Penn State football finds hope in Will Levis, falls to 0-4

penn state football

What’s worse than going 0-3? Going 0-4. Penn State football picked up right where it left off on Saturday dropping yet another game to continue this frustrating season. Changes were made, but the results were the same.

It was the game for the backup quarterbacks on Saturday as Nebraska’s Luke McCaffrey got his first start of the season over Adrian Martinez. On the other side of the ball, Sean Clifford was benched for Will Levis after three Penn State offensive possessions.

Penn State’s first half struggles

On the opening drive of the game, McCaffrey picked apart the Nittany Lion defense looking like he’s started every game of his career so far. The younger brother of Carolina Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey took the Huskers right down the field completing 4 of 5 passes for 45 yards on top of 24 yards on the ground before capping off the drive on a quarterback sneak from the goal line.

Down 7-0 early, it was time for the offense to go to work… or not. Shortly after getting into Nebraska territory, Clifford delivered a pass intended for Jahan Dotson that was about five yards behind him and right into the hands of cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt who took it back to the Penn State 14-yard line. The defense stiffened up, and the Huskers settled for a short field goal to extend their lead to 10.

Penn State answered with a good drive itself but stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a field goal cutting the lead to 10-3, but the one-possession game didn’t last too long. On the ensuing drive, it only took three plays for Zavier Betts to take a shuffle pass from McCaffrey and weave through the defense for 45 yards to make it a 17-3 Nebraska lead.

Down 14 points early in the second quarter, Clifford got sacked and coughed up the ball. Deontai Williams scooped it up and took it back 26 yards to the house giving Nebraska a three-touchdown lead. Ball security is job security, and with two turnovers in three possessions, Clifford kissed his job goodbye right then and there.

Redshirt sophomore Levis took the snaps for the rest of the game, and he deserves a lot of credit for the job he did. Levis took the offense down to the Huskers’ 8-yard line before Jake Pinegar connected on a field goal for the second time in the afternoon to cut the lead to 18. However, Nebraska put an 11-play drive together right before halftime to salvage three points making the score 27-6 heading into the locker room.

Comeback falls short

On the opening drive of the second half, James Franklin continued his head scratching play calling, opting to attempt a 56-yard field goal on fourth-and-eight. Let’s consider the factors that go into this decision. First off, a 56-yard field goal is hard enough for an NFL kicker, let alone a college kicker. Secondly, it was into the wind leaving Jordan Stout with basically no chance to make it. And lastly, if he did make the kick, the team would still be down three possessions. The decision makes zero sense, but hey, at least Franklin is consistent.

After a Nebraska punt, Penn State took back over and finally found the end zone. Freshman running back Keyvone Lee broke a run for 31 yards for his first college career touchdown and just like that, it was a 14-point game.

The Penn State defense came to play in the second half. After another Huskers’ punt and a 21-yard return from Dotson, the offense took over with great field position. I’ve harped on the questionable play calling all year now, but the most frustrating part about it is when Penn State football gets close to the end zone. With first -and-goal from the 7-yard line, this was the series of plays to follow: Will Levis run for no yards, Keyvone Lee run for no yards and a third down sack where it looked like Levis wasn’t even looking for anyone to throw to and tried to pull it and run from the pressure right away.

I feel like they’re afraid to have Levis throw the ball unless it’s an obvious passing situation. Penn State is better on the ground with him in the game, but you don’t think the other team knows that too? You have to take risks to win games, and the decisions from Franklin and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca were too conservative. Pinegar drilled the 27 yarder to make the score 27-16.

Nebraska answered with a field goal of its own to bump its lead back up to 14. This was the only three points that Penn State allowed the entire second half. The defense hasn’t been great this year, but has shown potential to be a good unit. Maybe one game we’ll see it all come to fruition.

A Pat Freiermuth 74-yard catch and run to set up Penn State with a first and goal from the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Devyn Ford found the end zone and it was a 30-23 Nebraska lead with a little over nine minutes left.

With some momentum now on its side, the Nittany Lion defense capitalized when Brandon Smith intercepted a McCaffrey pass to set up the offense at near midfield. After a collection of short gains, Penn State was just 11 yards away from making it a one-point game. Cue the nail biting. The game was coming down to the red zone offense.

Levis was incomplete on four consecutive throws to turn the ball over back to the Nebraska offense with 3:48 remaining. However, the game wasn’t over yet as the defense forced a Nebraska three-and-out getting the ball back two and a half minutes left at its own 31-yard line. Levis was able to lead the offense down the field and the Nittany Lions were knocking on the door yet again.

It was almost the same situation as the previous offensive drive. This time, Penn State football had a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line. The result was the same. Levis was 0 of 7 from inside the 11-yard line in the final two possessions. Looking at that statistic, this might sound crazy, but I’m going to defend him. He marched the offense down to a good position to score multiple times, but the wide receivers couldn’t get open and the offensive line couldn’t protect him when it mattered most.

Nebraska ran the clock out to get its first win on the season, and Penn State left defeated yet again. Levis put together a solid comeback after being put in the game down by 21 points. He didn’t finish it, but his presence gave the team a spark. Credit to Levis. Expect him to get the start for Penn State football against Iowa this week.

Photo by Dylan Widger | The Daily Nebraskan

Leave A Comment