If Husker fans were looking for a reason Nebraska (4-7, 3-5) could stay in a game as four-score underdogs on the road against No. 10 Penn State (9-2, 6-2), the answer was the Nittany Lions’ special teams. Beyond that, it looked like you thought it would look as Penn State rolled to a 56-44 win.
Penn State struck quickly thank to Heisman-candidate Saquon Barkley. The running back took his first carry, on the third play of the game, 65 yards for a touchdown, shaking off safety Kieron Williams – the only Husker with a chance to tackle him – in the process.
The Nittany Lions forced a three-and-out on Nebraska’s first possession, but Caleb Lightbourn’s punt bounced off one of Penn State’s players. The fumble, the first one Nebraska has recovered in Big Ten play, set the Huskers up at Penn State’s 34-yard line and resulted in a 27-yard Drew Brown field goal. A shanked punt and a three-play, 36-yard drive later, finished off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Devin Ozigbo, and Nebraska led 10-7.
That was as close as things would get, however. Penn State scored touchdowns on its next five first-half drives, averaging 9.8 yards per play, to build a 42-10 halftime lead. It was the second time this season the Huskers’ defense allowed 42 points in a half (Oregon), and third time giving up 35 or more (Ohio State).
Penn State held a 439-77 edge in total yards and 23-4 edge in first downs after the first half.
The second half was marginally better. Nebraska received and opened the final 30 minutes with a three-and-out, its seventh in nine drives, but the Huskers' defense forced one of its own. The Huskers’ 10th possession, an eight-play, 90-yard drive, eclipsed the first-half yardage total, and was capped off by one of the Huskers’ lone highlights, a slick 24-yard touchdown run by running back Mikale Wilbon.
Three plays and a punt later, the Huskers covered 79 yards in four plays highlighted by a 51-yard pass to Stanley Morgan Jr. and a 22-yard touchdown strike to De’Mornay Pierson-El to make it 42-24.
Penn State opened fourth-quarter scoring with a strike between two defenders from quarterback Trace McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki. The touchdown catch was Gesicki’s second of the game.
Nebraska added three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the first on a one-handed grab by Morgan, the last on a pass to tight end Jack Stoll as time expired to make the final margin 56-44.
Morgan eclipsed 100 yards for the fifth time this season, finishing with seven receptions for 185 yards to push his season total to 912 yards. Redshirt freshman wide receiver JD Spielman had six receptions for 96 yards to bring his season total to 830 yards.
The loss eliminated Nebraska from bowl contention. It is the sixth time the Huskers haven't been bowl eligible since 1961.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.