After three stress-free games, Penn State headed to Iowa City to face Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa Hawkeyes. We all know the history. Iowa has a knack for beating top 5 teams at night in Kinnick, Iowa is 8-5 against Penn State under Ferentz, Penn State hasn’t done too well on the road under James Franklin, and so it goes.
The fears were not without cause. Even though the Nittany Lions have won three in a row, they have twice been the top 5 team in the wrong end of “Iowa likes to beat top 5 teams.” Despite having a talent advantage, the Lions have found themselves in these kinds of dogfights against the Hawkeyes. Against all logic and reason, Penn State has not been able to really shake off a pesky Iowa team that just finds ways to overachieve despite their talent differential.
And in this game, it was once again that kind of night. Penn State did nothing with relatively good field position in the first two quarters. The Nittany Lions would not go on the scoreboard until the 1:14 mark in the first quarter, ending a five-minute drive with three points. Penn State wouldn’t build a large enough lead until late in the fourth quarter, after a gutsy fourth down call kept a Nittany Lion drive alive that would ultimately seal the game. This game was as Iowa as it gets. Penn State, in fact, went into the half down two points off a Trace McSorley interception. The score was 5-7.
Even though they were down two points at halftime, Penn State was dominating on both sides of the ball. The Nittany Lions had 219 total yards to Iowa’s 54 (six rushing). Akrum Wadley was held in check the entire half, and would end the game with 80 rushing yards. Two of Penn State’s five first-half points came off a safety of aforementioned Wadley, which was the culmination of the Hawkeyes’ continued bad field position in the half. If not for that untimely interception, the score would look as lopsided as the game was.
A big concern for many people throughout the first three games was time of possession. Worry no more. Penn State held the ball for nearly 40 minutes to Iowa’s 20, giving the defense the ability to rest, the freshness preventing the Hawkeye offense from doing anything themselves. In fact, Iowa didn’t pick up a first down until the very end of the first quarter. If given the choice though, I would 100% pick a loss in the time of possession battle if it means burying teams early. They tried the first approach in this game, and even though they dominated in the stats department, the score was well within reach for the Hawkeyes. There was only so much you could have asked for the defense to do in this game.
Speaking of the defense, they went a long way in easing some of the concerns regarding the run. Iowa, known for great offensive lines and efficient running games, could not get anything going on the ground in this game until well into the fourth quarter. To make matters worse, they couldn’t get anything going through the air either until said fourth quarter. Personally, I expected improvement from the defense given what returned, but the way they have performed so far has far exceeded my expectations. If they keep performing at this level for the rest of the season, there won’t be many teams who will be able to take advantage of the unit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, yet again, the offensive line was a big factor in Penn State’s difficulties in this game. The Iowa defense deserves a lot of credit, but the line was not doing much to redeem itself after the chinks started to show in the game against Georgia State. It has to be said, yet again, that this offensive line will have to perform better down the stretch if they want to compete against the better teams on the schedule.*
For those of you who feared this game would just like the many between Iowa and Penn State, your fears were not unfounded. Those of you who thought the Lions had too much talent to give this game away in the way they had so many times before, you were right too. And finally, after so many tries, it was the Nittany Lions who came away victorious after being in a dogfight all game. This will serve as very valuable experience as they move on in the conference slate. Survive and advance is fine with me.
IT’S PUNT WEEK Y’ALL! Penn State hosts Our Bitter Rival Indiana on Saturday, September 30. Kickoff is at 3:30 on BTN.
*Iowa is not a bad team itself.