University Park, Pa. – Pat Smith's 42-yard field on Nebraska's first possession of overtime capped a strong special teams performance for the Huskers and gave the Big Red a 23-20 overtime victory over Penn State at Beaver Stadium.
Smith, who was given a victory ride on the shoulders of his teammates following the game, connected on his third field goal of the game and second in a must-make situation. The overtime kick propelled the Huskers to 8-3 on the season and 5-2 in the Big Ten. Penn State slipped to 6-5 and 3-4 in the conference.
Smith was actually clutch on three occasions in the final five minutes, making his original 37-yard attempt in OT following PSU's icing timeout, but it was wiped off the board by a false start penalty on the Huskers. Five yards made no difference to Smith, who was perfect on three kicks and two PATs on the day to send the Huskers back to Lincoln victorious.
Smith's 19-yard field goal with 4:29 left in regulation tied the game at 20, after it had appeared the Huskers would take a 24-20 lead on Ameer Abdullah's 62-yard touchdown run. However, Sam Burtch was called for a personal foul on a Penn State defender who was chasing Abdullah inside the 15-yard line.
Abdullah was credited with a 50-yard run, and after the 15-yard penalty was stepped off, Nebraska continued the drive at the PSU 27. The Huskers battled their way to the 1 before settling for Smith's 19-yard field goal. On the final play from scrimmage on the drive Ron Kellogg III took a big hit at the PSU 1 and fumbled. Burtch recovered to save the possession and set up Smith's game-tying field goal.
Smith added a 39-yard field goal with 1:11 left in the third quarter to send the Huskers to the fourth quarter with a 17-13 lead.
While Smith was clutch on a cold and windy day in State College, Penn State place-kicker Sam Ficken played an equally huge role in a game that featured big plays, big momentum swings, missed opportunities and missed kicks.
Penn State struck first on quarterback Christian Hackenberg's two-yard pass to Adam Breneman with just 0:33 left in the first quarter. PSU took a 6-0 lead, but Ficken's PAT hit the right upright and bounced out.
That missed extra point loomed large at the end of regulation. In overtime, Nebraska won the toss and chose to defend. The Blackshirts forced a three-and-out, setting up a 37-yard attempt for Ficken. His kicked sailed wide right, setting up Smith's game-winner.
Smith was just one of the huge special teams performers for the Huskers on Saturday. Junior Kenny Bell answered an early third-quarter Penn State touchdown with a 99-yard kickoff return for a score. Bell, who has been nursing an injury throughout the second half of the season, still had the speed to beat the entire pride of Nittany Lions to the end zone, leaping over Ficken's diving tackle at midfield.
Sam Foltz added his best punting performance of his young career. The redshirt freshman from Grand Island, Neb., booted eight punts for an average of 46.0 yards, pinning PSU inside its own 20 on four occasions. While a 25-yard PSU return set up Penn State's first touchdown, the Nittany Lions only had two punt return yards on Foltz's other seven punts.
Wide receiver Brandon Reilly, a redshirt freshman walk-on out of Lincoln Southwest High School, also blocked an Alex Butterworth punt that was recovered by Andy Janovich. The big block by Reilly, who also had two receptions for 19 yards to step up for a Husker wide receiver corps hit hard by injuries, allowed NU to drive inside the PSU 5 before an Ameer Abdullah fumble at the PSU 3 ended the Big Red threat.
Nebraska's huge special teams plays helped the Huskers overcome the fumbles by Abdullah near the Penn State goal line in the second quarter and Kellogg's inside the NU 10 in the third quarter.
Abdullah and Kellogg did plenty to atone for their own miscues as well.
Abdullah notched his 10th 100-yard rushing game of the season and his seventh straight in Big Ten play this season. The junior from Homewood, Ala., rushed 25 times for 147 yards. Abdullah carried the load for NU's 168-yard rushing performance on the day. He added two receptions for 18 yards and returned a kickoff 20 yards to finish with 185 all-purpose yards.
Kellogg, who stepped in for starter Tommy Armstrong Jr., completed 20-of-34 passes for 191 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown strike to Quincy Enunwa to put the Huskers up 7-6 at halftime. The senior wide receiver finished with three catches for 42 yards on the day, while Jordan Westerkamp led the Huskers with five catches for 62 yards. Bell added three receptions for 33 yards.
Kellogg's fumble occurred early in the third quarter, following a 16-yard sack and set the Nittany Lions up on the NU eight. Two plays later, Hackenberg cashed in the miscue with a seven-yard touchdown run to put PSU up 13-7 with 10:37.
That Penn State lead lasted just 15 seconds, as Bell unleashed his 99-yard return. Bell started near the goal line on the extreme left side of the field, and cut the return across the field to the right side - outracing Penn State to paydirt to put the Huskers back up 14-13 with 10:22 left in the third.
After Smith's 39-yard field goal with 1:11 left in the third, which was set up by Ciante Evans' fourth interception of the season, the Huskers took a 17-13 lead to the fourth quarter.
That lead was also short-lived, as Hackenberg atoned for his interception by hitting Jesse James for a 46-yard touchdown catch and run to give the Nittany Lions a 20-17 lead with 14:50 left in the game.
That was the last big play the Blackshirts allowed. Nebraska shut Penn State down on its final five possessions of the game, surrendering just three first downs.
The Blackshirts got outstanding play throughout the day from sophomore David Santos. The linebacker led the Huskers with nine tackles, including Nebraska's only sack of Hackenberg. Sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory added another strong day with eight tackles, including a TFL, while Evans added three stops and a spectacular interception.
Nebraska finished with 360 yards of total offense, while Penn State managed 387, including 217 from Hackenberg through the air and 170 on the ground. Allen Robinson led the PSU receivers with eight catches for 106 yards, while Zach Zwinak was the workhorse for the Nittany Lions on the ground, carrying 35 times for 149 yards.
Thanks in large part to Bell's big return, Nebraska amassed 143 return yards on the afternoon, while Penn State managed just 64.
Nebraska concludes its 2013 regular season with Senior Day at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 29. Kickoff in the annual Heroes Game with Iowa is set for 11 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving with live national television coverage by BTN. The Hawkeyes improved to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten with their 24-21 come-from-behind victory over Michigan Saturday. Iowa trailed 21-7 at the half to the Wolverines.
Final: Nebraska 23, Penn State 20 OT Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (PSU, 6-0) PSU - 0:33 - Adam Breneman 2 pass from Christian Hackenberg (Sam Ficken kick failed) - 8 plays, 40 yards, 3:49, PSU 6-0
Second Quarter (NEB, 7-6) NEB - 13:14 - Quincy Enunwa 27 pas from Ron Kellogg III (Pat Smith kick) - 7 plays, 91 yards, 2:11, NEB 7-6
Third Quarter (NEB, 14-13) PSU - 13:37 - Hackenberg 7 run (Ficken kick) - 2 plays, 8 yards, 0:40, PSU 13-7 NEB - 13:22 - Kenny Bell 99 KOR (Smith kick) - NEB, 14-13 NEB - 1:11 - Smith 39 FG - 9 plays, 30 yards, 3:14, NEB, 17-13