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Raising Cain: The Lions Hold On Amid Some Tough Calls In A Hostile Environment

It was a battle until the end, but from it emerged a force in the Penn State backfield.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There was plenty of excitement, as expected, inside Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night. We saw some tough football played by two teams unwilling to give in to the pressure of the moment. Iowa continued to battle, facing one of the toughest defenses in the country while putting out an offense that seemed unable to sustain a drive.

Penn State was able to put together two touchdown drives that were the difference in the game. With all of the events swirling through the heads of Penn State fans, some calls that went against the Lions, the anxiety of a tight road contest, Noah Cain’s breakout party may have been slightly overshadowed.

After totaling 59 yards through his first 3 career games, Cain went over 100 for the second game in a row. While the 105 yards came much easier a week earlier against Purdue, Cain’s 102 yards came just when Penn State needed them. It’s hard to imagine that the Lions would have won the game without the freshman back’s effort.

How It Happened

Iowa threatened the end zone on three different possessions in the first half but settled for field goal attempts, making two. The first time Iowa got to the red zone Penn State’s defense responded with two consecutive plays for a loss; one a tackle for a loss by Trent Gordon on first down and the other a sack by Shaka Toney and Robert Windsor. John Reid held a third down reception to a one yard gain and Iowa kicked a long field goal for an early 3-0 lead.

The next time Iowa had the ball they took it inside the Penn State 25 before missing a field goal. Late in the half with a first and goal at the 4 yard line, with 52 seconds and a time out remaining, the Hawkeyes got just three points again. The Lions had a tackle for loss on first down and then forced two incomplete passes.

Penn State was able to put together a 15 play, 85 yard touchdown drive that ended with a 22 yard KJ Hamler touchdown catch in the second quarter.

It was enough for a 7-6 halftime lead. Hamler landed hard on his shoulder but was able to shake it off and continue to play.

First Half Notes

  • Penn State continued to play key substitutions. Six linebackers, four safeties, four defensive ends, four defensive tackles and three cornerbacks saw the field in the opening half.
  • On offense C.J. Thorpe and Mike Miranda split time at right guard. All four scholarship running backs played in the first half with Noah Cain getting snaps in the first quarter, earlier than any game this season.
  • Noah Cain had 7 carries for 35 yards. Ricky Slade had 1 carry for 1 yard and Devyn Ford had 4 carries for 17 yards.
  • Iowa out-gained Penn State 196 yards to 117.

Second Half

Pat Freiermuth appeared to score a touchdown late in the third quarter but the play was overturned and the ball spotted at the one-foot line. Penn State settled for a field goal after having two touchdowns called back for penalties on the drive. It was a momentum swing that allowed Iowa to hang in the game.

Robert Windsor dominated from his tackle position in the second half when the team needed to hold strong against the Hawkeye comeback attempt. Windsor finished with 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2 quarterback hurries. He seemed to be an additional member of the Iowa team, playing much of the second half in their backfield.

With just under ten minutes to play, Jaquan Brisker intercepted a Nate Stanley pass to set up Penn State’s second touchdown drive of the night. This time with a short field, the Lions went 35 yards on 8 plays, finishing with a 5-yard Noah Cain touchdown run.

Cain was in the backfield when Penn State took over with under 3 minutes to play, holding a 17-12 lead. On 3rd and 2 Cain ran behind Stephen Gonzalez for a first down with 2:11 to play and Iowa out of time outs. Sean Clifford took a knee a couple of plays later and the clock ran out.

Game Notes

  • Noah Cain took control in the backfield when the going got tough. The freshman finished with 22 carries for 102 yards in addition to scoring the game-winning touchdown. He saw the earliest playing time in his career and also was in the game late to seal the deal. With the talent in the PSU backfield, it is unlikely that the other three backs will not see the field, but it appears that Cain deserves more snaps, if not the majority moving forward.
  • Iowa gained 356 yards to Penn State’s 294, but since Brent Pry’s defense was defending the end zone, not the stat sheet, the Lions had the upper hand overall.
  • Sean Clifford had 16 runs for 67 yards. There were a few called run plays, most of which did not fare too well for the quarterback, but many of his scrambles kept drives alive and moved the chains. He showed that he is just athletic enough to escape pressure and make the opposing team pay for leaving a running lane open.