Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 11/13/11

It’s been a long week in State College, PA, with famed Penn State University and its football team embroiled in one of the biggest scandals in modern history. Most everyone agreed that this team and town needed to get to Saturday, get back to football, and for at least for a day get back to normalcy. Well, Saturday the No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions did just that, hosting the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Unfortunately for Nittany Lions fans, what they saw was exactly what they’ve seen in the first nine games of the 2011 season: An outstanding defense, an offense that is slightly above mediocre, and everything else still is a work in progress.

In a game as low-scoring and defensive oriented as most expected, Nebraska jumped out to a 17-0 early second half lead, and survived a late Penn State rally to win 17-14, in front of over 107,000 people in the final home game at Beaver Stadium in the 2011 season.

As we all know by now, football was just a side-note in this one, with the action between the white lines a pleasant distraction in what was otherwise an emotionally draining week. Penn State spent the past seven days dealing with swirling controversy around their program, with allegations of child sexual assault coming down against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

The fall-out from the allegations was swift, and far reaching. Legendary head coach Joe Paterno was fired on Wednesday night after 46 years on the job, with school President Graham Spanier and Athletics Director Tim Curley losing their jobs as well, amidst allegations that they may have knowingly withheld information about Sandusky’s alleged actions from authorities. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley made his debut as interim head coach for the Lions Saturday, under the most cruel of circumstances; the man who has dreamed of a day when he could take over for Joe Paterno got it, upon the controversial removal of the legend late Wednesday night.

But regardless of who had the title of head coach, the same struggles that the Nittany Lions have had all season remained the same Saturday. Most centered on Penn State’s inability to move the ball, as they finished with just 375 yards of total offense, and were at times unwatchable. A late 14 point rally made a one-sided game respectable and entertaining in the closing minutes.

The scoring started late in the first half for Nebraska, who controlled things over the first 40 or so minutes of play. Brett Maher kicked a field goal to open things up, with Ameer Adullah and Rex Burkhead scoring a touchdown each to take a 17-0 lead.

Finally for the Nittany Lions, things turned late in the third quarter. Stephfon Green capped a nine play, 82-yard drive 10 minutes into the third period to cut the lead to 17-7, and when Green scored again late in the fourth, it appeared as though Penn State might find a way to come back and get the victory. But despite two defensive stops giving them two more chances, the Nittany Lions converted neither. The final series ended with quarterback Matt McGloin throwing three incompletions in his final four passes to seal the loss.

With the defeat, an already murky Big Ten Championship Game picture has now become that much cloudier. Entering Saturday, the Nittany Lions were the only undefeated team in league play, and still control their own destiny in their division. They hold a one game lead over Wisconsin and a two-game lead over Ohio State, the two teams they’ll close their season out with over the next two weeks. If the Nittany Lions win each, they’ll head to Indianapolis, and even if they lose in Columbus next weekend, a win in Camp Randall two Saturday’s from now would be enough to clinch the berth.

On the other side of the division, the Cornhuskers kept pace with Michigan at 4-2 in Big Ten play, with Michigan State ahead of them, holding control at 5-1 in the “Leaders” Division. However, if the Spartans get tripped up from here on out and Nebraska wins their remaining games, it would be they who represented the “Leaders” in the Big Ten title game. The Cornhuskers hold the tie-break over Michigan State after beating them earlier this season.

But as we previously mentioned, Saturday really was about everything but football for a community that needed a distraction from some of the most heinous allegations ever levied against not only a football program, but also a university and community as well.

As has been reported at length this week, Penn State’s highest-level administrators have been accused of covering up alleged sexual allegations against Sandusky, a man who worked at the university for over 30 years and retired in 1999. According to a Grand Jury report released earlier this week, Paterno is said to have known about these allegations since as early as 2002. He reported them to his superiors at Penn State (the Athletics Director and President) although none actually went to authorities, and no legal action was taken against Sandusky until this past week. The coach who reported the alleged crimes to Paterno back in 2002- Mike McQueary – is still with the school, but was kept away from Beaver Stadium on Saturday because of threats to his safety. McQueary is currently a receivers coach on the team, although his future with the program (like so many things) remains uncertain.

Now, Penn State and the community as a whole must watch and wait. The situation with Sandusky is out of their hands, and now in that of the courts.

What is in their hands though is the race toward a Big Ten Championship and berth in the Rose Bowl. How the Nittany Lions respond on the field will be curious to see going forward.

Follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.


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