Beating Iowa in Kinnick Stadium at night is impressive enough as is. Beating Iowa in Kinnick Stadium at night AND John O’Neill’s officiating band of merry men is another thing altogether. How to grade
It wasn’t the best of performances from Sean Clifford, as he only threw for 117 yards and a touchdown on 12-for-24 passing and looked extremely jittery in the first few drives. Once he calmed down though, he actually did a good job in the role of game manager, delivering the ball to his playmakers in space and letting them do the bulk of the work. This included a pair the TD strike to KJ Hamler and the pitch to Noah Cain that led to PSU’s other TD of the night.
Sean also delivered a lovely strike to Pat Freiermuth for a TD (just because the worst officiating crew in football history wrongfully took it away, doesn’t mean I’m not going to give Cliff credit for it) and ran the ball 16 times for 67 yards, either on designed plays (which didn’t work out so well) or scrambling out of trouble (which seemed to catch Iowa flat-footed and led to moving the chains).
Running Back: B+
It’s nice to see somebody from the #LawnBoyz finally establish themself as the go-to back. Noah Cain’s 22 carries for 102 yards (his second straight 100-plus yard performance) and a TD led the way for the Nittany Lion rushing attack. More importantly, Noah has established himself as the team’s closer, helping PSU run out the game’s final 2:30 when Iowa could have gotten the ball back with a stop and a chance to drive for the game-winning TD. Imagine if PSU had him available to trot out there against USC in the Rose Bowl a few years ago, or against Ohio State in the fourth quarter the last couple of seasons.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: B-
It was a quieter night for this unit, but KJ Hamler did great things with the ball in space, including a 22-yard TD that gave PSU its first lead of the night (which they would never relinquish). It was part of a seven-catch, 61-yard performance for KJ. Jahan Dotson had an unfortunate drop on 3rd down on a slant that would’ve gone for at least a huge gain, if not a TD. Pat Freiermuth was the latest victim of John O’Neill’s officiating crew, having a TD inexplicably wiped off the board.
Offensive Line: B
At times they had some trouble with Iowa’s front seven (which could be expected, given how excellent Iowa’s defense has been) but overall, they did a pretty good job of making sure Clifford had enough time to throw and more importantly, were able to create some holes for Noah Cain to hit and subsequently plow over defenders. As much as I have and will continue to rant about the horrible officiating, they did legitimately commit a few too many holding penalties for my liking and will have to get that cleaned up.
Defensive Line: A
Robert “Big Game Bob” Windsor was the star of the show for the Wild Dogs, garnering six total tackles, including two-and-a-half tackles for a loss, and a sack-and-a-half, as well as a couple of hurries on Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (PSU as a team had five QB hurries). Yetur Gross-Matos also had five tackles, including one for a loss, while Shaka Toney recorded half a sack. This unit held Iowa’s ground game in check, only allowing 70 yards on 30 carries, which forced Stanley to have to win the game for the Hawkeyes with his arm.
It was a solid night for the linebackers as well, as Cam Brown, Micah Parsons, and Ellis Brooks, each had four tackles, with Brown recording a half-tackle for a loss. They helped out the D-line in terms of not allowing Iowa’s ground game to get rolling, and they did not allow much yards after the catch whenever Stanley would connect with one of his receiving targets on the shorter range passes.
Jaquan Brisker’s clutch interception (the first of his major college career), which led to PSU’s TD drive to put them up 17-6 with only five minutes remaining in the game prevents this from being a slightly lower grade. It wasn’t a terrible night by any stretch of the means for the secondary, but it seemed like they were slow to turn around on the lobbed passes Stanley would throw that were practically begging to be intercepted or at least, batted down, but instead turned into receptions for Iowa.
There seems to be a bit of a running theme with getting beat on 50/50 balls thanks to the opposing receiver making a leaping grab, as what happened with John Reid when Brandon Smith Moss’d him for a TD to give Iowa new life (after yet another horrible spot by the refs). Hopefully, this is something that can be rectified this week during practice, because you know damn well Michigan with their more athletic receivers, will attempt to do the same.
Special Teams: A-
The Blake Gillikin we all know and love made a return, averaging 42 yards on his seven punts, including a long of 62, playing a pivotal role in making sure Iowa did not have quality starting field position the whole evening. Jake Pinegar redeemed himself from his miss last week by nailing a 33-yarder in his home state, while Jordan Stout was back to his old self, putting all of his kickoffs into the end zone, with two of them being for touchbacks. Not much happened in the return game, due to KJ Hamler being forced to fair catch on most punts. Otherwise, this was a solid all-around performance and credit to Joe Lorig for getting this fixed after a bad performance against Purdue last week.
Before you bludgeon me in the comments section, please understand that the “A” is for “ARE YOU FUCKING SHITTING ME?” From overturning Freiermuth’s TD, to giving Iowa a first down after Stanley fumbled the snap on a 3rd and 1 (which subsequently led to Stanley’s TD pass the very next play, when they should’ve been sneaking it on 4th down), to phantom defensive holding calls right after a huge sack on Stanley near his own goalline, to turning a blind eye to all the times PSU’s D-linemen were held, this was yet another John O’Neill-inspired masterpiece from the worst goddamned officiating crew in the history of football.
If you’re as pissed off as I am, do me a favor and sign this petition to get O’Neill’s sorry ass fired and pass it along to your friends/relatives.