#PSUvsNEB: FOS Game Breakdown

The good, the bad and the ugly from Penn State's not-so-special overtime loss to Nebraska at Beaver Stadium.

It is never fair to plop the entire blame for a loss on one area of a football team. But in Penn State's 23-20 overtime defeat to Nebraska at Beaver Stadium Saturday, the Nittany Lions' bumbling special teams deserved the vast amount of the … uh … discredit.

Let's see, coach Bill O'Brien's not-so-special troops…

• Fumbled a punt (that PSU recovered).

• Missed an early extra point that -- as the old gridiron cliché goes -- came back to haunt 'em in a big way.

• Had a punt blocked in the second quarter that nearly led to a short-field score for Nebraska. Luckily for the Lions, the defense eventually mitigated that gaffe by forcing a big turnover.

• Allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown for the second straight week (this one by Kenny Bell).

• Fumbled on a kickoff return (but recovered).

• Missed a 37-yard field goal attempt in OT that allowed the Huskers to win with a three-pointer of their own.

We'll name names later.

It stood in stark contrast to Nebraska's special teams, which were very special. Besides blocking the punt and returning the kickoff for a score, the Cornhuskers got efforts from punter Sam Foltz (46-yard average on eight tries), place-kicker Pat Smith (three of three on field goals, including the 42-yard OT game-winner) and kickoff specialist Mauro Bondi (60.5-yard average, three touchbacks) that were -- given the nasty weather -- spectacular.

Afterward, O'Brien gave his usual postgame non-answers when asked about something that went wrong -- this time the special teams. The Lions have good kids who play hard. The coaching staff has to do a better job. That sort of thing.

But what else was he supposed to say? If he were being honest, he'd have to admit what the 98,517 hearty souls who braved freezing temperatures and brutal wind already knew -- that lousy special teams play cost Penn State the game.

Here is how we saw things as PSU fell to 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten, and Nebraska improved to 8-3 and 5-2.

MAN OF THE HOUR: Senior S Malcolm Willis played one of his best games in his last Beaver Stadium appearance. He had nine tackles and forced a fumble when the Cornhuskers appeared to be going in for a score after the aforementioned blocked punt.

CLOSE SECOND: RB Zach Zwinak carried 35 times for 149 yards. No fumbles. Here, here.

CLOSE THIRD: DE C.J. Olanyian had five tackles. On one play, he had a sack, forced fumble and recovered said fumble. It led to a short-field score for the Lions.

TURNING POINT: Late in regulation, Penn State had Nebraska facing third-and-14 from its own 1-yard. A stop and the Lions likely get the ball back in great field position. But QB Ron Kellogg III threw a deep sideline pass for Quincy Enunway and CB Jordan Lucas was flagged for what appeared to be a questionable pass interference penalty. It was the Huskers' only first down via penalty in the game. The breathing room allowed them to essentially run out the clock (PSU had one snap deep in its down territory at the end of regulation) and force OT.

SOLID STRATEGY: Nebraska could not move the ball early in the game. So Bo Pelini replaced starting QB Tommy Armstrong with Kellogg. Kellogg went 20 for 34 for 191 yards and a score. More importantly, his only mistake was fumbling, and that was on a great play by Olanyian.

NUMBERS GAME: Penn State's special teams accounted for two points, both coming on Sam Ficken PATs (after he missed his first attempt). Nebraska's special teams accounted for 17 points. There's your ball game.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: WR Allen Robinson once again caught as many passes (eight) as the rest of the team. He had 108 receiving yards.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: If there was one bright spot on special teams for PSU, it was Jesse Della Valle returning a punt 25 yards.


• The terrible special teams play. Yes, you can chalk some of that up to a lot of run-ons on the coverage teams. But that doesn't explain a veteran, scholarship punter like Alex Butterworth simply bobbling a snap that led to a block, or a veteran, scholarship K like Ficken missing the extra point and OT field goal attempt.

• The refs struggling late in the game. A phantom personal foul call on the Huskers wiped out a touchdown by RB Ameer Abdullah and then the PI call on Lucas was very dicey.

• Senior WR Brandon Felder continuing to have trouble holding on to the ball. He had another drop in the second quarter and was scarcely seen the rest of the game.

• Robinson and usually sure-handed TE Kyle Carter both dropping catchable passes. Is what Felder has contagious?

• Robinson struggling to find the end zone. As outstanding as he is, he has not caught a TD pass in four straight games and has one TD reception in the last six games. Maybe he does have some things to work on before heading to the next level. In Robinson's defense, rookie QB Christian Hackenberg overthrew him by a mile when he was open on one bomb.

• O'Brien basically giving up on the run in the second quarter. RB Zach Zwinak had 12 carries for 64 yards in the first quarter. He had two carries for four yards in the second. We know Zwinak finished with 35 carries. But even with Bill Belton sidelined (more on this later), should Akeel Lynch have gotten some more work running the pig in the second quarter?

• Steady cam man walking around in the middle of Penn State's Senior Day ceremony before the game. Do we really need a cameraman three inches from O'Brien when he's hugging his players at the opening of the tunnel?

HIT SQUAD: True freshman LB Brandon Bell had some serious pops, including a forced fumble on Kellogg with less than five minutes to go in the game.

HIDDEN HEROES: Penn State's offensive line played another strong game. Hackenberg had all day to throw and was only sacked once. Penn State carried 44 times and only had five negative rushing yards.

UNSUNG HEROES: Anyone who braved the weather to see this game in person. We can't imagine what it must have been like in the upper decks.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: TE Jesse James showed good power in fending off a would-be tackler and then great footwork in staying in-bounds on a 56-yard catch and run for a score.


• That redshirt junior WR Alex Kenney was not introduced as one of the guys playing his last game at Beaver Stadium, even though he had been listed among the players scheduled to be honored. O'Brien would not say why, but did say that Kenney will run track for Penn State during the spring semester. Oh, and Kenney is a good kid, too.

• That Belton did not play. He was out due to strep throat and some sort of shoulder injury.

• That KR/DB Von Walker was in street clothes, apparently due to an injury.

UNANSWERED QUESTION: Does a Penn State team that has struggled on the road all season have any shot at Wisconsin next week?

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