Sure, Iowa just choked out Penn State, 21-10. But how much do we really know? What was really important about beating Penn State? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
Good merciful heavens, the defensive line: There isn't a single starter on the line that didn't affect the game in a big way. Broderick Binns? 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and consecutive ownings of DeOn'tae Pannell that led to an Iowa safety (this sealed Pannell's fate; he was benched shortly thereafter). Christian Ballard? Probably the most consistent resident of the PSU backfield, and he tipped the last INT to A.J. Edds, effectively ending Penn State's hopes. Karl Klug? Multiple big plays, not the least of which was recovering a Penn State fumble in Iowa territory in the fourth quarter... a good 30-40 yards or so from his spot on the field at the snap. And Adrian Clayborn? Oh, only two tackles and O HAI GAME WINNING TOUCHDOWN K THANX. Between the four, they badgered their linemen, the PSU backs, and Daryll Clark into enough miscues that when it came time to reclaim the lead, the Penn State offense really had no chance down the stretch.
This is, of course, to take nothing from the back 7. Where do you want to start? Amari Spievey atoning for his first-play scorching with more lights-out tackling and coverage? Shaun Prater for baiting Clark into a bad interception with the Nittany Lions in field goal range? Defensive player of the week Pat Angerer for his 14 tackles, pick--and its 38-yard return that set up Iowa's only offensive TD--and forced fumble? And didn't it seem like Jeremiha Hunter (12 tackles) was in on just about every play--especially those near the line of scrimmage? In fact...
Good merciful heavens, the entire defense: It's hard to think so after watching the UNI near-disaster, but might this defensive unit be even better than the epic 2002 and 2003 units? Not to overstate the obvious, but think of this: there's no good way to attack them.
You want to pass? Great; here's the last three starting quarterbacks to challenge the Iowa secondary: 26-68, 1 TD, 327 yards, 8 INT. Further--not that removing data is a great way to bolster your point, but bear with us for one second--excepting the 79-yard bomb to Powell, and combining lost fumbles and INTs into a generic turnover stat, here's an average of what the last 3 starting QBs have accomplished against the Iowa defense: 8-22, 83 yards, 0 TD, 3 TO. You can add decimals if you need to, but whatever.
Then there's the run game. As Bellanca has noted multiple times, the game that started this win streak--last year's win over PSU--is also the last game in which Iowa has given up a rushing touchdown. Often, as with Minnesota and ISU, teams never come close. This game was no exception.
The reason? Defensive tenacity, and that absolutely must be a product of good, hard practicing. It's why even as Royster had gotten to the corner on a stretch play for a first down, the Iowa defenders didn't panic, instead poking the ball away and fielding it cleanly (not to put too fine a point on it, but the distance between Klug's spot at the snap and where he recovered the ball is about a 40-yard run away; that he was right there to be the first man to make the play is no accident). Yes, they gave up a 20-play drive in the first quarter, but look at it another way; PSU had to run 20 plays just to get 68 yards, and they only got three points for that effort. It was their last drive of over 40 yards for the game. In fact, one would think this Iowa team is unstoppable, except...
Good grief, the offense: Look, Ricky Stanzi did go 11-26 with two picks, but that included only about 1 1/5 Stanziballs and about 8 instances of receivers going Full Herb Grigsby. You never go Full Herb Grigsby. We can bitch about Paul Chaney Jr. dropping a 3rd down slant route or balls sailing off other receivers' hands, but what good does it do? Hell, Colin Sandeman literally kicked a dropped pass over to a Penn State player. How does that even happen?! In fact, you'd rarely think this when looking at a 11-26, 2 INT stat line in a crucial road game, but Ricky Stanzi actually took a big step forward in maintaining his discipline and composure. We wouldn't believe it if we didn't see it, either.
Our point is this: the offense was pretty bad against Penn State. The problem wasn't three-and-outs, mind you; there was only one of those, and it came on that dropped slant route we mentioned earlier. In fact, a full five drives ended in Penn State territory in the first half alone; Iowa had three offensive points to show for them. That is wasted opportunity, and a situation that an average defense usually cannot rectify.
The solution, then, is health and/or consistency. Either Iowa gets back the guys it expected to start during summer practice, or the second-stringers become part of the first unit just so the same 11 guys can start practicing together. Give credit to Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher for combining for over 200 yards from scrimmage, but without a more productive offense as a whole, Iowa could in major trouble against tough defenses.
That all said, this is one of the great post-Evashevski Iowa wins. While you only need to look back to that fateful night in Kinnick last season for the last time Iowa knocked off a top 5 team, you'll have to go back to 1990 to find a similar performance on the road; that was at #5 Illinois. There, Nick Bell demolished an entire team en route to a decidedly non-fluky victory. Here, it was the Iowa defense's front seven doing the trick. There, Iowa parlayed it into the team's last trip to Pasadena, touching off a nearly 20-year drought (yes, 2002 should have broken that, but... y'know). Here, can Iowa similarly parlay a big-time road win to big-time bowl glory? No pressure or anything.
(All images credited to Matthew Holst of the Press-Citizen)