to Toby Williams and Henry Waechter not being at full strength. “But we’ve got enough people we should still be able to play better,” he said. “They must have an awful good offensive line, too.”
Penn State’s drive for its final go-ahead score was a 61-yarder in eight plays. The big gain was a 30-yard pass from Blackledge to Mike McCloskey that carried to the Husker 3. Joel Coles scored from the 2 to put the Lions ahead 27-24 with 11:02 left.
Nebraska, with the aid of Tim Brungardt’s 12-yard run on a fourth-down fake punt play, marched into position to tie the game, but Neil missed on a 37-yard field goal.
“With the wind blowing from the right side I should have known to kick it more to the right,” said Neil. “As soon as I kicked it I knew it was going to go left.”
Osborne takes some consolation with his belief that Nebraska has been beaten by quality teams.
“I don’t think we’ve played a soft team yet,” he said. “I’m embarrassed to be 1-2 but I don’t think we’ve played a soft schedule.”
|Yards per carry||5.8||4.9|
Nebraska is 9-8 all-time against Penn State.
|Florida State||Sept. 19|
|Penn State||Sept. 26|
|Kansas State||Oct. 17|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 7|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Sept. 26. See them all »
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