UNIVERSITY PARK, PA (U-WIRE) -- Around the time about half of the 98,727 who attended Saturday's football game were starting their postgame tailgating festivities, Penn State managed to give up 14 points in the final 39 seconds of the game.
In the average college football game, this wouldn't be big news. Teams give up unwarranted points as time expires in blowouts all the time.
But the way in which Penn State managed to do it was somewhat interesting.
Coming into the game, Penn State had not given up more than 21 points in a game since Saturday, Nov. 22, 2003, against Michigan State.
Actually, the Nittany Lions were the only team in the country to not give up more than 21 in a game all of last season, but that streak was broken Saturday -- and in bizarre fashion.
With 2:23 left in the game, backup quarterback Anthony Morelli scored a rushing touchdown to put Penn State ahead, 42-10.
After the ensuing Kevin Kelly kickoff, the Penn State coaching staff sent the second-team defense out on the field to close out the game.
They didn't. Instead they allowed Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza to lead a quick seven-play, 64-yard drive for a touchdown that was highlighted by a 34-yard completion to Connor Barwin. The Bearcats attempted the two-point conversion but were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Penn State's first team defense lounged on the sideline. Cornerback Alan Zemaitis talked shop with quarterback Michael Robinson, and defensive end Tamba Hali kicked back.
Penn State 42, Cincinnati 16.
Then the Bearcats promptly lined up for a successful onside kick, which seemed to take Penn State by surprise.
Suddenly, the string of holding teams to under 21 points was in danger, and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley sent his first-team defense on to the field to attempt to keep the streak alive.
The only problem was the first-team defense wasn't prepared to re-enter the game.
As the team ran onto the field, various players were dropping equipment and trying to figure out the play.
PHOTO: Jeremy Drey Junior linebacker Paul Posluszny sacks the Cincinnati quarterback on Saturday.
"It was a little bit of confusion out there," safety Chris Harrell said. "We were just running out there, we're trying to get the coverage set and we're trying to get the line set up."
The Lions never got set, and backup quarterback Nick Davila hit Barwin for a 38-yard strike down the center of the field, taking the ball to the Penn State 10-yard line, but a face mask penalty ended up putting the ball on the 5-yard line.
The defense appeared to be confused as to who had blown coverage on Barwin, but, after the game, redshirt freshman linebacker Tyrell Sales took full responsibility.
"We were on the bench and some of the guys were confused. In our one zone defense, I just have a middle drop, Poz [Posluszny] would go to the flats, Tim [Shaw] would go to the other flats. That's what I thought we were in cause I didn't really know," Sales said.
Instead, the linebackers were in a three-deep defense that required Sales to cover Barwin man-to-man.
The Nittany Lions never recovered, and gave up a touchdown on a 5-yard pass from Davila to Earnest Jackson on the next play from scrimmage. The two-point conversion was successful.
Penn State 42, Cincinnati 24. Streak over.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley tossed his headset aside in disgust, and Scott Paxson yelled, "We let Cincinnati do this to us?"
"The bottom line is, they scored on us a couple times so it's frustrating," Shaw said. "But we won the game and that's all that matters. We feel like we got better."
The incident also is unlikely to be repeated. Paxson said that hopefully the first-team defense will learn from its mistake.
"The lesson to us today was, the game is not over until the horn blows at the end. Maybe a couple of us kind of sat back a little too much," he said.
As for the streak?
" It's in the back of your mind," Paxson said. "I got a little heated over it."
(C) 2004 Daily Collegian via U-WIRE