Penn State appeared to be headed for its fourth straight Big Ten road win Saturday before a series of big plays by Nebraska early in the third quarter and a momentum-changing goal-line call in the fourth quarter sent the Nittany Lions to just their second loss in eight games. We grade every position on another Tale-of-Two-Halves afternoon for Bill O'Brien's team.
Matt McGloin completed fewer than half his pass attempts for the first time this season.
QUARTERBACKS - C
Matt McGloin had a solid first half that included a nice throw to favorite target Allen Robinson and a touchdown strike to Jesse James, but his second half was a much different story. McGloin threw into coverage, including the interception that set up Nebraska's game-tying touchdown early in the third quarter, was whistled for intentional grounding in the end zone, threw several balls off his back foot and could not generate any sort of last-ditch drive when Penn State still had a chance to win the game. It was easily his worst half of an otherwise outstanding season.
RUNNING BACKS - B+
Zach Zwinak lost another fumble but was otherwise productive when called upon, running for 141 yards and a touchdown and creating many of them on his own. Michael Zordich was merely OK and Bill Belton mostly a non-factor for the Nittany Lions, who were not able to create much room for any of their backs to operate.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS - B
As always, there were highlights for this group -- Robinson had six catches for 97 yards, Alex Kenney made an appearance for the first time in several weeks -- but the wideouts and tight ends could not get separation and provide McGloin with targets when they needed him in the second half. Matt Lehman did score a touchdown before losing the football but if he had held onto the ball, the officials wouldn't have had a chance to take it away from him.
OFFENSIVE LINE - C
Penn State put up more than 250 yards in the first half, and generated 20 points, but the running game was inconsistent all afternoon and McGloin was heavily pressured. There were missed assignments and holding penalties from this group against a good but not great Nebraska front seven. The line looked particularly gassed in the second half despite not spending much of it on the field.
DEFENSIVE LINE - B-
The line, led by freshman Deion Barnes, did a solid job early on of bottling up Nebraska's running game and containing Taylor Martinez, but had trouble doing both and getting off the field in the second half. Nebraska finished with two 100-yard rushers. Jordan Hill played well despite not being at 100 percent and the Nittany Lions probably had to use more of him than they wanted when James Terry was injured.
LINEBACKERS - B+
Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Glenn Carson and Mike Hull made plays when they had chances to make them but the defensive line had trouble keeping blockers away from them, and the running ability of Martinez gave them some trouble early in the game.
SECONDARY - C-
Cornerbacks Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris played their usual physical games but safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Malcolm Willis and Jacob Fagnano could not keep pace. The Nittany Lions allowed Nebraska to convert 50 percent of its third downs, many of them third-and-longs. Penn State surrendered just 12 completions on the day but five of them went for 15 yards or more.
SPECIAL TEAMS - B+
Penn State didn't make any big plays in the return game but didn't give up any big returns, either. Specialists Sam Ficken (3-of-3 on field goals) and Alex Butterworth (47.7 yards per punt) turned in solid performances and Mike Hull was johnny-on-the-spot on a muffed Nebraska punt.
COACHING - C
Bill O'Brien and his staff had a good game plan ready for one of the Big Ten's top teams and helped their squad execute it well in the first half. But although the coaches can't be blamed for a bad turnover by the quarterback and a bevy of bad calls from the officials, a lack of second-half adjustments cost the Nittany Lions in a loss for the fourth time this season.