Penn State went into Iowa City with the hopes of a statement victory. Instead, it leaves with a loss — and perhaps more importantly — battered as quarterback Sean Clifford went down with an injury that puts the rest of the season into question.
The first 25 minutes of the game were largely controlled by Penn State. Despite two interceptions from Clifford, the Nittany Lions’ offense looked good against one of the more vaunted defenses in the country, to the tune of 17 points. Meanwhile, the defense held strong, holding the Iowa offense to just three points.
But then, with Penn State up 17-3, Clifford went down with what looked like a back or rib injury. He walked off to the locker room, only to return after halftime without a jersey. In his place was backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson, who to put it nicely, struggled. Roberson finished the game 7-of-18 for just 34 yards, and two interceptions as well. The Penn State offensive line also struggled with false starts once Roberson came in, which flipped the field routinely for Iowa.
Unfortunately for Penn State, the defense couldn’t hold onto the lead. With 6:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes scored on a 44-yard touchdown pass, putting the Hawkeyes up 23-20 — a lead they would never give up.
This is a tough pill for Penn State to swallow, as this game had the makings of a statement victory for the Nittany Lions. Now instead of celebrating a road victory over the No. 3 team in the country, Penn State coaches, players, and fans shift their focus to the health of Clifford. While improvements from Roberson should be expected, it is abundantly clear that Penn State’s success this season will be tied to how many more games Clifford plays.