LINCOLN — The first half of Saturday’s game against Penn State didn’t go well for the Nebraska defense.
The Blackshirts gave up 255 yards of total offense and 20 points in the first two quarters of play at Memorial Stadium.
But halftime arrived, and not a minute too soon.
The Huskers turned things around in the second half, holding Penn State to just 136 second-half yards and three points in a 32-23 victory.
“The guys really hung in there and played well on defense in the second half,” Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph said. “The first half kind of got away from us a little bit. There was probably a lot more tempo than we expected. We had some trouble getting lined up and assignments got kind of flip flopped.
“The second half, we really came out, settled in and were able to defend some stuff with the tight end routes, so it was a good finish for us.”
The Blackshirts see the hurry-up offense a lot in practice while going against the Nebraska offense, but they had trouble against the Nittany Lions when they picked up the pace early.
They had trouble getting the defensive call on the field in time. Head coach Bo Pelini took responsibility for that, particularly a 10-yard scoring pass from quarterback Matt McGloin to Jesse James.
“Me personally, I put our guys in a bad situation a couple of times because I didn’t get them the call quick enough or...I didn’t realize they were going up on the ball quick enough,” Pelini said. “We didn’t handle the tempo quick good enough in a few aspects in that quarter.
“Like the one time when they threw the ball in the flat for a touchdown, I saw what they were going to come out in and I made a bad call and that put our guys in a bad situation. I take responsibility for a couple of those.”
Senior defensive lineman Cameron Meredith, who pressured McGloin into an intentional grounding penalty that resulted in a safety in the fourth quarter, said the pace of the Penn State offense definitely caused some problems.
“They started running a lot of hurry up and we were really flustered by it because we were trying to get a call,” Meredith said. “At times we were still standing up when the ball was hiked. Especially on that third-and-1 which was the quarterback sneak. We knew he was going to do it but we were still waiting for the call.
“You never know what JP (defensive coordinator John Papuchis) wants to do. So the coaches put that on them, which I appreciate. They fessed up to it, which was nice, and we have to be faster too on our part though. If we see them on hurry up we have to go to our adjustments.”
Part of the problem for the Husker defense was that the Nittany Lions did some things early they had never shown this season, like on Zach Zwinak’s 50-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. All year, when Penn State went with receivers spread out wide, it was always a screen or a draw.
“We were kind of cheating based on what they had done,” Papuchis said. “They spread you out to run draw and screen. They spread us out to run basically a dive play and it happened too fast for our guys.”
The Husker coaches simplified things at halftime. The Blackshirts forced Penn State to a three-and-out to open the second half, and the Husker offense went 75 yards in eight plays with Imani Cross scoring from a yard out to cut to pull NU to within a touchdown.
Penn State did put together a 65-yard drive on its next possession that ended with a 35-yard field goal by Sam Ficken, but those were the final points of the game for the Nittany Lions.
The Blackshirts also came up with three turnovers in the game. The offense turned Daimion Stafford’s interception that he returned inside the 5-yard-line into the game-tying touchdown. Zwinak also had a fumble in the second quarter that was recovered by linebacker Will Compton.
The big one was a fumble at the goal line that was recovered by Stafford in the end zone for a touchback.
“Turnovers are everything,” Meredith said. “Offensively, you don’t want them because it kills games and defensively if you create them then it’s a game changer. We had a pick and two fumbles. It just changed the momentum of the game for either side.”