LINCOLN, Neb. - It's Penn State versus Nebraska, of course there would be controversy.
That's just how things have gone throughout the rivalry between two of college football's traditional powers.
A costly and questionable fumble in the fourth quarter hurt the Nittany Lions on Saturday, but the players acknowledged afterward that's not the reason they lost the game, 32-23, to the No. 18 Cornhuskers before 85,527 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin walks off the field after losing Saturday at Nebraska.
"You can't leave the game in the referees' hands, and we all know that. ... That's just on us, man," PSU cornerback Stephon Morris said.
The Lions (6-4, 4-2 Big Ten) played a strong first half and appeared to be in control up 20-6 at the break. That lead vanished in a hurry in the third quarter, though, as Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) scored two quick TDs to pull even.
Penn State regrouped with a field goal for a 23-20 edge, then Nebraska found the end zone with 10:57 to play for its first lead, 27-23.
Then came the play that had Penn State fans, not to mention quarterback Matt McGloin, all fired up.
The Lions took over at their own 25 with 10:57 left, got a 17-yard run by Zach Zwinak and a 38-yard pass from McGloin to Allen Robinson down to the Nebraska 17. Penn State got a break on third-and-6 from the 13 when McGloin was sacked and the Cornhuskers' Eric Martin was flagged for a face mask.
That gave PSU first-and-goal at the 7, and on second down from the 3, McGloin dumped off a pass to Matt Lehman.
The big tight end tried to fight his way through several defenders into the end zone, and as he attempted to stretch the ball over the goal line, it was ripped out of his hands and ruled a fumble on the field. Nebraska's Daimion Stafford recovered in the end zone for a momentum-changing touchback.
The play was reviewed, though, and TV replays appeared to show the ball crossing the goal line for a touchdown before the fumble.
But the replay officials didn't see it that way.
The fumble call stood, Penn State fans erupted with outrage on Twitter and the Lions didn't threaten the rest of the way, even though there was still 7:39 left to play.
"I felt like it was over the goal line but ... they didn't have enough evidence to reverse it," Lions coach Bill O'Brien said.
Big Ten official John O'Neill gave this explanation after the game: "The ruling on the field was it was a fumble short of the goal line. It went to replay, and the replay official said the play stood, based on the views he had. It's ultimately his decision."
ABC broadcasters Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman both said on the air they thought it was a touchdown.
Mike Pereira, former vice president of officiating for the NFL, tweeted, "It's a close play in PSU/NEB but if it was me I would've reversed it to a touchdown. Seems to have control when the ball broke the plane."
Nebraska went three-and-out on the ensuing series, then punter Brett Maher delivered one of the game's biggest plays when he booted a 69-yard kick down to the PSU 2.
McGloin was flagged for intentional grounding from the end zone on the Lions' next series, resulting in a safety that gave Nebraska a 29-23 lead with 5:02 to go.
Penn State got one more shot, taking over at its 20 with 3:44 left, but went four-and-out as McGloin threw four incompletions. Nebraska ran three plays and got a 33-yard field goal from Maher with 23 seconds left to seal it.
"We had opportunities to win," Morris said. "We should have won. That was a game that we should have won. Could have played better."
The controversial call on the fumble might dominate the discussion about the game, but as Morris and others said, the Lions had plenty of other opportunities to win that had nothing to do with that call.
"I think there was a lot more to it," Robinson said. "You can't go to one play in the whole second half and say that won or lost the game. They were in the same situation; they fumbled on the goal line. So you can't say that that lost the game. [Our offense] got off to a real slow start in the third quarter, and our defense stayed on the field a lot. So I think that was a big part in the second half."
Nebraska rolled up 438 yards of offense, rushed for 267 yards and easily won the time of possession (34:19 to 25:41). Most importantly, the Cornhuskers scored 26 points in the second half and held Penn State to three.
Furthermore, Zach Zwinak ran for a career-high 141 yards and a 50-yard TD, but he also lost a fumble at the Nebraska 5. McGloin was just 18-of-37 and threw a costly interception on PSU's third offensive play of the second half -- just like in the loss to Ohio State -- and Nebraska returned it to the Lions' 4 to set up a tying touchdown. Penn State also was flagged eight times for 80 yards.
So there was plenty of blame to go around, not just for the refs.
"Losing's a terrible feeling," O'Brien said. "It's miserable. It's absolutely miserable. It's like part of you dies."