After last year's Iowa game, we had a little fun choosing our favorite stat line. Since I'm shooting for a meta-goal of knocking this post out in less than two hours, I'm skipping the poll and just giving you my favorite drive. In an extra bit of fun and unlike last year, this year we have five(!) touchdown drives to choose from. I cut and loaded videos for each of the nine plays in the 1st quarter's first touchdown drive, but decided I liked the 3rd/4th quarter's one better. Yes, Penn State has been dominant in the 1st quarter (66-0), and that first scoring drive was important to softening the rabid, nighttime Hawk fans. And it will probably be important to repeat again next week at home against an awkward but still dangerous brutus squad. But I prefer coffin-nail drives. Drives that pwn the time of possession. Drives that extend a four-possession lead to five and effectively end the game.
In Bill O'Brien's post-game press conference, he noted that PSU left some points on the field. Well, he said 'left some points on the board,' but that's where we would want them isn't it? So I'ma help my Ivy League brotha out and paraphrase here. He also lamented some second-half mistakes and said the staff will be re-emphasizing the importance of playing sixty minutes. Penn State started the second half strong, with a big Jesse Della Valle kickoff return and a two-play touchdown drive to stretch the lead to 31-0. But then they got a little sloppy. After Michael Mauti gave the offense the ball on the Iowa 14, Zach Zwinak (who carries the ball like he will never fumble) fumbled while crossing the goal line. Then, after the defense again got the ball back (this time actually allowing two Iowa first downs before the punt), McGloin stumbled on fourth down and they went three and out. Iowa again subsequently moved the ball a little bit, but eventually the Penn State defense stoned them on fourth and goal from the PSU three yard line.
For the past decade at least, such a situation (PSU offense gets the ball inside the five) at Kinnick would be met with reservation if not downright fright for Penn State fans, but this year was different. I noted in the open threads: 'this here drive is gonna be amazing.' And it pretty much was. To wit!:
Play One: 1-10 at the PSU 3
Like so often on Saturday night, positive first-down yardage was gained, when Zordich rumbled to the left of LG Miles Dieffenbach for 6 yards.Note the nice right-side push the whole line managed.
Play Two: 2-4 at the PSU 9
Here the Hawkeyes get a good stuff on the left side of the line, but Zwinak's vision and cut back right earn him another 6 yards and a first down.
Play Three: 1-10 at the PSU 15
On first down, Iowa's Carl Davis does a nice job of bull-rushing senior center Matt Stankiewitch, but the play bounces further out to the right where RT Mike Farrell holds off Iowa DT Mike Bigach just long enough for Zwinak to thread them and the smothering block by TE's Lehman and Carter. Play gets two yards, the smallest gain of the drive.
Play Four: 2-8 at the PSU 17
In this play, PSU lines up nearly identically to the formation used in Play #3, but moves Robinson to the weak side, instead of flanking the doubled tight ends. Pre-snap, McGloin points out Iowa Safety, #21 Nico Law, who ends up blitzing, and he runs play-action to Zwinak. Iowa LB #44 James Morris beats Dieffenbach, but Zwinak picks him up. Lehman and Carter both go out, Lehman rerouted & covered tightly by DT Bigach, but Carter is open past the 1st down marker. He's not needed, tho, as McGloin has already identified Robinson cutting inside to the open middle of the field vacated by Law and hits him quickly enough that Robinson is able to make a 'football move' to avoid the overpursuing LB #20 Christian Kirksey and earn the 1st down himself.
Play Five: 1-10 at the PSU 27
New formation. Four wides: Robinson & Carter to the right, Brandon Felder & true freshman #21 Trevor Williams to the left. McGloin seems to like the matchup Robinson has on senior CB Greg Castillo, who's giving him a 5-yard cushion, and he takes a 5-7 step drop, sets his feet, and delivers the pass to Robinson's hands before Castillo ever arrives. Probably a 15-yard throw, but another solid four yards on first.
Play Six: 2-6 at the PSU 31
Formation's again similar to the play preceding it, with the small wrinkle of Carter switching sides to the left. The Big Uglies do work. Dieffenbach is the only one who gets stood up at the line, but he occupies his guy long enough that Zwinak isn't even challenged by him. Donovan Smith throws his guy to his knees. #44 Morris guesses wrong and attacks the right, where he would've met the bulldozing Stank, Urschel & Farrell who have mauled their guys five yards downfield. #20 Law is covering Carter, where he gets away with a nice hands to the face, but not before Zwinak, who may be swifter than we typically give him credit for, hits the hole between Carter's face block & the recovering Morris. Three Hawkeyes bring Zwinak down after he earns the first.
Play Seven: 1-10 at the PSU 38
Back to double tight ends, this time on opposite sides from each other: Gary Gilliam on the right, inside of Robinson and James on the left, inside Felder. Zordich alone in the backfield. Stank, Urschel, Farrell & Gilliam all meet their assignments and allow Zordich to get outside of Gilliam & Bigach before #2 Castillo & #31 Hitchens can bring him down. Six yards on first down.
