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Penn State-Nebraska notebook: Lions bitten again by second-half struggles

November 11, 2012
The Altoona Mirror

Lions struggle again in second half

LINCOLN, Neb. - Penn State has lost four games, three of which it led at the half, while the other was tied. The Nittany Lions couldn't protect a 14-3 halftime lead against Ohio, a 7-3 lead against Virginia and got blitzed for 21 points in the third quarter after being even, 7-7, against Ohio State.

The disappointing trend for PSU continued Saturday as it gave up a 20-6 lead in less than six minutes in the third quarter and went on to lose to Nebraska.

"The losses that we've had - that's four now - it's all about the second half," cornerback Stephon Morris said. "We didn't finish the second half in all them losses."

The first-half numbers show Penn State has been ready to play early as it has outscored opponents, 157-39. The third quarter has been the team's Achilles heel, though, as the Lions have been outscored 56-6 in that quarter during their four losses.

Nebraska took the second-half kickoff and, going against the wind, drove 75 yards for a touchdown. Matt McGloin then made a major mistake as he threw an interception on third-and-15 from his own 16-yard line, setting up a tying score for the Cornhuskers.

"If you turn the ball over three times, you can't win against a team like this," McGloin said. "They'll find a way to win."

Morris said opposing teams appear to be "coming out with a little more fire" in the second half. It also has to do with opponents making good adjustments.

"We figured they would probably pressure us a little bit more and do some things differently," PSU coach Bill O'Brien said of Nebraska's second-half strategy. "We have got to do things coaching-wise and playing-wise [to adjust]."

Linebacker Glenn Carson, who set a career high with 14 tackles, said, "I think we do a really good job coming out in the first quarter and first half. Everyone plays hard, so I can't say. Maybe they caught us on our heels. ... I know everybody plays hard every single snap. Maybe it's adjustments."

And sometimes it's as simple as the opponent playing better.

"They were behind, and they were a little bit wounded and they came back swinging," Carson said. "I tip my hat to them."

Huskers once again show their mettle

Saturday marked the fourth time this season Nebraska has rallied in the fourth quarter to win. The Huskers had 250 yards of total offense in the second half and finished with 438 yards, 267 on the ground.

"We have a lot of heart," quarterback Taylor Martinez said. "We know that we can come back from anything."

Martinez finished with 104 yards rushing on 15 carries and completed 12-of-20 passes for 171 yards and a score. The Huskers had two 100-yard rushers as running back Ameer Abdullah carried 31 times for 116 yards.

Penn State knew Nebraska would run the ball a lot - 57 times - and still couldn't stop it as the Huskers averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, whose team is fighting for a berth in the Big Ten title game and first Rose Bowl appearance as a member of the league, said he had not seen replays of the controversial fumble by PSU directly after the game.

"I know one thing that helps you in that situation is how they called it on the field," Pelini said. "You have to have indisputable evidence to overrule it, and something that is that bang-bang usually ends up going how they ruled it on the field."

Injury updates: Hill and Carter return

Defensive tackle Jordan Hill didn't start but did play a significant number of snaps after spraining his left knee last week at Purdue.

"I told them I was feeling good," said Hill, who found out Friday he would be able to play. "It was day-to-day through the whole week. ... I felt a little sluggish at first. I felt like my first step was a little slow, but once I got going, it felt pretty good."

James Terry started in place of Hill, but he went down with a left leg injury in the third quarter, forcing Hill to play the rest of the game. Hill finished with five tackles, one for a loss.

Tight end Kyle Carter also returned to action after missing last week's game with a left ankle injury. Carter caught one passes for 12 yards, but he suffered a right wrist injury in the third quarter and didn't return.

Safety Malcolm Willis was injured twice, coming back from what appeared to be a shoulder injury before departing with what looked like an ankle injury. Defensive end Sean Stanley also was shaken up in the fourth quarter.

O'Brien had no updates on any of the injured players after the game.

Robinson ties record

Allen Robinson caught six passes for 97 yards and tied the PSU season record with 63 receptions (also held by O.J. McDuffie and Bobby Engram).

"It means a lot, just with the receivers that have come through here, to be up there with those guys," Robinson said. "I don't know those guys [McDuffie and Engram] personally. I've definitely heard of them. So as far as that goes that definitely means a lot.

"At the beginning of the season, before all the sanctions happened and people started leaving, I didn't know what was in my future for this season," Robinson added. "I just wanted to go out there and try to be productive for the team. But once a few players left, I knew my role on the offense would definitely step up."

Zwinak runs over and through Nebraska

Zach Zwinak had his fourth 100-yard rushing game and set another career high with 141 yards. He also ran through a gaping hole for a 50-yard TD run on the game's fourth play from scrimmage.

"It's exciting because, it's you and the end zone, you've got to try and outrun the people," Zwinak said of the long run. "But it's nervous; you don't want to get caught from behind."

Zwinak also committed a costly turnover when he fumbled at the Nebraska 5-yard line.

"Couldn't tell you. I've just got to watch the film," he said when asked what happened. "I just know that was unacceptable that I lost it."

Zwinak clearly has emerged as PSU's top running back, while Bill Belton's time in the spotlight seems to be over. He had only one carry Saturday, losing a yard, after playing just one snap last week.

Big day for kickers

Sam Ficken kicked field goals of 27, 38 and 35 yards, extending his streak to six consecutive makes. His long for the season coming into the game was 34 yards, and he enjoyed a big day despite getting hit in the eye with some debris in the first quarter.

Punter Alex Butterworth also had a big day for PSU, averaging 47.7 yards on three kicks, while Nebraska's Brett Maher drilled a 69-yard punt that pinned the Lions at their 2 late in the game.

News and notes

PSU's game captains were QB Matt McGloin, DE Sean Stanley and snapper Emery Etter. ... Wind was a big factor, especially in the first half, as there were gusts up to 35 mph. ... O'Brien said a sideline interference penalty in the second quarter was not called on secondary coach John Butler. He said the official ran into a player. ... LB Gerald Hodges had 14 tackles for PSU. ... Trevor Williams was deep on kickoff returns for PSU, along with Jesse Della Valle.

(Compiled by Cory Giger)

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