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Penn State 30, Iowa 24: Snap back to reality

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hello darkness my old friend

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Just as a reminder, like Jerry usually does, I wrote all of this in real time, so be nice. I just wrote as we went.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Every time the Iowa Hawkeyes get the attention of the nation, the program always seems to get snapped right back into the reality of its existence in gruesome fashion.

This afternoon was no different as the Hawkeyes fell to the Penn State Nittany Lions in a game that has me sitting on the couch in my basement feeling numb and unsurprised simultaneously.

Nate Stanley and the Iowa offense had their worst performance of the season and still were within a hair of taking the lead near the end of the game before it was ripped straight out of the Hawkeyes’ hands.

Like the Wisconsin matchup, this was a game that everyone, myself included, penciled into the schedule as a loss. But the narrative changed in the week preceding the game, giving Hawkeye fans around the country hope as the program gained national momentum. But once again, the Hawkeyes came up short.

Relive this with me if you dare.


It was an eventful beginning to the game, as the Hawkeyes managed to force the Nittany Lions into a 3 and out. Things got really interesting when Penn State’s punter couldn’t handle the ball and Dominique Dafney batted ball into the end zone, earning the Hawkeyes a safety for the early 2-0 lead.

The ensuing Iowa drive was...strange. Nate Stanley started off getting sacked with an intentional grounding call to go with it. But on 2nd and 15, he found found tight end TJ Hockenson for a big gain, in which the tight end fumbled, but thankfully it was recovered by NAME. Soon it was 3rd and 1 and Ivory Kelly-Martin was stuffed easily near the line of scrimmage. But a timely facemask penalty game the Hawks a new set of downs in the red zone. Continued difficulty establishing the run required a Stanley throw on third and long, which made my heart stop with the combination of the PSU pressure and the defenders around his intended target, but the ball dropped to the wet ground.

The Nittany Lions again struggled to get anything going on their second offensive drive of the game. The Iowa rush defense showed up in a huge way again, creating a 3rd and 18 situation that resulted in a Parker Hesse sack. Penn State punted from its own end zone.

On 2nd and 5 of the ensuring Iowa drive, Ivory KellyMartin fumbled the ball again, but Tristian Wirfs was able to capture it for a 3rd and 1. It was the first Iowa running back fumble of the season. Brian Ferentz dialed up another run on third and short, but this time it worked, as Toren Young ran left to the outside for a nice gain of nine yards.

Nate Stanley then found HOckenson again on a play action in the red zone, where he LEAPED over a Penn State defender with ease. Unfortunately, another red zone trip came and went without a touchdown. Nate Stanleys passes were batted or juts way off the mark.

It was 4th and 10. But when the team lined up for the field goal, Miguel Recinos was...lined up at wide receiver? What’s that? The ball was snapped to Colten Rastetter? And he just found DEFENSIVE TACKLE Sam Brincks for...an over the shoulder touchdown catch?

WHAT WORLD IS THIS!? Let’s watch again.

Excuse me while I collect myself.

12-0 Iowa. Just like we expected, right?

Penn State came alive in its next drive. The running backs found their ground, McSorley completed a huge 4th and 3 conversion through the air, and found a wide open 87 at the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

12-7, with :27 left in the first quarter. Maybe this won’t be as easy as we thought.

Iowa quickly found itself facing 3rd and 11 on its next possession. But instead of a conversion, we saw a flash of the old Stanley, where he overthrew Brandon Smith in single coverage. This time, Rastetter punted.

The defense followed up allowing a touchdown drive to allowing Penn State to start 0/4 on 3rd down conversions. Anthony Nelson also came down awkwardly on McSorley, who stayed down on the field for quite a bit of time.

A terrible snap after the timeout flew right by the Penn State punter and into the end zone for...another safety? Sure, why not! 14-7 Iowa. That score made the game look way more normal than what we’d been watching.

A Toren Young run on first down went for five yards, and was followed by Stanley finding Easley for another four yards. On 3rd and 1, Stanley faked a handoff and had a wide open Hockenson streaking over the middle...and he overthrew him. What should have been six points turned into 4th and 1, but a Stanley hard count drew a Penn State defender off guard for a new set of downs.

Sadly it went no where, as Easley couldn’t haul in a low Stanley throw, which was followed by a sack that brought on 3rd and 20. A draw play gained two yards, and Iowa punted.

