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Nebraska holds on to beat PSU, 30-23, dropping Lions to 0-4

Graphic by Penn State Athletics

Penn State’s miserable start to this season continued in the first half Saturday as it fell behind big against Nebraska.

The Nittany Lions fought back in the second half and had two opportunities from inside the red zone down by seven points, but they could not convert. The Huskers’ defense held on for a 30-23 win in Lincoln, Neb.

Starting quarterback Sean Clifford was pulled in the first half after throwing a bad interception and fumbling on a play that turned into a Nebraska touchdown. The Huskers used Clifford’s turnovers and some strong play from freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey to build a 27-6 lead at the half.

Will Levis came off the bench to lead PSU back, and its defense played much better in the second half, allowing only three points.

The Lions dominated statistically in the second half and had two drives late for a chance to tie.

Levis drove the Lions to a first-and-goal at the 9 with a minute left to play. He misfired on passes on first and second down, then was sacked on third down.

The Lions’ final shot came on fourth down from the 13, but Levis faced heavy pressure and could only get off an errant throw that was incomplete.

Penn State dropped to 0-4 for the first time since 2001. And it allowed at least 30 points for the fifth consecutive game, the first time that’s happened in program history.

Levis finished 14-of-31 for 219 yards, and he ran for 61 yards on 14 carries.

Penn State got its running game going with 245 rushing yards, Devyn Ford leading the way with 66 yards on 16 carries.

McCaffrey completed 13-of-21 passes for 152 yards, one TD and one INT for the Huskers. He also led the team with 67 yards rushing on 13 carries.

Update: 2:56 p.m.

Nebraska 30, Penn State 23: Will Levis rolled away from pressure and fired a pass to Pat Freiermuth for a 74-yard gain to the 1. Devyn Ford scored from 5 yards out two plays later with 9:20 to go.

Update: 2:50 p.m.

Nebraska 30, Penn State 16: The Huskers, feeling some pressure, put together a good drive and ate up 5:27 of clock in moving down the field. They got inside the 10 before PSU’s defense held, and Culp kicked a 30-yard field goal with 10:34 to go.

Update: 2:35 p.m.

Nebraska 27, Penn State 16: Will Levis’ running moved PSU inside the Nebraska 10. But after getting to first-and-goal at the 7, the playcalling got conservative, and the Lions were stopped. Jake Pinegar kicked his third field goal, from 27 yards.

Nebraska 27, Penn State 13: Keyvone Lee scored on the easiest of 31-yard TD runs you’ll ever see. It came against a blitz, and once Lee went to the right and avoided pressure in the middle, the seas parted for him to the end zone.

Update: 1:36 p.m.

Nebraska 27, Penn State 6: The Huskers took over in plus territory inside of two minutes and drove inside the 10 but ran out of time and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Connor Culp.

Update: 1:22 p.m.

Nebraska 24, Penn State 6: Will Levis’ first drive produced points as he led the Lions down the field. PSU converted two fourth downs before stalling inside the 10 and getting a 40-yard field goal from Jake Pinegar.

Don’t like: The Lions were about to face fourth-and-goal from the 7, and the guess here is James Franklin would have gone for it down 24-3. But CJ Thorpe was called for unsportsmanlike conduct as he taunted a D-lineman after pancake blocking him. Thorpe losing his cool cost the Lions a chance to even try for a touchdown as it pushed them back 15 yards, and they had to settle for a field goal.

Update: 1:04 p.m.

Nebraska 24, Penn State 3: Sean Clifford was sacked and fumbled, with Deontai Williams scooping and scoring from 26 yards. Clifford was pulled after this.

Update: 12:53 p.m.

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Nebraska 17, Penn State 3: Zavier Betts took a jet sweep and raced 45 yards untouched to the end zone.

Update: 12:45 p.m.

Nebraska 10, Penn State 3: Clifford and the offense got things going on the second drive, moving down the field and gaining some confidence. Clifford threw it well, and Devyn Ford had some key gains to get into the red zone. But on third-and-11 from the 11, Clifford didn’t see TE Brenton Strange wide open in the end zone and then had to throw it away under pressure. Jake Pinegar kicked a 33-yard FG with 14:50 left in the half.

Update: 12:39 p.m.

My Like and Don’t Like from the first quarter:

Don’t like: Penn State’s defense was terrible on the opening drive. Lions not only allowed a big 25-yard pass play, then they let McCaffrey break free around the left edge for 12 yards to convert a key third-and-10 from the 45. A stop there could have given PSU some much-needed confidence and momentum, but instead the Lions found themselves trailing just a couple minutes later.

Like: Luke McCaffrey could have taken off and run during Nebraska’s first series, but instead he stayed focused downfield and hit Austin Allen for a big 25-yard gain. That was very impressive by McCaffrey.

Like: On that third-down run, McCaffrey started up the middle and then raced out to the left to find open running room. That was a very impressive decision by the freshman QB.

Hate: Sean Clifford made an absolutely horrendous throw for an INT on PSU’s first series. He tried to hit Jahan Dotson on an out to the right and threw the ball inside for an easy pick by Taylor Britt, who returned it 55 yards to the PSU 15.

Like: PSU’s defense got a stop, or at least that’s how it shows up in the box score, as Nebraska stalled after getting first-and-goal at the 5. Actually, Nebraska gifted the Lions a big break when Kade Warner dropped a pass in the end zone on third down.

Don’t like: Warner was wide open on the play, as PSU’s defense fell asleep and got burnt. The Lions just got lucky he dropped the ball.

Like: Devyn Ford ran the ball well on PSU’s second series, including picking up a key third-and-4 to keep the chains moving.

Nebraska 10, Penn State 0: Sean Clifford threw a bad INT on PSU’s first series, and Taylor Britt returned it 55 yards to the Lions’ 15. Penn State got a break when Nebraska dropped a TD on third-and-goal from the 5, forcing a 22-yard field goal from Connor Culp.

Nebraska 7, Penn State 0: The Huskers moved right down the field on the opening series, getting some big plays from freshman QB Luke McCaffrey. He hit a 25-yard pass, then converted a third-and-10 with a 12-yard run. McCaffrey finished off the drive with a 1-yard TD run.

Update: Noon

**Welcome to … my living room, where I’ll be watching today’s PSU game at Nebraska and providing instant updates. Only two reporters and one photographer from PA made the trip out to Nebraska, so everyone else will be providing coverage from home off TV.

Which is just the way things are gonna be in a lot of situations for sports media moving forward. It’s getting harder and harder to justify the expense of travel with media outlets struggling, so journalists have and will continue to become more and more efficient and effective at covering games from home instead.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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