STATE COLLEGE, Penn. - It's hard to plan special moments, but what Nebraska and Penn State did before the start of Saturday's game is what this day will ultimately be remembered by.
Forget the game. Forget the fact that Nebraska won. The football game on Saturday took a back seat to a much more important issue that needed to be addressed.
Before the opening kickoff both NU and PSU met together in a sign of solidary to reflect and pray on the week that was here in State College. An entire community here was in search of some healing, and Saturday's team prayer at midfield went a long way to help begin that process.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that the man that led the two teams in prayer was running backs coach Ron Brown.
Brown is the former director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Nebraska and there really was no better person on this earth to lead these two teams through that emotional moment.
"I can't imagine a stadium over 100,000 people becoming hushed like that," Brown said after the game. "I really think that God was in the stadium and I think he gave favor in terms of the respectability and the honor."
Perhaps one of the most touching moments on Saturday came when Penn State head coach Tom Bradley held the start of the prayer until NU head coach Bo Pelini was next to him.
"Tom Bradley said to me 'where's Bo? Where's Bo?' Bo was coming and was a little bit behind," Brown said. "(Bradley) said 'I want Bo to kneel right next to me.' I really felt that kind of represented the spirit that was taking place in that huddle. We knew we were going to go into a battle between these two teams, but that was something bigger."
The idea of the pregame prayer was tossed around late this week by both NU and PSU's administrative staffs.
The general consensus was doing the prayer at the start of the game made the most sense because it showed everybody what happened this week at Penn State was much bigger than Saturday's football game.
"It was two Universities, two great football programs coming together forgetting about football for 1 second and coming together as people and humans to reflect on what happened," junior defensive end Cameron Meredith said. "I thought it was really cool. I was right next to a Penn State player and we were all praying together and holding hands. I thought it was really cool."
What I saw on Saturday
Here are just a few other thoughts and observations I took way from Saturday's game at Penn State.
***Quarterback Taylor Martinez's game management skills are vastly underrated. I thought Martinez did an excellent job of executing NU's offense and not letting the crowd of over 107,000 affect his play.
***I love the new wrinkle of putting running back Rex Burkhead under center, because it makes the defense have to think that much more. However, I wasn't a big fan of running it late in the fourth quarter. I thought NU had the momentum and that prevented them of laying the knockout blow in the fourth quarter when Burkhead fumbled.
***There were way too many drops by NU's wide receivers on Saturday in key situations.
***Junior punter Brett Maher is the unsung hero of Saturday's win. His directional punting prevented Penn State from getting any solid field position.
***Nebraska was very fortunate to get by on Saturday with having only two guards on their travel roster. An injury to either Spencer Long or Seung Hoon Choi could've made thing dicey for offensive line coach Barney Cotton.
***How about the defense coming up big at the end. Facing a second-and-2, the Blackshirts prevented Penn State from getting a first down on three straight running plays. Linebacker Lavonte David came up with solo stops on third and fourth down and was also involved in the tackle on second down.
The final grades
Rushing offense: B
It was a solid day for Nebraska on the ground. Burkhead eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark on the season to lead NU with 121 yards on 25 carries. Martinez had 56 yards, including an impressive 17 yard run which was the longest of the day for either team on Saturday.
Passing offense: C
Martinez connected on a handful of key third down throws and most importantly he didn't throw an interception on Saturday. However, there were some key drops by Brandon Kinnie and Kenny Bell that ended drives.
Rushing defense: B+
Penn State wanted to pound it at Nebraska and I thought NU held up very well against the Nittany Lion ground game. Silas Redd had just 53 yards rushing on 15 carries, while Stephfon Green had 71 yards on 17 carries. Most importantly the Blackshirts shutdown PSU in the fourth quarter in some key short yardage situations.
Passing defense: C+
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin was 16-of-34 for 193 yards. The NU secondary got beat down field by Derek Moye for 40 yards in double coverage. The ball should've been knocked down or intercepted by Andrew Green or Daimion Stafford. That play ended up turning the game around for PSU's offense. NU also got beat on the reverse pass to McGloin that set up the Nittany Lions second touchdown. Take away those two plays though and it wasn't a bad day for the secondary.
Special teams: A
The unsung hero for Nebraska on Saturday was Maher, who averaged 45 yards per punt on eight attempts. Maher did a good job of pinning PSU deep and forced their offense to start inside the 20 yard line five times. His 41 yard field goal was also big, because it set the tone for NU and let them jump up 3-0.
Sean Callahan can be reached at [email protected] and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.