Penn State fans thought it was a touchdown. The TV announcers thought it was a touchdown. There were even Nebraska die-hards who thought it was a touchdown. Most who mentioned it on Twitter thought it was a touchdown.
But the only person who mattered -- the Big Ten replay official -- did not think Penn State tight end Matt Lehman scored before fumbling the ball into the end zone in the fourth quarter against the Cornhuskers here Saturday. This despite video evidence to the contrary.
The call, which was ruled a fumble on the field, was upheld on replay.
Nebraska recovered the ball, maintaining a 27-23 lead before going on to win, 32-23 thanks to a PSU safety and late Husker field goal.
The Lions dropped to 6-4 on the season and 4-2 in the Big Ten with the loss, while Nebraska improved to 8-2 and 5-1.
Afterward, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was diplomatic about the blown call.
“We felt like it was over the goal line,” he said of the ball in Lehman’s hands. “(The officials) did not think they could reverse it, though. There wasn’t enough evidence to reverse the call.”
PSU senior quarterback Matt McGloin had a different take.
“We’re not going to get that call here,” he said. “We’re not going to get that call ever, against any team.”
Unfortunately, the lousy call is and probably always will be the prevailing storyline from a game where both teams played with plenty of heart (if not a whole lot of finesse). Here is how things unfolded.
MAN OF THE HOUR: TB Zach Zwinak carried 21 times for 141 yards and a score. He averaged 6.7 yards per attempt. Unfortunately, he also had a key mistake in the game. More on that later.
CLOSE SECOND: WR Allen Robinson caught six passes for 97 yards, including an acrobatic 38-yarder.
CLOSE THIRD: LB Gerald Hodges had 14 tackles, including two in the backfield.
TURNING POINT: Lehman’s turnover -- which came after Penn State countered a Nebraska touchdown with a nine-play, 78-yard drive -- swung momentum in the Cornhuskers’ favor for good.
SOLID STRATEGY: Even though Nebraska trailed 20-6 at the half, the Cornhuskers never stopped running the ball. They had 57 carries for 267 yards in the game. That allowed them to dominate time of possession, 34:19-25:41.
NUMBERS GAME: Though Zwinak had a big day, Penn State only managed four rushing first downs.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: Sam Ficken had his best day as a Lion, making field goals of 27, 38 and 35 yards. In a windy game, he did not miss a kick and kicked off well.
WHAT’S UP WITH?
• The replay official not turning over the Lehman call, which was whistled as a fumble on the field. We get that officials make mistakes. But how much more clear could the video evidence have been?
• Zwinak getting only 21 carries despite averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. If there is a flaw to O’Brien’s offense, it’s that he is reluctant to rely on the run when it is working.
• The key turnovers from the Lions. Say what you will about the Lehman fumble, but he should have held onto the ball. Zwinak had a fumble into the end zone, too. And McGloin threw an interception that gave the Huskers a short-field score.
• The November weather. It was 76 at kickoff.
• Several Penn State players cramping up. The trainers knew it was going to be hot in Lincoln. Zwinak had to leave the field for an IV in the third quarter.
HIDDEN HERO: Penn State punter Alex Butterworth continues to improve. He averaged 47.7 yards on three kicks with one downed inside the 20.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• That TE Kyle Carter was back in action after missing the Purdue game with a foot injury. He had one catch for 12 yards. But he was injured again in the second half, this time leaving the game with a shoulder issue.
• That DT Jordan Hill was back in action after being knocked from the Purdue game with a knee injury. He did not start but saw plenty of action. Hill made five tackles, including one for loss.
• That S Malcolm Willis left the game with what appeared to be cramps. Then he returned. Then he left again with what appeared to be a leg injury.
• Most of the Lions’ wore “Iron Lion” shirts in the pregame warmup. They were near replicas of the one strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald wears. But where Fitzgerald’s say “Dominator” on the back, the players’ shirt said, “Charlie Mike,” which is code for “continue mission.”
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Can the Lions regroup for their final two games, both at home?