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No. 16 Nebraska roars back again, beats Penn State 32-23

The SportsXchange

LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska's quest to end its conference championship drought isn't coming easily.

Then again, the Huskers never make things easy on themselves.

No. 16 Nebraska produced its fourth double-digit comeback victory in Big Ten Conference play, using a quick start to the second half to rally for a 32-23 win over Penn State on Saturday.

"Happy to get out of here with a win," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "That's a good football team that we played today, and I'm happy to come out of it with a win."

Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) trailed 20-6 at halftime but scored two touchdowns within the first 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter to quickly erase that deficit.

Penn State (6-4, 4-2) briefly regained a 23-20 lead, but Taylor Martinez hit slot receiver Jamal Turner on a slant route for a 5-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal, giving Nebraska a 27-23 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Nebraska tacked on a safety with 5:02 remaining, and Brett Maher kicked a 33-yard field goal with 23 seconds left, helping the Huskers maintain control atop the Big Ten's Legends Division with two games to play. They've won four straight since a 63-38 loss at Ohio State.

"I think we played obviously a lot better in the second half than we did in the first half," Pelini said. "We talked about what we needed to do to get to Indy (for the Big Ten Championship game), and that's four down. We've got two more to go; just have to stay the course."

Beat Minnesota and Iowa, and the Huskers will head to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin. Nebraska hasn't won a conference title since 1999.

Second-half rallies aren't new for Nebraska. The Huskers were coming off a last-second victory at Michigan State, where they rallied from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit. They also trailed by 17 points before beating Wisconsin at home and by 11 points before rallying for a victory at Northwestern.

Zack Zwinak ran 21 times for 141 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run on the game's third play, to pace Penn State, which was aiming to finish undefeated in Big Ten road games.

Both teams had critical red-zone turnovers in the second half. Martinez, who ran 15 times for 104 yards, fumbled into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter with Nebraska still trailing by three.

Penn State, trailing by four, looked to have scored with 7:39 remaining, when quarterback Matt McGloin hit Matt Lehman on a short second-and-goal pass. But Nebraska linebacker David Santos forced a fumble at the goal line, and Daimion Stafford recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

The play stood after a video review, but Penn State players and coaches felt Lehman had broken the plane of the goal line.

"We felt like it was over the goal line," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "They (the referees) did not think they could reverse it though. There wasn't enough evidence to reverse the call."

Nebraska had two turnovers but forced three against a team that leads the Big Ten in turnover margin.

"We talked about it all week and going into the game that this team was very good at the takeaway and the turnover differential," Pelini said. "We needed to win that phase, and we did."

Nebraska went three-and-out, but Maher's 69-yard punt pinned Penn State at its 2-yard line. That set up an intentional grounding penalty when Cameron Meredith forced McGloin to throw out of the end zone for a safety that gave Nebraska control.

Down 20-6 at halftime, Nebraska quickly ignited a Memorial Stadium crowd that had been grumbling.

The Huskers went 75 yards in eight plays, with Martinez hitting Kenny Bell on a 22-yard pass, and then running 21 yards on a designed draw play to highlight the series. Freshman running back Imani Cross scored from the 1-yard line, pulling Nebraska to 20-13.

Three plays into Penn State's ensuing drive, Stafford intercepted McGloin and returned the ball 22 yards to the Penn State 4. That set up another touchdown for Cross, who scored from the 2, tying the score 20-20 with 9:37 remaining in the third quarter.

Penn State responded with a 13-play drive that resulted in Cole Ficken's 35-yard field goal for a 23-20 lead.

"We moved the ball in the second half," O'Brien said. "We had some good drives there we just didn't come away with touchdowns. We either turned it over or kicked field goals."

Nebraska went 14 plays on a drive that lasted until the first play of the fourth quarter when Martinez, running on third-and-goal from the 13, fumbled at the 4. Penn State recovered in the end zone.

NOTES: Ficken's 38-yard field goal in the second quarter was his longest of the season. ... Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah had 66 rushing yards in the first half to surpass 1,000 career yards and finished with 116 rushing yards. ... Zwinak's 50-yard run was Penn State's longest play from scrimmage this season, a career long for Zwinak. ... Nebraska's 15-play drive in the first half was its longest of the season. ... Kyler Reed caught a 56-yard pass and became the fifth tight end in Nebraska history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards.

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