Things got weirder as Tommy Stevenss checked in for McSorley. AJ Epenesa proceeded to feast on him on him on a fake handoff after Stevens ran the ball on his first snap. 3rd and 9, and Stevens ran the ball again, slipping past some Iowa defenders for a first down.

This could be bad.

Stevens nearly had a completion thanks to Riley Moss performing poorly in coverage, but thankfully the ball fell through his receivers hands. A Nittany Lion run on 2nd down went for a measly three yards, and Steven’s throw on 3rd and 7 was too low. Crisis averted...for the moment.

Iowa’s next drive went about as badly as it possibly could. A Toren Young run on first down went for 1 yard. On the ensuing play, Stanley threw the ball right into the hands of a Penn State defender, who returned the ball to the three yardline.

Stevens took a direct snap once again and took it right into pay dirt, and suddenly, we had a tie ballgame.

Can we get that McSorley guy back in the game?

Smith-Marsette took the kickoff back 50 yards, so maybe everything isn’t all bad? Sargent ran for 10 on the first carry of the drive, but he quickly got stuffed before Stanley had his pass on 3rd and 6 batted down by a Penn State corner. But ISM’s return was enough to pick the Hawks in field position, and Recinois regained the Iowa lead. 17-14 Hawks, with just over 4 minutes left in the half.

McSorley came back into the game for the next drive. He looked nervous to run, instead sticking to the pocket, which result in another Nittany Lion three-and-out.

Two straight Iowa runs created 3rd and 4, and the Hawks barely got a timeout called before getting a delay of game. The Hawks converted, but started to shoot themselves in the foot, thanks to a false start. It got worse when Stanley went to change the play and confused his center, resulting in the snap bouncing right out of Stanley’s arms. The ruling on the field was initially Penn State ball, but somehow, the call was overturned.

The Hawks then tried another trick play, bringing in Peyton Mansell to do...something. It failed miserably. The ball turned over on downs. McSorley had already gone back to the locker room, so Stevens came back into the game and again got a first down with his legs. On the next play, he found a quick out to his receiver for another first down. James Franklin called in the field goal unit for a 45 yard attempt with seven seconds remaining in the half. It was good, and the game went into half tied.

Iowa started with the ball in the second half, as the rain started again in earnest. Stanley continued his erratic play. A Sargent run for big yardage was followed up by Stanley under and overthrowing his receivers again, and Iowa’s offensive woes continued.

McSorley re-entered the game at quarterback, and after a few throws, ripped off a 51-yard touchdown run that gave Penn State its first lead of the game.

Gulp.

Iowa’s next drive was all Sargent all the time. No other Iowa running back could ever get anything going quite like Sargent was. When Young came in after Sargent ran for a first down, he was promptly stuffed at the line, and on 3rd and 5, Stanley again overthrew an open Easley.

The Iowa defense did its job on the next Penn State possession, but the Nittany Lions capped it off with a 53 yard punt. Iowa’s response? Another three and out and another Stanley sack. The PSU defensive end clobbered Jackson on the edge and got to Stanley with ease.

The Hawkeyes team that was getting all of the lucky breaks seemed to have run out of luck.

Nelson nearly picked off McSorley thanks to a batted pass on 2nd down of Penn State’s next drive, and he followed it up by sacking the Nittany Lion QB on the next play. But Penn State was in field goal range, and basically split the uprights from 49 yards. 27-17 Penn State.

It took Iowa facing 3rd and 10 for Stanley to do...anything, thanks to him finding Brandon Smith again who put in a little extra effort for a first down. But the run on the ensuing two plays wasn’t enough, and Stanley had another pass batted away on 3rd and 4. Rastetter punted for the 4th time OF THE QUARTER.

McSorley responded by throwing a 49 yard bomb on the next drive that brought us to the end of a third quarter that felt like it lasted an eternity.

NOT GREAT BOB.

Some life sparked back into the Hawkeyes when McSorley couldn’t transfer the ball to his running back Sanders in the red zone, and the fumble was recovered by Jack Hockaday with 12:57 left in the game.

The Hawks killed their own momentum with Alaric Jackson’s third false start of the game. Stanley found Hockenson over the middle again for his third catch of the game and a 20 yard gain. Suddenly Noah Fanta made his first catch of the game for 22 yards, and Iowa was driving. But Stanley had him open near the hashmarks, and it was just too low. On 3rd and 6, Stanley again threw the ball too low. Now, it might have been the result of hitting his hand on the helmet of a Penn State defender earlier in the drive, but these were simple throws that Stanley was completely missing.

