LINCOLN, Neb. - The most thoughtful insight on a football team often comes from its offensive linemen.
The warriors in the trenches are trained to win their battles, knowing they won't win them all, and return to the huddle on an even keel for the next play.
So perhaps it was not surprising that after an otherwise fantastic college football game was marred by a controversial call that appeared to deny Penn State a touchdown and a fourth-quarter lead, the Nittany Lions' offensive linemen weren't ready to call for a Big Ten investigation.
Even if their quarterback was.
Matt McGloin took Saturday's 32-23 loss to Nebraska harder than any of his teammates, suggesting that the world, including the officials, is against Penn State, presumably because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
"We'll never get that call here," McGloin said after replays showed tight end Matt Lehman appeared to score before fumbling into the end zone with 7:39 remaining and the Lions down 27-23. "We'll never get that call anywhere."
Of the dozen PSU representatives brought to the visitors' media quarters at Memorial Stadium, including Bill O'Brien, only McGloin came off like Yosemite Sam.
"Matt can only speak for himself," guard John Urschel, an Academic All-American candidate, said. "My opinion is whatever they call is what we have, and we have to move forward with it. The refs don't have the easiest job in the world, to try to look at it right on the spot and decide.
"I was looking at it, and I didn't know, to be honest."
Center Matt Stankiewitch added, "I don't think the refs were biased at all - whether we're playing the game at Nebraska or at Penn State. I feel the refs did the best they could to call the most even game they could. Matt's just emotional right now."
That emotion has generally positively fueled McGloin against the odds of being a non-scholarship player early in his career, beating out more decorated prospects and being the program's best quarterback for the past three years.
But just as the denial of Lehman's touchdown didn't beat the Lions, neither did McGloin's interception deep in Penn State territory that Nebraska turned into a 20-20 tie after trailing 20-6 at halftime.
That turnover, along with Lehman's cough-up and Zack Zwinak's fumble at the Cornhusker 10 with a 7-3 lead in the first quarter, quickly translates into too many mistakes to beat a quality team like Nebraska on the road.
"KiIls you," O'Brien said. "You can't turn the ball over inside the [opponent's 10.]"
Even if Lehman had been awarded a touchdown, Nebraska still had plenty of time to rev up its high-powered offense, not to mention the benefit of whipping 35 mph winds at its backs. The Lions allowed 267 yards on the ground, 15 rushing first downs for the game and 26 points in the second half.
"We shouldn't be in that position in the first place," linebacker and team leader Michael Mauti said of the controversy. "We've got to hang onto the ball when we get in the red zone. We have to do a better job on defense stopping the run."
There are tough calls in every game, and typically the better team overcomes them. A fine line has separated Penn State in all four of its losses, and a common thread has been the Lions' inability to stall second-half or late momentum, whether created by Nebraska, Virginia or the Ohios, U and State.
"The game of football is always one or two plays that make the difference," linebacker Glenn Carson said. "Officials are a part of the game. Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don't. My dad and my wrestling coach when I was young always told me you can't leave the match or the game in the officials' hands. You have to set your destiny. You have to go out and win it."
Nebraska did, and that didn't diminish the Lions' tremendous effort - maybe their best of the season, regardless of the outcome.
After taking an extended pause on the subject of Saturday's key call, O'Brien - who has been less than thrilled with his first dose of Big Ten officiating - offered a measured interpretation.
"We don't feel anyone's out to get us," he said.
Then he turned his attention forward as he's done during this most eventful and intriguing season in which the Nittany Lions have consistently showed a very large heart and, even at 6-4, exceeded expectations.
They'll close with home games against Indiana and Wisconsin.
"I would just say to the fans of Penn State: Even though this is not an undefeated team, it's a special team," O'Brien said. "We need the fans of Penn State to stick with us. This football team stuck with Penn State."
As for consoling a freshman tight end named Matt Lehman, a solid contributor at a position that has been showcased at Penn State like never before, the core leadership will take care of it.
"I didn't get a chance to see him yet," Stankiewitch said. "When I do, I'll tell him to keep his head up."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.