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Young Players Contribute Heavily While Penn State Holds Off Iowa

It wasn’t easy, but the Lions held on.

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Winning makes everything feel just a little bit better. Even a drizzly rain on a cool day isn’t so bad when the team collects a conference win at home. Fans had a sense of ease that hasn’t been present in Beaver Stadium for over a month, as they piled out into the parking lot to celebrate into the night.

It was a slow start for the Lions. Two miscues on special teams, a blocked punt and a bad snap on a punt, both led to safeties in the first half. After trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter, the teams were tied at halftime. Penn State appeared to be taking control, up by ten with the ball at the Iowa ten early in the fourth quarter. A fumble by Miles Sanders, and an interception by Trace McSorley gave Iowa a chance to come back, cutting the lead to 3 midway through the final quarter.

Brent Pry’s defense stepped up to hold on for the win, and with it the Lions are 6-2 on the year. Yetur Gross-Matos played an outstanding game at defensive end, racking up 7 solo tackles, 2 sacks and 4 tackles for a loss. Cam Brown had 5 tackles and a forced fumble and John Reid added an interception and three pass breakups.

Jake Pinegar made three kicks from outside 40 yards, getting much-needed experience in a tight conference match-up. Kevin Givens did not record a tackle but his presence on the inside made the players around him better.

The special teams miscues aside, Penn State played a great game on the defensive side of the ball. Trace McSorley got banged up, taking a hit on the side of his right knee, but it was no surprise that the tough senior quarterback insisted on coming back into the game, where he led his team to victory.

How It Happened

Penn State came out with the ball to open the game and went three and out, including a drop on 3rd down by DeAndre Thompkins. Blake Gillikin dropped the snap on the punt and Iowa blocked the late kick into the end zone for a safety less than a minute in.

Iowa got the ball across midfield and was stopped on 3rd and 1 near the 20, but a facemask call on Robert Windsor extended the drive. The Lions held from the three yard line to force a field goal and trailed by five after five minutes.

An offensive pass interference on first down by Pat Freiermuth doomed the next Penn State drive, and Gillikin punted the ball only out to the 42 after a punt of 32 yards. Again the Lions allowed yards before holding on 3rd and goal, but Iowa went for a fake field goal and connected on it. It was 12-0 after ten minutes.

The Lions answered with three consecutive first downs before facing a 4th and 3 at the 32. Jahan Dotson made the catch to continue the drive and Freiermuth caught a 19 yard touchdown on the next play to cut the lead to 12-7. Brent Pry’s defense held, with the help of considerable noise coming down from the stands, got the ball back in three plays.

Iowa returned the favor, forcing a three and out. Trace McSorley went to the turf following a hit on a third down sack with an apparent leg injury. After McSorley limped off the field the snap for the punt went over Gillikin’s head for a second safety. It was 14-7 Iowa with 13:39 to play before the half and it looked uncertain that McSorley would return.

Iowa faced a 4th and 1 at midfield and after calling a timeout, were able to come out and draw Shareef Miller offside without snapping the ball. Robert Windsor had a sack on second down to force a 3rd and 20 and the Lions got the ball back without incident.

Tommy Stevens entered the game at quarterback and on 3rd and 9 in the opening sequence, he ran for a first down. Gillikin punted the ball to the 30 yard line and Lamont Wade made a great tackle on special teams to avoid a return, giving the defense a full field to defend.

John Reid picked off a second down pass and took it to the 3 yard line, nearly getting a pick-six. Stevens ran it in on the next play to tie the game 14-14. The momentum didn’t last long as the kickoff was taken across midfield to give Iowa a short field, starting at the 46.

With the aid of just one first down, Iowa took a 17-14 lead on a 49 yard field goal with 4:32 to go before the half. Trace McSorley came back in to lead the next drive but the offense went three and out. Iowa fumbled after driving into Penn State territory on third down but recovered the ball, then went for it on fourth but failed, giving Tommy Stevens 37 seconds to work with before the half near midfield.

KJ Hamler caught a first down with 7 seconds left on the 27. James Franklin called timeout just as Jake Pinegar was attempting a field goal, the kick went through the uprights. The second attempt was perfect from 45, tying the game at 17.

Safety Garrett Taylor entered the game in the second half, returning from a first-half suspension for targeting the week earlier in Indiana. After allowing a first down the defense forced a stop. Trace McSorley came out to lead the offense.

KJ Hamler caught a pass for 18 yards to take the ball across the 40 on first down. On 3rd and 2, McSorley ran the ball in from 51 yards to give PSU a 21-17 lead, its first of the game. DeAndre Thompkins made a great block on the outside during the run.

