Penn State Falls to Nebraska in OT on Senior Day

Story posted November 23, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Phil Constantino

For a while, Senior Day 2013 looked a lot like Senior Day 2012; freezing cold temperatures with scattered snow flurries, a smaller crowd due to Thanksgiving Break, an opponent wearing white and red, overtime -- but this time, Sam Ficken missed.

In the first extra session, Ficken pushed a 37-yard field goal attempt wide right -- one of several special teams lapses that plagued Penn State throughout the afternoon -- while Nebraska’s Pat Smith converted a 42-yarder on the ensuing possession to give the Cornhuskers (8-3, 5-2 Big Ten) a 23-20 win over the Nittany Lions (6-5, 3-4 Big Ten). The loss, in front of an “announced” attendance of 98,517, was Penn State’s second this year at Beaver Stadium.

“Give Nebraska a lot of credit. They played a good game,” Bill O’Brien said. “We didn’t do good enough to win the game.”

The special teams struggles started early on and continued throughout the contest. Penn State got on the board first, with 33 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, as Christian Hackenberg connected with fellow freshman Adam Breneman for a two-yard touchdown.

Hackenberg finished 16 of 33 passing for 217 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

“I just found an open space and Hack threw a good ball,” Breneman said.

However, immediately following the score, after a rather low snap, Ficken missed the extra point off of the right upright resulting in a 6-0 Penn State lead.

The Cornhuskers responded to start the second frame. Ron Kellogg III entered at quarterback to replace Tommy Armstrong Jr., and quickly found Quincy Enunwa across the middle for a 27-yard catch-and-run touchdown to give Nebraska the 7-6 lead. Kellogg finished 20-for-34 passing totaling 191 yards and a touchdown.

To open the second half defensive end C.J. Olanyian forced a sack-fumble and recovered it to give the Nittany Lions possession inside the Cornhuskers 10-yard line. On the ensuing play, Hackenberg rushed in from seven yards for the score. This time Ficken converted the point-after, giving Penn State a 13-7 lead.

However, another Penn State special teams miscue put Nebraska back on top. Kenny Bell returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards, giving the Huskers a 14-13 lead. This marks the second consecutive week that Penn State has allowed a kickoff return touchdown.

Nebraska extended its advantage to 17-14 with 1:11 remaining in the third period as Smith nailed a 39-yard field goal. Smith finished the game a perfect 3-for-3.

On the opening play of the fourth quarter Penn State reclaimed the lead in the back-and-forth affair. Hackenberg found Jesse James in the left flat, as James turned up the sideline and outran defenders on his way to a 42-yard touchdown. After the Ficken extra point the Nittany Lions led 20-17.

With less than five minutes to play, the Cornhuskers had a chance to pull ahead, but freshman Brandon Bell, who finished with six total tackles and a forced fumble, stoned Kellogg at the one-yard line. On fourth down Smith knocked through and 18-yarder to tie the score 20-20.

The missed extra point on the first score later proved costly for Penn State, as the point that could have broken the tie at the end of regulation.

“We just got to continue to try to work on it and fix it,” O’Brien said. “We work hard on special teams and we’ll continue to work hard on special teams this coming week.”

In what was a frustrating afternoon, Bell was one of a few bright spots for the Nittany Lions. Allen Robinson posted another 100-plus yard receiving performance on eight catches moving him past Bobby Engram on Penn State’s all-time career receptions list, with 169.

Zach Zwinak also eclipsed the century mark for the 10th time in his career, totaling 149 yard  on 35 rushes. Zwinak hogged carries as fellow starter Bill Belton missed the afternoon with strep throat. 

On the other hand, several areas of concern, that have hindered Penn State this season, continued to struggle.

The offense was 2-for-14 on third downs and the defense allowed 360 yards of total offense, including a 147-yard performance from Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah.

In the end, the Nittany Lions, fell on the wrong end of a tightly contested affair.

“We’ve been pretty successful in overtime this season,” Hackenberg said “We were confident, sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall your way. We’re going to regroup and get back after it on Monday.”

Penn State, still looking to secure a winning season, now turns its attention to next Saturday, as the Nittany Lions hit the road to take on No. 19 Wisconsin in their final game of the year.

Phil Constantino is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email PhilipBConstantino@gmail.com.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)