Losses are tough to swallow, but those where they team could have won the game, but didn’t, are especially gutting. That was the case on Saturday, when Penn State went to Iowa City to take on the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes, only to come back to State College with a loss on their record.
Theoretically, everything is still on the table for the Nittany Lions. They can win their remaining games and represent the East in the Big Ten Championship game. They can play Iowa again in said game, presumably, and win the rematch. And, with a single loss on their record, they can still reach the College Football Playoff when it’s all said and done.
But in this game, it’s still frustrating to see, even after everything that went down, the Nittany Lions only needed to make one or two plays to come out victorious. But the breaks went in the opponent’s favor, and now the Nittany Lions have to play with a bit of urgency instead.
Penn State could not avoid falling victim to Iowa’s style of play, turning the ball over in their first series. That turnover led to a quick field goal by the Hawkeyes, which is a testament to the defense’s tenacity and ability to stop teams from scoring touchdowns once they’re in the red zone.
The ensuing scores would all be by the Nittany Lions, with Sean Clifford being able to find the necessary holes to pick the Iowa defense apart. The first drive took a mere two minutes and 31 seconds, where Clifford found KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Brenton Strange, and Parker Washington to quickly take the Lions from their own 25-yard line to the Iowa 2. A Noah Cain run put Penn State on the board.
The next drive was even quicker. A Spencer Petras turnover put the Nittany Lions at the Iowa 39, and four plays later, Clifford ran it in himself for the second touchdown of the game.
Penn State’s third scoring drive would start at their own 20, and Clifford once again found his receivers —Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington this time, and quickly moved the ball to Iowa’s red zone. The drive stalled there, and the Lions settled for a field goal.
And then things took a turn.
Several Nittany Lions went down in this game, but none more detrimental than Clifford himself. For the rest of the time without Clifford, the defense did an admirable job of slowing Iowa down as much as they could, but the task became more and more impossible the more Penn State was pinned deep in its own end zone, and the more drives Iowa started from its own 45-yard line.
Ta’Quan Roberson would be the first to tell you this game was not his best, but who wants to be tasked with taking the reins in one of the most raucous environments in college football? It would be easy to blame the three points on 11 drives on Roberson alone, but the reality is that this wasn’t really the case.
In the first drive of the second half, Roberson threw a decent pass to Strange that the tight end simply dropped.
On the next drive, Roberson threw a pass to Theo Johnson that he should have caught. Roberson would proceed to get sacked and Penn State would settle for a field goal.
On the next drive, another catchable pass to Strange would fall incomplete, stalling yet another drive.
On the third-to-last drive, Keyvone Lee fell just short of the line to gain, thus giving Iowa the ball to run the clock out.
Yes, pampered in there were all the false start calls, boneheaded decisions, and overall ineffective play that marked the Cliffordless two quarters and a half, but the fact of the matter is this: It took Iowa two and a half quarters, and a series of penalties that stalled Penn State drives before they started, to squeeze a three-point win in their biggest game of the season, if not the decade.
Of course, all there is to do is look forward. Penn State can’t have this game back, but what they can do is take care of business the rest of the way. If they can get healthy, they can play with everyone on the rest of the schedule. And if they do that, they’ll get their chance at redemption.
Stats and Storylines
4 - Penn State turnovers in the game. All interceptions.
3 - Points Iowa scored off the aforementioned turnovers.
1 - Turnovers the Nittany Lions forced. They would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Shenanigans - There was booing, there was rushing the field. None of it matters. Fans are fans and everyone has their moments. Let’s not focus on that. That said, coaches should know better, lest it happens to you later. I don’t think Franklin will soon forget seeing opposing coaches behave that way.
What a difference a year (and a transfer) makes - I am incredibly happy for Will Levis and what he’s been able to accomplish at Kentucky. That team looks like it’s headed for big things. But man, did Penn Stat need him in this game! But most importantly, Clifford went from probably the most hated guy on the roster to the most important player on the team right quick!
Looking ahead - The Nittany Lions have a week to recover, and hopefully another week to take it easy as they prepare for the second half of their schedule. Here’s to hoping everyone who went down in the Iowa game can return in full force by October 30th.