All hoped looked to be lost heading into the next drive. But Geno stone picked off McSorleys first pass of the drive and returned it for a touchdown. All the sudden a field goal was the difference with 10 minutes left in the game, and a starting quarterback with a potentially bum hand.

But Iowa couldn’t have nice things in this game. Penn State promptly tallied a 68 yard kickoff return and were right back in business after the sloppy play. A stuffed Penn State run and pressure from A.J. Epenesa on McSorley brought up a field goal attempt on 4th and 5 that brought the Penn State lead back to six.

Stanley returned to the game with a taped hand and immediately found Fant again for a first down. He connected with him two more times consecutively and moved the chains once again.

Brian Ferentz followed up the call with a jet sweep to Sargent, who got a first down and more on his best run of the game. Suddenly Iowa was driving again, and hope flickered back into my beer-filled belly.

After another false start, the ball was flipped to ISM who went for five yards. Stanley fumbled the next snap but was able to throw it out of bounds into the vicinity of Easley. He found Sargent in the backfield on 3rd and 10 and suddenly we had a new set of downs in the red zone.

Stanley missed on his next two passes, bringing up another third and long with the clock ticking toward four minutes. But give the clutch award to Brandon Smith, who managed to get the first down on the 3 yardline.

Four tries to get six, and yet, a miscommunication between Stanley and Fant resulted in the quarterback’s second interception of the game. That was twice that Stanley got burned trying to change the play.

Momentum destroyed. Why wouldn’t Stanley call a timeout when he realized the clock was running down? Hindsight is 20/20, but Stanley’s decision single-handedly killed the Hawkeyes’ best offensive drive of the game.

Iowa used up both of its timeouts to bring up 3rd and 3 with 2:21 remaining, and stuffed McSorley behind the line of scrimmage. The clock continued to wind down. One more chance, with nearly 1:30 left on the clock. Stanley lucked out and got another chance to take the lead.

Penn State managed to get off the punt, and the Hawks started their final drive at the 22 with no timeouts.

On Stanley’s first throw, he found Smith again for the first down. Out of the shotgun, he looked for Smith again, but got impacted by the wind and put the ball just out of reach. 2nd and 10, 1:06 remaining.

Another incompletion on 2nd down, looking for ISM. Fant lined up in the slot on 3rd and 10, and Stanley managed to find him for a first down in bounds. Stanley out of the shotgun again got pressured by Penn State and threw the ball out of bounds. 39 seconds left with Iowa on their own 45 yard line.

Cue the elevated heart rate: Hockenson made a diving catch out of bounds. It was a questionable grab that was benefitted by being called a catch on the field, but definitely a bit of a question as to whether he had control of it or not.

The call was reversed and brought up another 3rd and 10 on the Iowa 45. Stanley faced pressure from Penn State but was able to escape with his feet for the first down and the clock ticking dangerously close to zero, with a touchdown as the only solution.

After a Stanley low pass to stop the clock, he missed his receiver on 2nd down and brought another long conversion to the table, with Noah Fant watching on the sideline. After barely missing Nick Easley, it was 4th and 10 with 7 seconds left. Stanley dropped back and was able to backwards shovel pass to Wirfs, who wasn’t able to get the touchdown.

Ballgame.


So where does this leave Iowa for the rest of the season? Well, I think it’s pretty safe to say that any hope of a trip to Indianapolis is now officially stomped into the ground, even with the Wisconsin loss to Northwestern today. Yes, it was bad weather, but the Iowa offense was as bad as we’ve seen it under Brian Ferentz for four straight quarters. Iowa couldn’t get the passing or the running game going, and it showed. Penn State made the plays it needed to to find success, and that was enough.

Next week Iowa hits the road again to face Purdue in West Lafayette. While Purdue got throttled by Michigan State on Saturday, we saw what the Boilermakers are capable of against Ohio State. If Nate Stanley plays like he did today again, it’s very possible Iowa loses its second consecutive game.

After two weeks of pure joy, we’re now back to the brutal reality of Hawkeye fandom. I don’t know what else to write, really. Are we ready to move on from Brian Ferentz as the offensive coordinator? Was this performance from Stanley a result of weird weather, or a general downward trend?

Only time will tell, but I’m moving away from this game with a lot more questions about the 2018 Iowa football team than I have answers.

Please be respectful in the comments.