Penn State did on Saturday night what many teams before have struggled to do - win at Kinnick Stadium at night.
What makes it more admirable is that the team was fighting the refs all game as well.
I won’t do a deep dive on the officiating - suffice to say it was easily in the top 5 poorly called games that I’ve watched in my football-watching career.
So on top of playing at one of the toughest venues in the country, at night in front of a raucous crowd, against a top 20 opponent with an incredibly stingy defense, the Lions also had to overcome blatant (almost malevolent) officiating.
And yet, that’s exactly what they did.
A phantom holding call late in the first half gave Iowa life, ultimately leading them to the Penn State 4-yard line, where a heroic goal line stand kept Iowa to a field goal, preserving a 1-point lead going into the half.
Following an Iowa fumble in the third quarter, and another holding penalty, the Lions had first and goal at the 16, and Pat Freiermuth scored an incredibly athletic touchdown to extend the lead.
Only he was called down at the 1-foot line on a “judgment call” by the referee after review. On third and goal at the 1-foot line, Penn State scored again, only for C.J. Thorpe to be called for holding. On third and goal from the 11-yard line, Penn State scored again, only for Steven Gonzalez to be called for holding. Finally the Lions were forced to settle for a field goal after scoring a touchdown on 3 of 4 plays.
But that’s not all. In the fourth quarter, the Lions had Iowa backed up to their own 4-yard line, when Nate Stanley had his arm hit, knocking the ball from his hand, which the Lions scooped and scored. Only it was ruled that his arm was moving forward, and thus it was an incomplete pass. Good enough, but since the ball did not get back to the line of scrimmage, and the QB was in the endzone, that should have then been called intentional grounding, resulting in a safety. What’s more, on third down John Reid was called for a phantom pass interference penalty, giving Iowa a first down and some breathing room.
The defense buckled down, and on the very next play, Jaquan Brisker intercepted the ball, with nary a flag to be seen. PSU marched down the field and scored to take an 11-point lead.
Iowa finally pieced together a drive of their own late in the game, scoring to make it a 5-point game, but ultimately the Lions were able to run out the clock for the win.
This team has mettle.
They defeated a tough, ranked opponent on the road, in an incredibly tough stadium. They defeated the refs, who very blatantly called penalties and reversed decisions on the field that affected the game.
For a young team, that sort of test, and that sort of mettle, is a dangerous thing.
Think back to last year, when the Lions could not hold on to defeat Ohio State at home. A similarly young team fell apart. They had zero energy against Michigan State, losing late. They sleep-walked through the rest of the season, including a blowout loss to Michigan.
For a young team, mindset is as important as physical talent. This team is currently having a lot of fun, and they’re playing for each other.
Now they’re battle tested. They know they can take on a tough opponent - including aid from the refs - and win.
This team has mettle. And that’s a dangerous thing for everyone else on the schedule. If they BELIEVE that they can beat anybody? Well, who’s to stop them from actually doing it?