1. Noah Cain And The Running Game
I, like everybody else in the world, am officially on the Noah Cain Train. If you just looked at the box score, you might not be all that impressed with Cain’s game — 4.6 yards per carry with his longest carry going for 12 yards isn’t exactly eye-popping stuff. But the true frosh running back was exactly what Penn State needed Saturday night: a steady, consistent presence that churned out positive yardage after positive yardage. Cain shows incredible patience, top-tier vision, is always moving forward, and from now on, shouldn’t have to wait until the third series to get a carry.
Also, let’s give some love to the offensive line. This is far from a dominant unit, but Penn State was able to rather consistently run the ball on Saturday night, which hasn’t happened all that often in previous seasons during James Franklin’s tenure. The massive, 20-yard gains aren’t there, but you know what? Give me four yards every carry. Really solid game from the big guys upfront last night.
2. The Defensive Line...Again
Another game, another opportunity to shower the defensive line with praise.
Although Robert Windsor specifically had the best night (1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFLs, and mostly just unblockable), it was largely a group effort as Iowa could just not run the ball. Running back Tyler Goodson was able to break a Micah Parsons tackle at the line of scrimmage and turn it into a 29-yard scamper, but if you take that away, Iowa’s running backs ran for 41 yards on 23 carries. That’s 1.8 yards per carry, which hey, I’m not a math guy, but it’s tough to win football games when you are struggling to get 4-feet a pop.
Just as importantly as stopping the run, the defensive line created turnovers with PJ Mustipher breaking through and forcing a fumble, and Robert Windsor’s pressure forcing an errant throw from Nate Stanley. Being dominant and shutting down an opponent is one thing, but when you are doing that while giving the offense a short field — well, that’s just another level.
I DIDN’T LIKE...
1. Sean Clifford’s Jitters
All in all, I truly like Sean Clifford. Sure, the schedule to this point hasn’t exactly been daunting, but a 64% completion percentage, 13 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions, 252 (!) rushing yards, and most importantly, 6-0 and ranked No. 7 — you couldn’t have asked for much more from Cliff during these first six games.
That being said, he looked quite shaky against Iowa, especially early on. Those first two drives you could tell things were moving too fast for him. Yes, he settled down (finished the game 9/14 after starting 3/10), made some plays, and didn’t make any critical mistakes (see: turnovers) throughout the game, but I was hoping for a little more out of Cliff. Gutty performance no doubt, but this was a big platform where he could have really proven himself as a top-tier QB, and I don’t think that happened.
Perfect opportunity next week, though.
2. John O’Neill
I don’t complain about officiating in sports pretty much ever. 99% of the time when a fan base complains about the refs, it is because they are just big dumb loser babies. But Saturday night was an abhorrent display of officiating, and John O’Neill should never referee a Penn State game ever again.
John O’Neill’s track record with Penn State.— PS Football U (@psufootballu) October 13, 2019
2012: Matt Lehman clearly crosses goal line with ball in possesion. Ruled a fumble.
2014: Ball clearly on ground. Ruled an interception.
2019: Pat Freiermuth breaks goal line . Ruled down at 1.
All 3 were under further replay review. pic.twitter.com/84WzcPSMsb
Here’s the thing: the Freiermuth overturn aside, were the two other touchdowns taken off the board because of holds legitimate enough calls? Sure, it certainly looked like there was holding there. The issue is that those types of calls weren’t going both ways — the Nittany lions were called for 8 penalties for 80 yards, while Iowa was called for 1 penalty for 5 yards.
It’s all about consistency with referees. Fine, call holds on Penn State, but let’s make sure the same thing is happening for Iowa. Because if you watched that game — and most specifically, Robert Windsor — there’s no reason Iowa shouldn’t have been called for a hold at least once.