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Back to Reality for the Now Battle-Tested Nittany Lions

Penn State needed every last second to overcome the Hawkeyes, but it could have a huge pay off as the Nittany Lions reach for great heights in 2017.

Penn State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

All week, my friends and colleagues tried to talk me off the ledge.

“We’ve exorcised our Iowa demons, that’s all in the past.”

“We’re so much better than Iowa, this won’t even be close.”

“There’s no such things as curses. Now put your pants back on and leave my cheese shop before I call the cops.”

I knew I should have felt confident heading into the Iowa game. But I had witnessed too much heartbreak at the hands of the Hawkeyes over the years to ever get comfortable ahead of Saturday’s game in Kinnick.

Well, Iowa went out and did Iowa things, of course. They forced Penn State to settle for field goals. They played great defense when it mattered most. They made plays when they absolutely needed to, and came within seconds from pulling a massive upset.

But this time was different. When Iowa took the lead with under two minutes, Penn State’s offense went out and put together an epic drive to win the game as time expired. It was an absolutely exhilarating moment, one that any Nittany Lions fan will fondly remember for decades.

Heck, you have to go all the way back to 1995, when Wally Richardson found Bobby Engram near the end zone against a Nick Saban-led Michigan State team for the last time Penn State won on a touchdown in the final seconds. These type of finishes just don’t come up very often.

In that moment, it was about the highest of highs you can experience as a football fan. My celebration was reminiscent of a fish on land, as I flopped around on the floor screaming “I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK! I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK!” (Fortunately, my petrified wife came to find out that I was not actually having a heart attack.)

But now it’s time to come back to reality. Penn State has a tough road ahead as it goes through the gauntlet of a Big Ten season, as well as a potential date with the West Division champs, to reach its ultimate goal of being included in the College Football Playoffs.

The Iowa game can be viewed in two ways, depending if you’re more of a glass half-full or half-empty type of person. If you’re the latter, a two point, last-second, nail-biting victory against an unranked opponent is cause for great concern, especially with the schedule becoming more difficult as the air grows colder throughout the fall.

Sure, there were some causes for concern. The offensive line still could use some time to gel. The defense had an outstanding night, but gave up some huge plays late in the game. The deep defensive line rotation didn’t dominate a depleted Hawkeyes offensive line in the fourth quarter as many of us would have expected.

But the story of the number four team narrowly defeating an unranked opponent does not tell much of the story. For one, Penn State dominated the game statistically. They played their first away game of the season in front of an incredibly raucous crowd. Both teams left every ounce of effort on the field, and Iowa played a near-perfect game to come so close to pulling off the upset. There’s also a strong argument that Iowa is easily among the top 25 teams in the nation.

In the end, it’s quite easy to come away with one major positive when looking ahead to the remainder of the season. Penn State is now battle-tested. Boy, are they ever.

Penn State will eventually find itself in a total dogfight, with their backs against the wall. In those moments that will define the season, they can think back about the closing moments of the Iowa game and remember they have been there before, and they have the ability to come out on top once again. The finish in Kinnick was the type of moment needed for a championship team to gain its confidence and prepare for the tougher times that lay ahead. While another 41-14 pounding of the Hawkeyes would have been more impressive, a frantic game-winning drive could pay off in a huge way for a team that will need to find its poise on many occasions as it sets its sights on the ultimate goal.

Keep fighting, Nittany Lions.