STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nebraska’s 23-20 overtime victory at Penn State on Saturday was earned on the defensive side of the field, and it turned on two key series: Penn State’s last of regulation and first of overtime.
“They came out pounding us pretty good early on,” Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said. “We just talked to our guys all the time, we told them, ‘You’ve got to win first down.’ If we stop them on first down, and then make them play a little bit left-handed on second down, on third down we’ll go huntin’.”
With the score tied at 20, Penn State drove to the Nebraska 38-yard line with two minutes to play. Husker linebacker David Santos stood up Penn State’s Zach Zwinak at the line of scrimmage for a 1-yard gain on second down. On third-and-4, Santos chased down quarterback Christian Hackenberg and forced him out of bounds short of the first down. Penn State opted to punt instead of attempting a 55-yard field goal with the wind.
“We just went to our bread and butter,” Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste said. “We started blitzing, match up with them one-on-one and just playing the run.”
The Nebraska coaches could see the confidence growing on the sideline.
“JP (defensive coordinator John Papuchis) and I were talking when we went to OT,” Kaczenski said. “We said, 'There’s no way we’re going to lose this game.'”
Penn State took the ball first in overtime and on third-and-5 went to a play that had been successful most of the game. Hackenberg took the ball on a bootleg and looked for his top receiver, Allen Robinson. This time, Husker defensive end Randy Gregory got penetration into the backfield and forced Hackenberg to hurry his throw. Jean-Baptiste was in perfect coverage and the pass was incomplete. Penn State missed a field goal, setting up the Huskers to kick their own game-winner moments later.
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“I think we did a pretty good job matching up and knowing the routes that were coming,” Jean-Baptiste said. “You’ve got to be real aggressive with him (Robinson). That bootleg was the same play they ran on us before and I knew they’d be coming back to it. They showed it on film and we studied it. We just made a play on it.”
The defense also forced a turnover, something that had happened only once in the past three games. Ciante Evans tipped a Hackenberg pass and intercepted the ball to set up a field goal.
“We needed someone to make a play,” Kaczenski said. “We said, ‘Don’t just do your job, do something extraordinary,’ and Ciante made a great play.
“There were mistakes, but when you play a good team like Penn State, good teams will make you look dumb at times and get you in some bad spots. But our guys just fought their tails off.”
Kenny Bell, who returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the first half, credited the defense for its efforts.
“I would say it was the defense that won us the football game," Bell said. "As an offense, we keep our D in bad situations. And they keep bowing their necks for us. Special teams was huge, but hats off to the defense, really appreciate those guys today."