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Punting. Winning. Penn State Holds On To Beat Iowa 21-19: Gif Room

There were many exciting punts and other plays on Saturday night.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The first quarter resembled so many games Iowa and Penn State have played this century; field positioning and punts were at a premium. The Lions punted following their first two possessions and the Hawkeyes punted the first four times they touched the ball. A Tyler Davis field goal got the scoring started with just over a minute to play in the first quarter after a Penn State drive of 66 yards on 11 plays sputtered out at the one yard-line.

On the next Penn State drive Davis missed from 41 yards out and a ten-play drive ended with nothing to show for it. The Lions were dominating the game at that point in the stat sheet and on the field, but only had a 3-0 lead with 8 minutes to play in the first half. Something needed to be done, the scoring had to be accelerated. There was only one thing to do in this situation versus Iowa; punt!

Blake Gillikin did just that, and Irvin Charles covered the punt like a master gunner would, downing the ball at the Iowa one yard line.

Two plays later Shareef Miller got penetration into the backfield, halting Akrum Wadley in the end zone while clutch defensive backs Marcus Allen and Grant Haley swarmed in to finish the deal.

With time running down in the first half and Penn State holding the ball and every other type of advantage in the game to that point, Iowa forced an errant throw from Trace McSorley. Penn State rotated Andrew Nelson and Will Fries in at right tackle throughout the game. On this play Nelson was beaten so quickly around the edge that McSorley did not have time to get the ball to Mike Gesicki, who was open on a corner route that would have taken the Lions well inside Hawkeye territory. Instead, Josey Jewell got the interception.

Jewell was everywhere during the game, usually tasked with chasing Saquon Barkley wherever he went. Jewell finished with 16 tackles, 3 for a loss, a fumble recovered, 1 interception and two pass break-ups. The turnover just before the half was exactly what the Lions did not need. On the next play Iowa made it hurt, as Nate Stanley hit Nick Easley for a touchdown to make the score 7-5 at the half.

Penn State’s defense came out of the locker room ready to play, making two consecutive tackles for a loss. Following an Iowa punt, the Lions added another Tyler Davis field goal, gaining a lead of 8-7.

On the next drive Iowa was moving the ball downfield until the Penn State secondary made a pivotal play. Troy Apke hit Akrum Wadley low as Marcus Allen put his helmet on the ball, forcing the fumble. Grant Haley, as is usually the case, was nearby to scoop up the loose ball.

At that point it became clear that Saquon Barkley was not going to be denied, as he went off for a couple of nice runs. The first play from scrimmage appeared to be just a pedestrian 12-yard run until Barkley planted his foot and cut inside for a huge 44 yard gain.

A few plays later Barkley capped off the 8 play, 75-yard drive with a run to the right pylon. McSorley gave a brief option look before letting Barkley do what he does best; find the end zone.

McSorley fumbled the ball away to Iowa late in the third quarter and the Hawkeyes were able to move into position to attempt a field goal. Troy Apke was able to come around the right edge and get his pinky on the kick, blocking it to the ground. Jason Cabinda was there with Apke as well.

Nursing an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Lions could have used a long, sustained drive with points at the end to put the game in jeopardy for Iowa. Instead the Hawkeyes forced a three and out, and yes, a punt.

The ensuing Iowa drive only lasted three plays as well, but it ended with an Akrum Wadley catch and run of 70 yards into the end zone. After a failed two-point conversion, the Lions held onto a slim 15-13 lead with ten minutes remaining in the game.

Penn State held the ball for the next 7:20, moving 75 yards on 16 plays, but were turned back at the end when Tyler Davis’ field goal attempt was blocked. It took Iowa just one minute of game time to go 80 yards on three plays. Akrum Wadley ran the ball into the end zone from 35 yards out to give the Hawkeyes a 19-15 lead.

Penn State took the ball, needing a touchdown to remain unbeaten. On a critical 4th and 2 on their own 40 yard line, with just 58 seconds remaining in the game, the Lions looked to Saeed Blacknall to continue the drive. The large receiver, known more for his blocking and big-plays down the field, grabbed the ball for the first down and kept hopes alive for PSU.

A few plays later, with just 4 seconds on the clock, the game came down to one more play. Facing man coverage, with nothing available outside, McSorley went over the middle to Juwan Johnson for the game-winning touchdown. The throw underneath to Thompkins may have been an easier throw, but it also could have been short of the end zone. Instead, McSorley went through traffic and found Johnson.

On the final play of the game the Lions went into victory formation for the extra point. After downing the ball, victorious quarterback Trace McSorley did what the winning team is supposed to do when Iowa and Penn State meet on the gridiron. He punted the ball. It was a nice punt but could have had a little more hang time had DeSean Hamilton given McSorley a little more room to execute the play.

Odds and Ends

  • Penn State rotated Andrew Nelson and Will Fries in at right tackle during the game. It appears that the coaching staff wants to give Nelson, a long-time warrior coming off a season-ending injury, every chance to get back on the field. He is known for his savvy but it appears at times that savvy is all that Nelson has left to contribute, as his knees and body seem to be held together with duct tape and bubble gum. Nelson has given the team and school a great deal during his time in Happy Valley. It will be interesting to see whether Fries will claim the starting job, or if the line will be shuffled to find the best five players.
  • Iowa punted 7 times for 288 yards, an average of 41.1 yards per kick. Penn State punted 4 times officially, for 159 yards. That’s 39.8 yards per kick, with one downed at the one yard line. Trace McSorley’s punt following the game will not register in the stat sheet, but it went 47 yards unofficially. Each team had only 4 punt return yards. Yes, the punting was stellar in this match-up.
  • Saquon Barkley put together a performance for the ages, racking up a Penn State record 358 all-purpose yards. Barkley had 211 yards rushing, 94 yards receiving, and 53 return yards.
  • Marcus Allen played well. He forced a fumble, registered a sack, two tackles for a loss, and 4 solo tackles on the day.