UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State did nothing Saturday afternoon to shed its image of a program that can't win big games.
From the head-scratching disorganization of having to burn all three first-half timeouts on their opening drive of the game because of clock and personnel issues, to dropping numerous passes, to fumbling in key situations, the Nittany Lions once again failed to stack up against elite competition.
"We just kind of shot ourselves in the foot," offensive lineman Quinn Barham said, then added, "We messed up here and there, and we paid for it."
Alabama, boasting a No. 3 ranking but not really looking like a team of that caliber, easily handled No. 23 Penn State, 27-11, before 107,846 fans at Beaver Stadium. The Lions have now dropped nine consecutive games against teams ranked in the top five, going back to 1999.
"We just have a lot of work to do," said Joe Paterno, who coached from the press box for the second straight game because of a leg injury.
Several Penn State players spent time the past few days talking about how they were embarrassed by their performance in last year's 24-3 loss in Tuscaloosa, when the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden loses his helmet after getting hit by Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley (32) and defensive back Mike Barron.
The Lions have a better team this year and had a better chance at pulling off an upset Saturday, but any hopes for that went out the window with each and every one of their numerous mistakes.
"We came away from last year's game feeling like we made a couple key mistakes that cost us a chance to compete in the game, and we're going to feel the same way when we look at this film," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said.
Penn State needed to execute flawlessly and get a few breaks to beat Alabama.
It did neither.
Two plays that went against the Lions in the first half turned out to be game-changers and helped the Tide take control.
Alabama, trailing 3-0, faced fourth-and-inches from its own 41 late in the first quarter and sent out the punting unit. The Tide tried a fake, with up-man Brad Smelley taking the direct snap and running up the gut.
Linebacker Glenn Carson stuffed Smelley and, feeling they had gained possession, PSU's defensive players celebrated as they ran off the field.
"I think it was pretty obvious we had them on the blocked punt," PSU linebacker Michael Mauti said. "I think they were probably a foot and a half short. ... [Carson] hit the kid, the kid went backwards."
The refs gave the Tide a favorable spot, however, and they managed to get the first down by about an inch or two.
Normally, Penn State would have challenged the spot, but it couldn't in this case because it had no timeouts. The embarrassing reason the Lions had no timeouts is because the play clock was running out on them twice in their opening offensive series, so they burned two, and they had to take another because injured offensive lineman Chima Okoli couldn't get off the field in time before a play.
"Chima was hurt and trying to be a hero to come off," Jay Paterno said, "but he should sit down," which would have resulted in the refs stopping the game for an injury timeout.
"There's no excuse for that," Joe Paterno said of burning the three timeouts.
Rather than PSU challenging the call and possibly taking over at the Alabama 40, the Tide maintained possession, and three plays later quarterback A.J. McCarron hit Marquis Maze for a leaping 29-yard catch to the Lions' 26.
"We're all going crazy on the sideline," Mauti said. "They call us back, and we're kind of breathing heavy, sucking wind a little bit and they go on a long drive."
Alabama scored on the drive, getting a needle-threading 5-yard strike from McCarron to Michael Williams for a 7-3 lead. That play also came down to a matter of inches as linebackers Carson and Gerald Hodges nearly knocked down the pass.
"Oh, so close, man," Hodges said of him nearly hitting the ball. "I think I should have broke on it a little quicker."
The touchdown, Hodges added, "Definitely felt like a dagger. You felt we had it [on the fake punt], and then they check it and they get the ball still."
Penn State made a goal-line stand and forced Alabama to kick a 22-yard field goal with 10:09 left in the first half. The Lions were still in the game down just 10-3, but their fate was essentially sealed on a costly mistake a few minutes later.
Tight end Andrew Szczerba caught a first-down pass at midfield on third-and-10, and the Lions could have pulled even had they sustained the drive. But Szczerba fumbled, Alabama recovered and went on to score a crucial touchdown for a 17-3 lead on Trent Richardson's 3-yard run with 35 seconds left in the half.
Penn State's offense, which moved 54 yards in 16 plays on the game's opening drive for a field goal, fell flat as Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin rotated at quarterback. The receivers didn't help as they kept dropping catchable passes and killing drives.
"I don't think we're still finding ourselves," Bolden said when asked if the offense has an identity problem. "We know who we are. We can put points on the board. We have all the talent in the world, but it's going to take us finding it within ourselves to pull it together.
"We're really good, we've got a lot of good receivers, our offensive linemen have definitely gotten better from last year, I feel like I'm a lot smarter to run the team. We have every component, we just have to put it together."
By the time the Lions did put it together in the closing minutes, the game was already over. Alabama got an 18-yard field goal from Jeremy Shelley and 13-yard TD from Richardson to make it 27-3.
Penn State finally cracked the end zone after Bolden hit Shawney Kersey for a 26-yard gain to the Alabama 1. Silas Redd scored on the next play, and Bolden ran it in for a two-point conversion.
The Lions now get to play what receiver Derek Moye accidentally called "exhibition games" this week and next against Temple and Eastern Michigan. Still, bouncing back from a disappointing loss will be tough.
"Monday we're going to see what type of team we're made of," McGloin said.
The focus, McGloin added, will be on "who wants to be here still and who wants to continue to push and who wants to learn from this game and take it into next week and as we get into the Big Ten schedule. Long year. We have a long year left."
There also could be a few more games against highly ranked opponents with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin still on the schedule.
For anyone who believes the Lions can't beat that kind of premier competition, Redd had this message:
"Keep thinking like that because we will prove you wrong."