Play Eight: 2-4 at the PSU 44
Identical formation as the last play. Note Castillo playing 5 yards off Robinson again. After the snap, Castillo back-pedals and Robinson stretches out a few long strides. Just as Castillo plants another back foot, and as Robinson crosses the 1st-down marker (!), Robinson lowers his hips and cuts hard to the outside. The pocket protection is immaculate. McGloin has Gilliam open for a first in the direction he's looking, and Zordich coming round wide into the left flat, but he wants his go-to receiver and he fires another bullet that hits Robinson in the hands before Castillo arrives.
Play Nine: 1-10 at the PSU 50
Formation is back to two TE's stacked on the right, Zordich alone in the backfield. Robinson sets up in the slot. DE #79 Dominic Alvis does a good job shedding Donovan Smith's block, but Zordich is too fast for him and gets to the corner. Robinson gets a big block on LB #20 Kirksey, who still ends up making the tackle because #21 Law flies in on a bad angle, but not until Zordich gained 5 yards on first down.
Play Ten: 2-5 at the Iowa 45
Stacked TEs, on the right, Lehman flanking Donovan Smith and (I think) Carter just off his left heel. Robinson in the right slot, Felder wide right. McGloin has choices. He starts with a play-action fake to Zordich, who then gets open in the left flat. Morris chases him, which leaves some space for Robinson (offscreen, but perhaps covered enough by a Safety?). Lehman & Carter streak downfield but don't present great targets for McGloin, who hasn't bothered to look left yet. He does, however, appear to check down off the Robinson read and, again aided by a gorgeous pocket, opts for Felder outside the right hash. The coverage is spacious enough & McGloin's pass crisp enough that Felder makes CB #18 Micah Hyde miss, and nearly does the same to #20 Kirksey. Give him 5 YAC and another first down.
Play Eleven: 1-10 at the Iowa 35
This would have been the only non-positive gain of the drive, as Castillo had tight coverage on Robinson on the sideline and McGloin threw it away. But DL #99 Joe Gaglione chucked McGloin after the pass, earning a roughing the passer penalty and an earful from his position coach.
Play Twelve: 1-10 at the Iowa 20
What would you say if I said I could show you another 4-yard gain on first down? Is that something you'd be interested in? What if I threw in the third tailback substitution of the drive, a new right tackle and a small breakdown in communication? Ok, then! Formation is, surprise, two TE's, Gilliam on the left flanking Smith, but on the right side of the line, the personnel is all new: #75 Eric Shrive is at RG, #58 Adam Gress is at RT and Jesse James comes back in to flank Gress. The announcers take it easy on McGloin, being the quarterback and all, but the way the line was blocking and the way Belton, who also just came into the game, takes his initial cut, it looks like McGloin turned the wrong way on the play. No matter! Belton goes left, collects the ball responsibly, then heads back right to follow the new blockers and bam! Another 4-yard gain. You're welcome!
Play Thirteen: 2-6 at the Iowa 16
This is just great blocking. A WR & a TE on each side, and Dieffenbach pulls from his LG spot to outside of RT Gress and ties up the LB. Robinson comes over to help, which may not have been a great decision. If he stays and blocks the CB for just a teensy second, Belton would have a nice path to the end zone. As it was, the CB makes a nice play on a juking Belton and stopped him from earning the 1st down.
Play Fourteen: 3-1 at the Iowa 11
So this is play #13 of the drive and only the first 3rd down encountered. Gilliam and James are stacked on the right, with Robinson outside of them. Felder is wide left. Pre-snap, McGloin vociferously indicates something to Belton. After the snap, Donovan Smith shows his next-level talent and seals the DE. Felder comes in to help, but somehow manages to stay out of the streaking Belton's way, and the play gains 6 yards.
Play Fifteen: 1-G at the Iowa 5
The two TE's are stacked to the left, by themselves. Two WRs out wide right. McGloin gesticulates a good bit presnap. Iowa's #71 Carl Davis gets some great penetration, but Stank has him occupied enough that Belton eludes him. Meanwhile, Urschel & Farrell have returned to the game and provide the majority of the push on the right side. Urschell and LB Morris have a nice battle when they collide at the three, but the shifty Belton slides off of Urschell's back and into the end zone.
This drive ate 6:38 off the clock, earned eight first downs and increased the score to 38 nil. It consisted of 10 rushes and five passes, an appropriate balance given the score and game time. The drive showcased all four of BOB's precious tight ends. Three different tailbacks operated a set of plays. McGloin had all day, and on most of the passing plays, multiple options. The receivers got open, the offensive line play was exciting and the tailbacks gained positive yards through its holes. This is the kind of drive every offense needs to have in its holster if it hopes to succeed in Big Ten football and it's what makes being a fan of this game really, really fun.