Penn State football notebook: Third-quarter woes perplex PSU
LINCOLN, Neb. — Penn State has been outscored, 56-6, in the third quarter of its four losses and the players are at a loss to explain why the Nittany Lions have been so lackluster after halftime in those defeats.
“We've gone out with the same game plan, same players, so I have no idea,” sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson said.
Penn State's third-quarter struggles reached a new low Saturday at Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers needed less than six minutes to erase a 14-point halftime deficit, and they took advantage of a Matt McGloin interception to tie the score at 20. Nebraska also imposed its will on Penn State on the first possession of the second half, marching 75 yards in eight plays for the touchdown that changed the complexion of the game.
The Cornhuskers were so effective on the drive that they didn't face one third down.
“They seemed like they wanted it,” senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “It just changed momentum, and we never really got it back.”
Nebraska outgained Penn State, 132-68, in the third quarter, and it only had to convert twice on third down.
“The losses that we've had, it's all about the second half,” senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. “We didn't finish the second half in all of those losses.”
“It's the same mood, same intensity,” right guard John Urschel said. “We try to go out and finish games and that's just something we need to go back on Monday and look at and see where things went awry.”
Zach Zwinak strengthened his grip on the starting job at running back by rushing for a career-high 141 yards against Nebraska and averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
The redshirt sophomore has averaged 97.7 rushing yards per game since cracking the rotation at running back in the fourth game of the season.
Ball security has been an issue for Zwinak, who has lost three fumbles in Penn State's last four games.
Zwinak lost a fumble inside Nebraska's 10-yard line, though coach Bill O'Brien said he didn't have a problem with the 6-1, 232-pounder's effort on the play.
“It's unacceptable,” Zwinak said of the fumble. “My team counts on me to hold onto the ball and I didn't do it. I let them down.”
Robinson, barring injury, will establish a Penn State record Saturday against Indiana.
The sophomore has 63 catches, tying him with former All-Americans Bobby Engram and O.J. McDuffie for the most in a season by a Nittany Lions receiver.
McDuffie established the mark in 1992 and Engram equaled it in 1995.
“It means a lot,” Robinson said after tying that mark with six catches for 97 yards at Nebraska, “just with the prestige of the receivers that came through here and to be up with those guys. I don't know those guys personally. I've definitely heard of them.”
Robinson leads the Big Ten in catches (6.3 per game) and receiving yards (78.6 per game).
McGloin needs to throw for 200 yards in one of Penn State's final two games to become Penn State's career leader in that category.
The fifth-year senior has 16 career 200-yard passing games, tied with Zack Mills and Kerry Collins for most in school history.
In Penn State's two Big Ten losses, it has been penalized 17 times for 165 yards. ... Linebackers Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Glenn Carson and Mike Hull combined for 45 of Penn State's 92 tackles against Nebraska. Hodges and Carson had 14 tackles apiece. ... Kicker Sam Ficken has made eight of his last nine field-goal attempts and six in a row dating back to the Ohio State game.
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.