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Penn State’s Comeback Effort Comes Up Short In 30-23 Loss To Nebraska

Penn State football (0-4) wasn’t able to complete its comeback against Nebraska (1-2), losing its fourth straight game 30-23.

The Nittany Lions started out slow once again, as they fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter, and trailed 27-6 at halftime. Penn State struggled on both sides of the ball in the first half and was completely outplayed by Nebraska.

Despite a second-half comeback, James Franklin’s squad came up short and the Nittany Lions fell to 0-4 for the first time since 2001.

How It Happened

Penn State won the opening toss and deferred, giving Nebraska the ball to start the game. Keaton Ellis started the game at cornerback opposite of Joey Porter Jr., as Tariq Castro-Fields wasn’t out there for unknown reasons.

Luke McCaffrey got the start at quarterback for the Cornhuskers and led the team down the field with ease. McCaffrey finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to put Nebraska up 7-0 with 11:25 left in the first quarter.

Penn State’s offense picked up a few first downs on the ensuing drive, but Sean Clifford was then intercepted by Cam Taylor-Britt and it was returned deep into the Nittany Lions’ territory.

Brent Pry’s defense held the Cornhuskers to a field goal thanks to a drop by Nebraska’s Kade Warner in the end zone. Nebraska took a 10-0 lead with 6:14 left in the first quarter.

At the end of the first quarter, Clifford and the offense found themselves threatening in the red zone. Nebraska’s defense held, however, and Jake Pinegar converted on a 33-yard field goal to cut the lead to 10-3 with 14:50 left in the first half.

After a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Brandon Smith, Nebraska easily exposed Penn State’s defense once again. Zavier Betts went untouched for a 45-yard touchdown on a short toss from McCaffrey and the Cornhuskers took a 17-3 lead.

Things got worse for the Nittany Lions on their next offensive drive. Clifford was sacked, he fumbled, and it was recovered by Deontai Williams and returned 26 yards for a touchdown. The Cornhuskers took a 24-3 lead with 11:29 left in the second quarter.

On the next drive, Clifford was benched and Will Levis checked in at quarterback. Caziah Holmes broke off a 36-yard run on fourth down to put the Nittany Lions in Nebraska’s territory.

Following a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on CJ Thorpe, Penn State had to settle for a 40-yard field goal attempt. Pinegar converted, and Penn State cut the lead to 24-6 with 5:48 left in the first half.

A few drives later, Nebraska’s Connor Culp converted on a 25-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Cornhuskers a 27-6 lead at halftime.

Coming out of halftime, Penn State curiously attempted a 56-yard field down three possessions, and it came up way short. Nebraska took over still up by 21 points.

Finally, the Nittany Lions found the end zone on their next drive. True freshman Keyvone Lee broke free for a 31-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 27-13.

Penn State’s defense forced a three and out on the next drive after Ellis Brooks sacked McCaffrey on third down. Jahan Dotson returned the punt to the Nittany Lions’ 48-yard line, setting up the offense with good field position.

Levis led the offense inside the 10-yard line, but the Nittany Lions weren’t able to punch it in. Pinegar made a 27-yard field goal to make it a 27-16 game with 1:01 left in the third quarter.

Nebraska responded with a field goal if its own, stretching its lead to 30-16 with 10:34 left in the game.

On the ensuing drive, Levis escaped a sack and found Pat Freiermuth for a 74-yard gain to put the Nittany Lions deep in Nebraska’s territory. Two plays later, Devyn Ford reached the end zone on a five-yard touchdown run to make it a 30-23 game with 9:20 remaining in the game.

Penn State’s defense made a play on the next drive. McCaffrey was hit as he threw, and Brandon Smith intercepted the pass to give Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense the ball back.

Levis got the offense moving once again, converting a crucial fourth down when he found KeAndre Lambert-Smith for an 11-yard gain. However, later in the drive, the Cornhuskers stopped the Nittany Lions on fourth down deep in Nebraska’s territory. Nebraska got the ball back with 3:37 left in the game.

Penn State’s defense came up huge and forced a three and out to give the Nittany Lions’ offense another chance.

Levis led the offense down the field into the red zone, however, Nebraska forced a 4th down and goal from the 13-yard line. Levis was sacked, the Cornhuskers took over, and the game ended 30-23.


  • Sean Clifford was benched in favor of Will Levis after a poor start to the game. Clifford went 5-8 for 37 yards with an interception and fumble. Levis provided the offense with a spark, as he led the team to 20 points. He wasn’t efficient through the air, but he made plays with his legs and made some timely throws.
  • Penn State finally got the running game going in this one. After totaling just 94 rushing yards last week against Maryland, the team totaled 245 yards and two touchdowns on the ground this week.
  • Another game, another slow start for James Franklin’s squad. Nebraska jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, and led 27-6 at halftime. The Nittany Lions came back in the second half, but they dug themselves a hole that they were ultimately unable to climb out of.

What’s Next

Penn State will return home next Saturday to take on Iowa at Beaver Stadium. The time and channel of the game are currently unknown.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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