Controversial fumble adds to Penn State's tough loss


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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Cornerback Stephon Morris had plenty of reasons for what went wrong, and he convincingly listed many of them. He mentioned third-down defense troubles in the second half, problems stopping Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and a tendency to go for the risky big play. It wasn't just one thing, one play, one call, in his mind.

"You can't leave the game in the referee's hands," Morris said, "and we all know that. ... They're not perfect. Nobody's perfect. That's just on us."

But undoubtedly in the minds of many Penn State fans, and at least one notable player, one play from a 32-23 Big Ten Conference loss Saturday at Memorial Stadium will resonate. That play.

The replays have been shown multiple times. Even quarterback Matt McGloin tweeted a link to it about an hour after the game.

With 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, McGloin completed a 2-yard pass to tight end Matt Lehman. Lehman stretched for the end zone and fumbled the ball. Nebraska recovered it. Replays illustrated that Lehman might have stretched the ball across the plane before the fumble, but the replay official maintained the call as a turnover. Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) held onto its 27-23 lead.

"We're not going to get that call here," McGloin said. "We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. We'll never get that call."

He continued, after being asked about a Penn State against the world mentality: "That's the mentality we have. You guys know that. We've said it before in interviews. It's us against the world and we're not going to get those calls in these types of games."

McGloin has been known throughout his career to make bold statements and snap decisions. As his roommate, center Matt Stankiewitch said, "Matt has a lot of pride and a lot of emotion. Of course he's going to side for Penn State."

Other players said they didn't think the referees had it in for them.

It's a message coach Bill O'Brien has tried to preach since the beginning of this season. At Penn State's media day in August, asked if Penn State would have an "us against the world approach," he said his team would play tough, like any team, and that it would strive to play smart football rather than keep a dour attitude. He stuck to that message Saturday.

"We don't feel like anybody's out to get us," O'Brien said. "We're just trying to figure out how to score points, how to stop people, how to play good on special teams. And we need the fans of Penn State to stick with us."

Like Morris, O'Brien pointed out there really was more to say about this game. Penn State (6-4, 4-2) led, 20-6, at halftime. It has led in three of its losses at halftime and was tied at halftime in its loss to Ohio State.

Third quarters especially have been troubling. The Nittany Lions have been outscored, 80-55, in the third this season. Nebraska, facing the difficult wind, beat Penn State, 14-3, in the third.

Too many mistakes were made with the second-half collapse, allowing Nebraska 267 rushing yards and the three red zone turnovers, and the problems turned into a loss, the fourth of a season that largely has been enjoyable for all involved.

O'Brien and multiple players talked about the final two games of this season. They were excited for what remained and hopeful for large crowds at home. But some pain and frustration cropped up clearly in their voices. Regardless of the exact reasons for the loss, they wouldn't have an easy time accepting what happened.

"Losing's a terrible feeling," O'Brien said. "It's miserable, absolutely miserable. So it's like a part of you dies, to be honest with you."

NOTES -- Tight end Kyle Carter left the game favoring his wrist in the third quarter. O'Brien said he didn't know the extent of the injury. Carter missed last week with an ankle injury. ... Running back Zach Zwinak finished with 141 rushing yards. He left briefly in the third quarter with cramps but returned after getting an IV.

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, Twitter: @mdent05. First Published November 11, 2012 5:00 AM


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