UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The nation's longest winning streak fell with a thud last night, dropping in unison with Penn State's erratic offense.
The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions muffed passes, misplaced their vaunted running game, and, even more uncharacteristically, lost track of downs.
The result was a 17-9 loss to unranked Wisconsin before 96,540 at Beaver Stadium that had repercussions as far away as Pasadena, Calif.
"It's a long season," Penn State receiver Freddie Scott said after the day's big upset. "We can still go back to the Rose Bowl. We have to regroup."
The Lions opened defense of their Big Ten Conference title by losing their grip on a 20-game win streak, longest in Division I-A. Regrouping will get its ultimate test against Ohio State here next weekend.
The seventh-ranked Buckeyes pounded Notre Dame, 45-26, to go 4-0, and almost certainly have not forgotten last year's 63-14 drubbing at the hands of Penn State.
Last night's loss was especially galling for the Lions (3-1, 0-1). Three players set school records amid a vanishing act on offense. Quarterback Wally Richardson completed 33 of 48 passes for 259 yards to surpass Kerry Collins' 1992 record of 28 completions. Richardson could have had another half-dozen if not for dropped passes by his receivers.
Scott caught 13 passes to set the single-game standard, and Bobby Engram broke a career record for receptions.
But the Lions went scoreless in the first half for the first time in 34 games, rushed for just 83 yards, and didn't reach the end zone until Scott's 5-yard touchdown reception with four minutes left.
"For the past 20 games, if we needed that one play, or that one turn of events, it always happened for us," Scott said. "Today it just didn't."
In a game when Penn State was reduced to throwing the ball, Wisconsin's 25-year-old quarterback, Darrell Bevell, threw the ball more effectively. He completed 18 of 22 passes for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 21-yard scoring pass to Matt Nyquist in the first quarter got the Badgers (2-1-1, 1-0) off to a 10-0 start, and his 21-yard pass to Tony Simmons in the fourth quarter provided the finishing touch.
"They did a great job with play selection, and they did a great job executing their third-down plays," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said.
Paterno contributed his own gaffe. At the end of the first half, with Penn State on the Wisconsin 24, the Lions eschewed a field-goal try on fourth down and threw an incomplete pass. As it turned out, Paterno misread the scoreboard and thought it was third down, not fourth.
"We understood it was fourth down," Scott said of the players. "I took it that Joe was just going for it."
Only when Richardson threw under Wisconsin's two-deep coverage in the second half did the Lions mount any significant ** offense.
But it was too little, too late. Their first loss since Oct. 30, 1993 -- against Ohio State, 24-6 -- shattered dreams of a second unbeaten season.
"I'm still in shock," said senior guard Jeff Hartings. "I've had 29 [consecutive wins] embedded in my mind for two years."