The Penn State Nittany Lions did not lose to Central Florida because the clock was allowed to tick down even after a UCF ball-carrier went out of bounds late in Saturday evening's game.
It turns out, in fact, that the officiating crew got that call correct.
No, the Lions only have themselves to blame for failing to defeat the American Athletic Conference opponent, as a lack of fundamentals on both sides of the football—especially on defense—cost the them time and time again.
One play in particular made by the visitors changed the tone, flow and, ultimately, the outcome of the game. It wasn't the most moral decision nor was it one that reeked of sportsmanship, but it was one of the smartest plays you'll see made by a college football defensive back.
UCF, to its credit, played extremely well and had the PSU defense on the ropes right from the opening drive. The Nittany Lions appeared unprepared to deal with versatile quarterback Blake Bortles, and they fell into deficits of 18 and 14 in the third quarter.
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, running back Zach Zwinak and wide receiver Allen Robinson all helped PSU rally back twice, and it was on the cusp of making the game a one-score contest with plenty of time left on the clock.
Then came a brilliant penalty.
UCF's Jacoby Glenn was burned by the previously mentioned Robinson on what was going to be a sure Penn State touchdown, so the CB make the wise choice to live and fight another day and bring Robinson to the ground before the he could run down a Hackenberg pass.
The referee threw the flag, Penn State was awarded 15 yards instead of six points, and its offensive drive continued. Zwinak was handed the football on the very next play, and a young man who finished the game with 128 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 6.1 yards per carry fumbled.
UCF recovered, and Penn State eventually ran out of time.
Without the intelligent split-second decision made by the UCF defensive player, the visitors would have been in an unfriendly position. Yes, they would have still had the lead, but they would have been up by only three points with roughly six minutes of the clock to kill in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd that, in such a situation, would have been rocking.
As well as the UCF offense had played in the opening three quarters, the team's defense had shown zero signs that it was capable of shutting down the Penn State offense after halftime up until the Zwinak fumble.
Oh, what could have been.
That's sports, though. Bounces and calls don't always go your way. Good teams that aren't at their best sometimes get upset. It happens. The Nittany Lions will, in theory, have a good opportunity to take their frustrations over the loss out on a Kent State opponent next week that is, if we're being honest about it, not all that good.
You can expect that head coach Bill O'Brien will have his players up for what should be a relatively easy win. You can also expect that O'Brien's defense will go through a plethora of tackling drills over the next several days.