The defense gave up two first downs and got the ball back at the 20. Gillikin punted it back the other way three plays later. Brent Pry’s defense continued to play well, coming up with a tackle for loss on 2nd and short, then Yetur Gross-Matos had a sack on third down.

The offense took the ball down to the 32 where McSorley was sacked on 3rd and 10. Jake Pinegar entered and hit from 49 yards, extending the lead to ten points. The defense got the ball quick and with 1:22 to go in the third quarter McSorley was back under center.

On a critical 3rd and 6, KJ Hamler caught a 49 yard bomb into Iowa territory. Miles Sanders ran for a first down and then on 3rd and 4 at the 14, McSorley ran for a first down. On the next play a fumble happened on the exchange between Sanders and McSorley, and Iowa took over at the 10.

The Hawkeyes punted the ball back with 11 minutes to play to the Penn State 8. McSorley threw a pick-six on the second play and just like that it was a three point game with ten minutes to play.

KJ Hamler made another great play, this time a 68 yard kickoff return to set the offense up at the 31. The field position was enough to give Jake Pinegar a chance to hit from 45, which he did. The lead was 30-24 with 8:24 to play.

Iowa stormed back, taking the ball into Penn State territory with three consecutive passes to Noah Fant and then a run of 20 by Mekhi Sargent. Sargent caught a clutch pass on third down to the 17 with just over four minutes to play. From the four yard line Nick Scott intercepted a pass to end the drive. Iowa tried to change the play late, but the ball was snapped and after the confusion, Scott had the ball in his hands. The pass was intended for Noah Fant, but Fant never turned for the ball.

Penn State got a first down and forced Iowa to use all of its timeouts, but the Hawkeyes got the ball back with 1:23 at their own 23. Blake Gillikin got off a 49 yard punt when it counted, again giving the defense the whole field to defend.

Iowa got the ball to the 44 of Penn State with 25 seconds to play. With 7 seconds left, on fourth down, the stadium rocking with the roars from the stands, the defense held. A lateral to an offensive lineman on the final play ran the clock out.


  • After starting the game at right tackle Will Fries left in favor of Chasz Wright in the second quarter. Fries came back in during the third quarter. Wright was in during the fourth. It appeared that coach Franklin was platooning the two veteran players. Fries struggled recently but Wright has played a lot of quality football in Happy Valley and has been practicing well per the coaches. It may not be the worst thing to have the line playing well and also have a sixth player ready to go if needed.
  • The Ferentz family knows how to coach the line. Kirk Ferentz got his start at Iowa as the offensive line coach from 1981-89 and then coached in the NFL for four seasons as a line coach. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has been the offensive line coach at Iowa since 2012, and started for Iowa on the line during his father’s early years there. There is nothing that a coach could have done to stop what Yetur Gross-Matos was doing out there on Saturday. That being said, Kevin Givens, Robert Windsor, PJ Mustipher all played very well on the inside versus a well-coached and well-stocked Iowa offensive line. It wasn’t a matter of coaching, as the quality on both sides is phenomenal, but the players themselves stepping up and setting the tone. If the interior line can continue to hold solid, the outside players at defensive end will be able to run free and cause havoc.
  • DeAndre Thompkins caught 5 passes for 59 yards. Outside that only freshmen caught passes for the Lions, with Freiermuth grabbing one for 18 yards, Jahan Dotson 2 for 21 yards, and KJ Hamler 5 for 96 yards. Mac Hippenhammer and Cam Sullivan-Brown saw the field as well. While Brandon Polk and Juwan Johnson played, their snaps were reduced by the influx of younger players now getting a share of time on the field.
  • Jake Pinegar made a couple of long field goals when the team really needed the points. Coming into the game Pinegar hadn’t made a kick over forty yards and at times looked a bit shaky. On Saturday he hit a 45 yard kick just before the half to reset the game to a tie. Two field goals in the second half gave the Lions the cushion to defend that proved to be the difference at the end of the game. It was a good experience for the young kicker from Iowa.
  • Penn State played five linebackers within the flow of the game. Micah Parsons and Ellis Brooks came off the bench, with Parsons playing roughly as much as starters Koa Farmer and Jan Johnson. Cam Brown has played very well this season, especially inside when needed, and he is the only linebacker that is being used on all three downs with regularity. The other four linebackers mixed in providing various combinations in the three linebacker base set and in nickel coverage when there are two on the field. Not only are the younger, arguably more physically-talented players able to get experience, the team is better having five players that it can count on. At this point in the season all four linebackers other than Brown have obvious holes in their game, but there is enough game within them to be successful. If Brent Pry can get the most out of the group moving forward, the position may become a strength toward the end of the season.