Amid the horrifying and tragic turn of events recently at Penn State, it is difficult to focus on football. The Nittany Lions, despite being submerged in turmoil, took the field once again Saturday for their inaugural battle with Nebraska.
Despite a valiant, tough-fought contest, the Huskers bested the Lions 17-14. The game played out much like one would expect it to be considering the teams involved; it was a low-scoring, defensive affair that hinged on a few big plays that determined the outcome.
With that in mind, what can we take away from Penn State's second loss of the season at the hands of the Cornhuskers?
With the powerful media spotlight focused squarely on University Park recently, the PSU football team was put in a tough position. They were faced with the difficult task of overcoming losing their legendary football coach and staying focused on football despite being enveloped in a stunning sex abuse scandal.
Considering this, we must give interim coach Tom Bradley's group credit. They were able to come out as a unified team and compete against a tough Nebraska team. They were persistent, as well, fighting back from a 17-0 third quarter deficit to fight to the very end.
The Big Ten's decision to make the Penn State-Nebraska series an annual affair will prove to be a good one. The teams competed in a typical Big Ten manner; they were stout and unrelenting on defense and were forced to earn everything they could get on offense.
Fans of traditional Big Ten football enjoy this. With the classic, plain uniforms and smash-mouth defense shaping the game, the contest on Saturday was a tribute to the past in a way.
Today's game was the first of what should shape up to be a highly competitive and high-stakes rivalry that will persist for, hopefully, a long time. Both teams field perennial contenders and we have every reason to believe that their annual matchup will be entertaining and live up to its hype.
Granted, Nebraska's defense is a hard one to crack, but Penn State's offense left much to be desired. Other than Stephon Green's rushing touchdown to cap off an 82-yard scoring drive and another 51-yard march that produced another rushing touchdown, the Nittany Lions were virtually silent on offense.
Against a defense as high-caliber as Nebraska, a team needs to take some chances offensively to have success. Although PSU accumulated a lot of yards overall, they failed to generate enough big plays to open up the Husker defense.
The last drive of the game for Penn State epitomized this trend. The Lions' play-calling was head-scratching and failed to give the team a chance to come back.
Despite an impressive freshman campaign, Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez has failed to live up to his billing this season. Although his team prevailed today, he turned in a flat performance overall, completing only fifty percent of his passes for less than 150 yards and accounting for zero touchdowns.
Moreover, Martinez has been grossly underwhelming in other games this season, notably in his team's blowout loss to Wisconsin, in which Martinez threw three interceptions and again completed only half of his passes.
Sure, he has the potential to be a dual-threat quarterback, but overall there is nothing formidable about Taylor Martinez as of late.
Interim PSU coach Tom Bradley inherited a very tough position. He was faced with the impossible task of filling the shoes of one of college football's all-time legends. Bradley can't replace Paterno; what he can do is make the most of the rest of the season and get the best out of his players.
Rather than answering the question of how prepared Bradley is to do these things, Penn State's close loss only made the picture more unclear. A double-digit win over the Huskers would have painted Bradley as the perfect man for the job, while a blowout loss would have demonstrated he is not ready for the task in front of him.
The valiant yet disappointing defeat suffered by the Nittany Lions leaves us in a state of perfect unsureness about Bradley's competency. PSU could use this loss as inspiration and finish its tough schedule on a high note, or this defeat could signal the beginning of a decline. We shall see.