Not ever knowing what to expect when the Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) play the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-3, 2-1) is a good thing. It always seemed that no matter how good Penn State thought they were, Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes had just enough talent and polish to humble them. Home turf made nary a difference.
“Basically, at least the first portion of the game, [Penn State] played flawless. They outplayed us in every facet.” —Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
It sure didn’t matter this time, as the highly partisan striped-out home crowd of 70,585 at Kinnick Stadium were anesthetized into a stunned silence through which occasional boos could be heard for much of the game. A fourteen point Penn State first quarter was the knockout punch that put Iowa out for good, as the Nittany Lions rolled to a 38-14 victory, their fifth straight since starting the season 0-2. If Penn State hadn’t gotten sloppy in the fourth quarter, it would have — should have — been a shutout.
But the Iowa crowd was silenced early — that’s for sure — and there went the home field advantage. To add injury to insult, after an 11-yard touchdown run, Bill Belton was penalized fifteen yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for gazing at the assembled multitude with a finger to his lips in a “hush” gesture, which was mere redundant affirmation by that time. With six minutes left in the second quarter, that Belton touchdown gave State a 24-0 lead. Around The Cave, there were shrieks of righteous incredulity about the penalty. Can performing a quintessential librarian act really be considered taunting a crowd? Jeez!
Before we gloat about the offensive performance, let’s give some props to the defense, which allowed only 209 yards, 20 of them on the ground. Stifling! This portends well for the next stop on the Penn State We Still Are tour, the big bad Buckeyes, who along with PSU are co-leaders in the B1G division of the same name. Talk about finding excitement in a season in which State is enjoined from post-season play!
Iowa’s only offense arrived a bit late, after the game had already been decided. Each of Iowa’s two fourth quarter touchdowns, their only scoring, can be traced to a screw-up on the Penn State end. Immediately after the Nittany Lions had increased their lead to 38-0 with 45 seconds having elapsed in the fourth quarter, junior wide receiver Jordan Cotton grabbed the kickoff at the eight yard line and proceeded to run virtually untouched for 92 yards for the Hawkeyes’ first TD. The second occurred after a Penn State turnover. The fourth quarter was nothing to be proud of for O’Brien’s Boys. The Hawkeyes won it 14-7.
Offensively, the boys were deadly. The offensive line is really looking good now. McGloin, who continues to look rock solid, albeit with the occasional misfire, was 26-38 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread out those completions among nine receivers, effectively involving tight ends, wide receivers, and backs in the inexorable march forward. Bill Belton was the leading rusher with 103 yards and three touchdowns.
Penn State doubled Iowa on first downs 28-14 and dominated throughout.
Late game sloppiness needs to be eradicated if this team is to successfully navigate the rest of the season.
Ah, but there’s the elephant in the room taking a dump on my nice, new rug once again: special teams. Can they do anything right? Ever? Just when it appeared that Sam Ficken might actually do his share positively, the rest of the special units are disgusting. Giving up a 92-yard kickoff return is something that will occasionally happen to even the best of football teams. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Furthermore, and even worse than getting burned occasionally by a long kickoff return, the punting game flat-out sucks! Alex Butterworth averaged 29.3 yards in this game to drop his season average to 36.5. His performance included a very ugly 24-yard wounded duck that quacked while flapping its way to oblivion.
Believe it or not, Iowa might have been the best defense Penn State has faced to date. For a change, PSU was not quite as fairy tale good with third- and fourth-down conversions, going 8-17 and 1-3, respectively.
So, will some intensive work on the special teams at practice yield a quantum improvement in the suckiest aspect of the Penn State football experience? Just wondering. It can’t get much worse!
I’m actually optimistic leading up to the showdown with Ohio State. The Penn State defensive front seven are looking razor-sharp and we know that Ohio State can be scored upon!
This team just keeps on getting better.