UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State's players endured an incredibly difficult week with the scandal, then fell behind 17-0 against Nebraska. Game over, right?
Nope. Instead, the Nittany Lions showed their character and leadership in fighting back to have a chance in the final minutes.
"Everybody fought hard, to a man, so I'm proud of my team," offensive lineman Chima Okoli said.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley leaves the field after Saturday's loss.
The Lions trailed 17-7 when they forced a fumble and took possession at their own 49 with 9:35 to go. They didn't show much sense of urgency on the drive as they ran six straight running plays at one point, then used a trick play as receiver Curtis Drake completed a 16-yard pass to quarterback Matt McGloin down to the 6.
Stephfon Green scored on the next play to make it 17-14, and there was plenty of time left at 5:42. The Lions' defense held Nebraska to a three-and-out and got the ball back at their own 11 with 3:52 left. The coaching staff made what looked to be another peculiar decision in the running game on that series.
Green had replaced starting running back Silas Redd, who was nursing a right collarbone injury, and was effective on the ground. He gained 8 yards to set up third-and-2 at the 36, but for some reason the PSU coaches went back to Redd, who gained 1 yard on third down and was stuffed for no gain on fourth down to kill the drive.
"I was trying to get back in there," Green said. "I was gassed and had two long runs and was gassed. Then I just needed Gatorade and tried to get back in, but it didn't happen."
That stalled drive looked to be it for PSU, but it had three timeouts and its defense was able to hold Nebraska. The Cornhuskers went for it on fourth-and-2 at the PSU 29, and Rex Burkhead was stuffed.
The Lions got one final chance as they took over at the 28 with 49 seconds left. But with no timeouts, they could only get to the 46 before McGloin's fourth-and-1 pass went incomplete as time expired.
"We ran out of time there in the end," quarterback Matt McGloin said.
Redd unsure about injury
Redd had his streak of five straight 100-yard games end as he carried 15 times for 53 yards because of what he called an injury between his collarbone and sternum.
"I really don't know how serious it is right now," he said. "I'll get up [today] and start to rehab it and see how it feels."
Green steps forward
Green spent most of his senior season in Joe Paterno's doghouse, so there was some irony in the fact that one of the strongest performances of Green's career came just three days after the firing of the Nittany Lion coach whose good graces he worked so hard to get himself back into.
With Redd dealing with a collarbone injury, Green came on to rush the ball 17 times for 71 yards and score both Lion touchdowns. He also caught three passes.
"He [Paterno] was going through a lot. This team was going through a lot. Somebody needed to step up, ready to play,'' Green said. "I guess I just did that.''
Noted as a speedster when he first arrived to University Park, Green did much of his damage the hard way. His longest run was 11 yards.
"Guys seemed to be rallying behind him,'' Redd said. "Him, individually, having to go through so much adversity this year, it was awesome to see him have such a stellar performance.''
Green was suspended by Paterno at the beginning of the season for off-field matters, and the Penn State coach gave him little chance to return, initially. Only after the players interceded on his behalf did he return.
But, after the game, Green still sang Paterno's praises the loudest.
"I wouldn't be here today without that man. I did more than he asked me to do. I guess that's why I'm sitting here,'' Green.
Green, though, didn't get on the field for the last couple of plays as the Lions tried to mount a miracle finish.
"I was trying to get back in, although I was gassed. I had just had two long runs,'' Green said.
About 300 PSU alums on sideline
Paterno always allowed former lettermen to come back to games and stand on the sideline, and there are usually about 30 on hand. There were about 10 times that many Saturday.
"All the lettermen and myself just wanted to come and support the university as a whole," Adam Taliaferro said. "We've been praying for the alleged victims. We just wanted to come and bond with everybody and be out here to support. It's just an honor to be a part of it, and hopefully this is the first step toward healing."
Taliaferro, recently elected to public office in New Jersey and a major part of PSU football history as he battled back from a scary paralysis injury suffered on the field, has always held Paterno in high regard and didn't get too detailed with his feelings about his former coach getting fired.
"He's a man that I played for and a man that helped me out tremendously in my life," Taliaferro said.
As for the scandal, he said, "It's been tough for all parties involved, and right now I'm just praying for everyone and hope everything works out for the best for everybody."
Looking to the future (UPDATED)
Penn State can win the Leaders Division and reach the Big Ten championship game simply by beating Wisconsin in the regular-season finale. Even if the Lions lose this week at Ohio State, they can still capture the division by beating the Badgers.
If Wisconsin wins this week against Illinois and then beats Penn State, then the Badgers will win the division.
"Even after everything that's happened, even after the loss, it's good that we're still on top and control our destiny," Redd said.
Lions expect to play in bowl game
There has been speculation about the Lions turning down a chance to play in a bowl game, but new PSU President Rodney Erickson said that's unlikely.
"There has been no discussion of that, but from my standpoint, if our student-athletes have earned the right to play in postseason play, they should certainly be allowed to do so," Erickson said.
The players could vote not to accept a bowl bid, but that's not likely, either.
"Why would we vote not to play?" receiver Derek Moye said. "We want to play in a bowl game."
News and notes
Running back Brandon Beachum was introduced with all the seniors on senior day, even though he's only a junior eligibility-wise. That usually means a player plans to forego his final year of eligibility. ... Receiver Devon Smith must have been in the coaches' doghouse as he didn't get into the game until the final series of the first half. ... There were 589 media on hand, the most ever for a PSU home game.
(Compiled by Cory Giger and Philip Cmor)