Having Fun (I Forgot What it Feels Like)

Well now. Raise your hand if that tasted better than a Baby's strawberry milkshake. It's nice to remember how fun classic Big Ten Football can be. Equal parts nailbiting, preposterous luckiness, tough physical play by both teams on both sides of the ball, coaching sometimes way outside historical comfort zones--by both staffs, low-scoring with the end in doubt until a final, uber-manly fourth-quarter scoring drive by the winning team. Kudos to the lads followed by our Gold-Pants-ed friends for fighting hard throughout. On this day and contrary to recent history between these two teams, it turned out that they were the ones just slightly overmatched in the end, and they were unable to continue the awful win streak against our Nittany Lions. 

Browsing through the stat sheet is really fun this morning. Iowa came in with a brand new passing attack, a new strong-armed QB and one of their better WR trios in some time. Meanwhile, and unnervingly familiarly, Penn State came in with a clusterfuck and a track record of red zone chokes. And yet, our QBs completed 15 passes (on 26 attempts, for 58%) and theirs completed 17 (on 34, for 50%). The two offenses differed in other important categories (Iowa 2 INTs, 0 TDs; PSU 1 INT, 1 TD), but the running stats provided the starkest difference. The Penn State O-line was finally able to assert some willpower against a vulnerable run defense and rang up 231 rushing yards on 46 carries, while the defense remained stalwart in holding Iowa's Marcus Coker to a net 74 yards on 18 carries. What the defense did to Iowa's QB, tho, is what prompted me to post today. I'm having trouble deciding what my favorite part of the stat sheet is and I thought my BSD brethren & sistren might have a little fun helping me out.

Candidate One

At the start of the fourth quarter and after exchanging multiple possessions, very few of which affected the scoreboard, Penn State led Iowa 6-3. At this point on Twitter, Zach Mills had already weighed in and Jacobi was reminding us that a 6-5 final score was still in play. Iowa was driving into Penn State territory, when Tom Bradley dialed-up (/cliched!) a perfectly-timed blitz on 3rd & 7 and LB Gerald Hodges executed it to perfection, sacking The Dawson and forcing a fumble which was recovered by Nate Stupar. And then things got pretty. Let us bask in its glory:

Psu 1-10 at Iowa49 Redd, Silas rush for 5 yards to the IOWA44 (Kirksey, C.).
Psu 2-5 at Iowa44 Redd, Silas rush for 8 yards to the IOWA36, 1ST DOWN PSU (Binns, B.).
Psu 1-10 at Iowa36 Redd, Silas rush for 7 yards to the IOWA29 (Morris, James;Bernstine, J.).
Psu 2-3 at Iowa29 Suhey, Joe rush for 6 yards to the IOWA23, 1ST DOWN PSU (Morris, James).
Psu 1-10 at Iowa23 Dukes, Curtis rush for 5 yards to the IOWA18 (Nielsen, Tyler).
Psu 2-5 at Iowa18 PENALTY PSU holding 10 yards to the IOWA28.
Psu 2-15 at Iowa28 Dukes, Curtis rush for 11 yards to the IOWA17 (Miller, Tanner).
Psu 3-4 at Iowa17 Dukes, Curtis rush for 4 yards to the IOWA13, 1ST DOWN PSU (Daniel, Lebron).
Psu 1-10 at Iowa13 Suhey, Joe rush for 1 yard to the IOWA12 (Binns, B.).
Psu 2-9 at Iowa12 Redd, Silas rush for 4 yards to the IOWA8 (Daniel, Lebron).
Psu 3-5 at Iowa08 Redd, Silas rush for 6 yards to the IOWA2, 1ST DOWN PSU (Morris, James).
Psu 1-G at Iowa02 McGloin, Matt pass complete to Haplea, Kevin for 2 yards to the IOWA0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 08:08.

If you're counting at home, that's ten straight rushing plays, a PSU penalty, and four first downs to get to the Iowa 2, followed by a just beautifully called and executed play action touchdown pass to the tight end (the tight end!). Now, if you've been paying attention to the coverage at our favorite Hawkeye blog, you'll know this year's Iowa defense is a little less talented than the past few years, and far less deep. Throw in some injuries to their best linebacker and lineman and you've got a recipe for vulnerability. Still, the Penn State offense. They hadn't yet provided any even brief suggestion that they had this kind of drive in them. We knew they had talented tailbacks. But even with a traditional upperclassman-heavy offensive line, they hadn't demonstrated that this was possible. On this drive they did. And, oh my, was it glorious.

Candidate Two

Now, as manly as the touchdown that gave Penn State the two-possession lead was, the offense was subsequently unable to put the proverbial nail in the coffin after Malcolm Willis and then Nick Sukay gave them two more chances. Each resulted in 3 and outs, and Iowa again had the ball with 3:18 to play. Down two scores, it was desperation time for The Dawson and Penn State's defense and crowd knew it. After allowing a first-down QB scramble, the pressure really came. Solid downfield coverage by the secondary (including true freshman Adrian Amos, who played superbly against Iowa's talented receivers), allowed first Sean Stanley and then Devon Still and then Khairi Fortt to record back-to-back-to-back sacks. Iowa helped out with an (exhausted? crowd-induced?) illegal procedure penalty and the drive which began at the Iowa 20 was now at the Iowa two. On 4th and 39, they completed a 25-yard pass and the game was finally over.

We've known the Penn State defense is championship-caliber, and they showed it again today. But we had no idea if the offense was capable of putting together a Manball touchdown drive with the game on the line, and today they showed it. When surprise jumps up and fills you with joy, it's somehow doubly sweet, so for this reason, I'm going with the winning touchdown drive as my favorite part of this morning's stat sheet. What's yours?

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