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Football: Nebraska's running game too much for Penn State in 18-10 victory

Sunday, September 14, 2003

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Penn State football teams under coach Joe Paterno are usually well-versed in running the football and stopping the run. But this year’s team is deficient in both areas, and that was the main reason No. 18 Nebraska earned an 18-10 victory last night before 78,008 at Memorial Stadium.

Using their superior size and strength, the Cornhuskers (3-0) manhandled the Lions up front and avenged last season’s 40-7 rout at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State (1-2) will carry take a two-game losing streak into this week’s home game against Kent State.

 
 
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Nebraska rushed for 337 yards on 72 carries and had the ball twice as long as Penn State one week after Boston College ran for 259 yards. Josh Davis rushed for 179 yards on 32 carries. Quarterback Jammal Lord rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries.

They are the third and fourth players to rush for more than 100 yards on the Penn State defense in the first three games.

Penn State has allowed 737 yards rushing in the first three games.

On the other side of the equation, the Penn State rushing offense fared even worse. The Lions managed just 44 yards rushing on 21 attempts. In the past two games, they have gained 218 yards on the ground as a team. They have yet to have a 100-yard rusher in a game.

“Their kids ran really hard, and their offensive line did a good job of staying on blocks,” Paterno said. “It’s tough when the kids are that determined and running that hard and doing a good job. Obviously, they’ve got a couple of good backs. I thought we played pretty tough, I really did. We never really had good field position offensively, and we couldn’t sustain anything offensively.”

The game turned on the opening series of the second half. Trailing, 10-9, the Cornhuskers rammed the ball right down Penn State’s throat. They ran the ball 16 consecutive times and took more than eight minutes off the clock before Lord capped the 80-yard drive with a 3-yard run.

It was the first time in five trips inside the Penn State 30 that Nebraska scored a touchdown. In their previous four trips, the Cornhuskers came away with three field goals and threw an interception.

“It was something we discussed in the locker room at halftime, how we needed to go out and finish drives,” Davis said. “We went out there and took control of the game.”

Davis carried the ball 10 times on the drive for 49 yards, at one point carrying seven consecutive plays as the Penn State rush defense was helpless to stem the tide. The big play in the drive came early on. Lord scrambled 14 yards for a first down on third-and-9, a play that got the Cornhuskers to their own 45. After that, it was all Davis until they got in close.

“Looking back, at the beginning of the second half, we gave up that third-and-long,” linebacker Gino Capone said. “That was huge. Then every time it was first-and-10, it seemed like we were giving up 5 yards. That was draining.”

Penn State stopped the two-point conversion try, and it was 15-10.

The Lions were forced to punt after five plays when Tony Johnson dropped a ball that would have resulted in a first down near midfield. It was one of two drops in the game for Johnson.

“I didn’t play a very good game today,” Johnson said.

Nebraska took over again and took seven minutes off the clock on a 13-play drive, but Scott Paxson blocked a 34-yard field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter to keep the Lions in the game.

Penn State had one last opportunity to take the lead. The Lions were driving near midfield when, on a first-and-10 play, quarterback Zack Mills fumbled the snap from center. Nebraska linebacker Barrett Rudd recovered. Mills was trying to go on a quick count and pitch the ball, but he never got the snap from David Costlow.

From there, Nebraska padded its lead, driving to the Penn State 15 before David Dyches booted a 32-yard field goal for an 18-10 lead with 3:53 to go.

Penn State drove to the Nebraska 44 on its final drive, but Mills’ pass attempt on fourth-and-15 fell incomplete as the Lions tried to go for the hook-and-lateral play to surprise the Cornhuskers, who had the play well-defensed, even if it had been completed.

Penn State made several changes to its starting lineup on offense and defense for the game after last week’s 27-14 loss to Boston College. Tackle Chris McKelvy, guard Tyler Reed and receiver Ernie Terrell made their first starts for the offense. Defensive end Matt Rice, tackle Jason Robinson and safety Andrew Guman made their first starts on defense.

Nebraska controlled the first half statistically, but Penn State took a 10-9 lead into halftime, courtesy of a Robbie Gould 47-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter.

Nebraska had 184 yards offense compared to Penn State’s 105. But the Cornhuskers’ season-long problems converting field position into touchdowns continued. They were inside the Penn State 30-yard line four times and came away with three field goals in the first half.

The Cornhuskers were inside the Penn State 20 three times and came away with two field goals. The other time, Lord threw an interception.

Nebraska took an early 3-0 lead on a Dyches 36-yard field goal less than six minutes into the game. Dyches made it 6-0 early in the second quarter with a 35-yarder.

A short time later, after Penn State was forced to punt, Lord was stripped of the ball by defensive tackle Ed Johnson and defensive end Lavon Chisley recovered at the Nebraska 29.

After a 16-yard catch by Tony Johnson set the Lions up at the 13, running back Ricky Upton scampered 13 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 Penn State lead with 10:28 left in the second quarter.

Dyches converted his third field-goal try, a 41-yarder, with 2:23 remaining in the half, but Penn State maneuvered down field in its two-minute offense. Tight end Matt Kranchick and Johnson had big catches on the drive, and Sean McHugh caught a 7-yard pass on third down to set the Lions up at the 30 for Gould’s attempt.

Penn State’s passing game kept it in the game in the first half. Mills was 9 for 13 for 88 yards. The running game was going nowhere. Four runners had 17 yards on 15 carries at the break.


Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.

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