LINCOLN — Imani Cross finally got a chance Saturday to run some of those goal-line plays he works so hard on every week in practice.
It's not that Nebraska's coaches are nervous about using the freshman I-back from Gainesville, Ga., in those situations. It's just that the Huskers haven't had many goal-line opportunities that would allow Cross to show what he can do.
“He's always been ready for it,” NU running backs coach Ron Brown said. “But we just haven't been in that situation as often as we were today.”
His statistical line certainly wasn't flashy — eight carries for 22 yards. But when two of those runs end with touchdowns and two others produce first downs, Cross is doing what the coaches expect him to do.
The touchdowns came at critical junctures of the game. Both were early in the third quarter and helped Nebraska quickly erase Penn State's 20-6 halftime lead.
A 1-yard TD ended the Huskers' opening drive of the second half, and then a 2-yard run just more than two minutes later came after an interception by NU safety Daimion Stafford.
“We just decided to regroup,” Cross said. “It wasn't anything special, it wasn't anything magical. We just decided to execute, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Blocks by fullbacks and offensive linemen who were pulling to the left side of the Nebraska line helped clear the holes Cross ran through.
“It helped us win, and I'm glad the offensive line did the job they did to propel me in the end zone,” Cross said. “The pulling guards did a great job; they've done a great job all year. We get a lot of reps in practice, so I have a lot of chemistry with them.”
Reed racks up another big play
Milestones were the furthest thing from Kyler Reed's mind when he caught a crucial pass in the drive that gave Nebraska its first lead against Penn State.
Reed caught a pass from Taylor Martinez and ran 56 yards to the Penn State 10. Three plays later, Martinez threw a 5-yard TD pass to Jamal Turner that put the Huskers ahead 26-23 with 3:10 remaining in the game.
Reed's catch made him the fifth tight end in Nebraska history to surpass 1,000 career receiving yards. The others ahead of him on that list — Matt Herian, Tracey Wistrom, Mike McNeill and Junior Miller.
“I didn't even know,” Reed said. “You're the first to tell me. I'm not really looking at milestones right now. We have one goal, and it's to make the Big Ten championship (game). I'm just going to help the team any way I can. Whenever they call on me, I've got to do my job.”
Reed now has 1,007 yards after catching two passes against Penn State for 60 yards. Miller is in fourth with 1,045.
A tale of two halves for Maher
Brett Maher's three punts in the first half won't end up on any highlight reels, but the two he blasted in the fourth quarter are boots the senior from Kearney will want to make sure NFL scouts view early next year.
His three punts in the second quarter totaled only 81 yards, and that includes one that traveled 35 yards. But Maher came up big when needed most late in the fourth quarter as the Huskers nursed a 27-23 lead.
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After the Huskers went three-and-out following Penn State's controversial lost fumble into the end zone, Maher flipped the field on Penn State with a 69-yard punt that put the ball at PSU's 2-yard line.
Two plays later, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin was called for intentional grounding in the end zone that resulted in a safety that put the Huskers ahead 29-23.
Maher said he didn't dwell on the first-half kicks that went awry, in part because of the strong winds blowing throughout the game and in part because that's the way his mind works.
“I don't feel like I need redemption because of the conditions,” Maher said. “Those were probably the toughest conditions I could ever kick in. I just wanted to pin them back.
“You can't dwell on what happened in the past. I just try to worry about the next kick. That's the only one you can control.”
Maher then sealed the victory with a 33-yard field goal with 23 seconds to play that gave Nebraska its final nine-point margin of victory.
“It was a pretty big kick, and I just went about it like a normal kick,” Maher said.
Bowl representatives savor the moment
When it comes to savoring the experience of a Nebraska football game, the list of people not afraid to admit they're enjoying themselves got a little bit bigger.
Officials representing the Capital One and Russell Athletic bowls in Orlando were on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter as Nebraska rallied for its fourth consecutive Big Ten victory.
They broke out their cellphones and snapped a few pictures to take back to share with colleagues and friends in Florida. One person representing the Outback Bowl also was on hand to watch the Huskers rally for their 32-23 victory.
O'Brien: Wind had an effect
A strong wind that many expected could hamper Penn State's short passing game had its effects, PSU coach Bill O'Brien said afterward.
But quarterback Matt McGloin wasn't using it as an excuse.
“Same wind for them,” McGloin said. “You have to deal with it and keep playing.”
McGloin did acknowledge that a couple of his attempts — especially on corner routes — seemed to carry a bit in the wind.
PSU's third-quarter struggles continue
Outside of the third quarter this season, Penn State is outscoring opponents. Doubling them combined, actually.
But in the third, the Nittany Lions are being outscored 80-65 entering the final two weeks of the campaign.
That trend continued Saturday, as Nebraska came out of halftime swinging. NU scored a pair of touchdowns in the first 5Ĺ minutes to turn a halftime deficit into a tied game quickly.
It's nothing they weren't expecting. PSU players said they saw on film a different Nebraska team in the second half.
“We knew they always considered themselves a second-half and fourth-quarter team,” senior safety Jacob Fagnano said. “So we knew their surge was coming.”