To have a chance against No. 13 Ohio State at Beaver Stadium Saturday night, Penn State figured to have to catch a few breaks. Exactly the opposite happened, as the Buckeyes took advantage of some questionable officiating early to grab control.
The calls turned out to be magnified when the two-touchdown underdog Nittany Lions stormed back from a 17-point halftime deficit to force double overtime, where they lost, 31-24.
Walking off the field, an emotional PSU head coach James Franklin beefed to athletic director Sandy Barbour about two bleeping bleeping calls. But in the postgame press conference, he swallowed his tongue to avoid being fined by the Big Ten.
I would love to come in here on a weekly basis and tell you exactly what I think, Franklin said. I tell people the truth. But I'm not able to do that.
The first call went to show -- yet again -- how stunningly awful the Big Ten's instant replay crews are. After PSU (4-3, 1-3) churned out two first downs on the opening possession, QB Christian Hackenberg threw a quick out to WR Matt Zanellato. S Von Bell read it perfectly, and angled in for the apparent interception.
But video replays displayed on the giant screens at Beaver Stadium showed the ball clearly hit the ground, meaning no interception. ABC's announce crew talked as if there was no question the call would be overturned.
Apparently the only person in the jammed stadium who did not see a replay of the ball hitting the ground was the replay official, Tom Fiedler.
The play technically was not thoroughly reviewed due to some technical difficulties with the equipment, referee John O'Neill told a pool reporter after the game. Huh?
Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) seized the short-field opportunity to quickly go 39 yards in seven plays for a TD and 7-0 lead.
Then, early in the second quarter, OSU drove inside the PSU 20. But a series of penalties and then a sack by Penn State DE Deion Barnes gave the Buckeyes fourth-and-25 from the 32.
Sean Nuernberger hit a 49-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead. This time, replays showed the play clock ticking down to zero and being there for a few seconds before the ball was kicked.
Nuernberger had never made a kick longer than 46 yards before Saturday night, so there is no telling if OSU coach Urban Meyer would have allowed him to attempt a 54-yarder.
Fiedler's take on that?
That is not reviewable in terms of when the ball is snapped in relationship to the zeros on the clock, he said. Yeah, but an official on the field ought to be paying attention to the clock, especially on a play where points are clearly at stake.
Asked about the two plays, Franklin said, All that equals 10 points, right?
Ten points that proved more critical than anyone could have imagined.
Here is our review of the big game.
MAN OF THE HOUR: LB Mike Hull spearheaded an outstanding defensive effort that held the Buckeyes scoreless in the second half. He had a career-high 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception.
CLOSE SECOND: DT Anthony Zettel only had two tackles. But he also returned an interception for a TD (more on this later) and had a sack. The pick six was huge.
CLOSE THIRD: WR DaeSean Hamilton had a career-high 14 catches for 126 yards.
TURNING POINT: Zettel's TD, the first by a Lion on an interception since NaVorro Bowman did it in 2009. PSU was down 17-0 at the time, and OSU opened the second half with the ball. Zettel's 40-yard jaunt made it 17-7 and brought a packed Beaver Stadium back to life after everything that had gone wrong in the first half.
SOLID STRATEGY: Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop threw a lot of looks at Buckeye rookie QB J.T. Barrett. As talented as Barrett is, he was sacked three times and picked off twice. He finished with only 74 yards passing.
NUMBERS GAME: Through three quarters, PSU had 89 yards of total offense yet still only trailed 17-7. The Lions finished with 240 total yards.
STEPPING UP: Though he was under constant pressure (five sacks) Hackenberg led the Lions on another amazing fourth-quarter scoring drive. Down 17-14, he took the team from its own 9 to the OSU 14. This with a makeshift line (even more than usual). Speaking of which
BUSINESS AS USUAL: K Sam Ficken nailed his only field goal attempt of the night. The 31-yarder in the fourth quarter effectively sent the game to OT.
NOT SO SPECIAL DELIVERY: Once again, the PSU punting game was horrible. Chris Gulla and Dan Pasquariello combined to average 34.5 yards. Brutal.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
Big Ten officials and instant replay. This really should not be that difficult.
WR Geno Lewis. He was back in the starting lineup, but made only one catch (for 11 yards). On that play, though, he fought for a clutch first down.
Penn State going out of the shotgun on third-and-1 in the second quarter. RB Bill Belton was thrown for a loss on the slow-developing play. Shocking.
DID YOU NOTICE?
LT Donovan Smith was knocked from the game with an unspecified injury on the play where Blacknall scored the fourth-quarter TD. C Angelo Mangiro moved to RT, and RT Andrew Nelson moved to LT. Wendy Laurent took over snapping duties.
Gulla replaced Keiser as the starting holder.
RB Zach Zwinak sustained what appeared to be a serious injury to his left ankle or foot while he was the up man on the opening kickoff. He was taken from the field on a cart.
Despite practicing of late, OG Miles Dieffenbach did not dress for this game. He is coming back from a torn ACL sustained in the spring.
The Penn State players wore pink accessories (gloves, towels and such) in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: How quickly can the Lions recover from their third straight loss, this one as emotional as they come?