Each week we’ll take a look at what went right — and wrong — for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. Catch all the previous rewatches right here.
Much like the loss to Wisconsin, the chances for Iowa to beat Penn State were there.
Outside of the late, crippling interception from Nate Stanley, there was more than one opportunity for Iowa to either take the lead or blow the game wide open. I think that’s perhaps the most frustrating thing out of both of the Hawkeyes’ losses this year.
The Nittany Lions are not as good as they were a season ago and it showed. This Iowa team is also head and shoulders above where they were from a talent standpoint in 2016 — the last time Kirk Ferentz and crew traveled to Beaver Stadium.
Nate Stanley was obviously one of the bigger reasons Iowa wasn’t able to pull out a win this weekend, but he is hardly the only one to blame. There were several coaching errors and the running game was a bit worse than I thought watching live.
As usual, the Iowa defense was good enough for the Hawkeyes to get a win and held it together against an offense that has some serious playmakers on it. But short fields for Penn State, errors on special teams, penalties and turnovers were absolutely killer.
Let’s dive in.
Offensive snap counts
Quarterback: Nate Stanley (87), Peyton Mansell (1)
Running back: Mekhi Sargent (50), Toren Young (27), Ivory Kelly-Martin (12)
Fullback: Austin Kelly (13)
Wide receiver: Brandon Smith (75), Nick Easley (65), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (43), Kyle Groeneweg (14)
Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (74), Noah Fant (57), Nate Wieting (11)
— OT Alaric Jackson, three, -15 total (illegal procedure x2, false start); Team, one, -5 yards total (delay of game); QB Nate Stanley, one, -5 yards total (intentional grounding); OT Tristan Wirfs, one, -5 total (false start)
— 88 offensive plays: 2WR/2TE/RB (46); 3WR/TE/RB (22); 2WR/TE/FB/RB (9); 1WR/2TE/FB/RB (3); 4WR/RB (2); 2WR/2RB/TE (2); 2WR/3TE (2); 3TE/FB/RB (1); 2QB/WR/TE/RB (1); Fake field goal (1).
There are a couple things that stand out here. First, Iowa went with two tight ends and two wide receivers for a staggering 46 snaps. That’s the most they’ve rolled with that personnel package this season.
The Hawkeyes also used three wide receivers a bunch, but that’s inflated by Iowa’s last gasp, 11-play dive — they used the 3WR/TE/RB grouping for 10 of those 11 plays. Brandon Smith was on the field a ton for Iowa, as was Nick Easley. I thought Smith played relatively well and despite having just four catches, he made the most of them. All four went for first downs.
With Ivory Kelly-Martin exiting the game early due to an ankle injury, Mekhi Sargent got a whole bunch of snaps on Saturday. He had 16 carries for 91 yards and that includes two negative rushes for -7 yards. He did most of his damage on just five totes that got him 76 yards — the other 11 totaled just 15.
His longest was this 23-yarder early in the third quarter:
Ross Reynolds (#59) gets a really nice block here, as does Alaric Jackson (#77) to help spring this run. Sargent isn’t touched until he’s nine yards down the field, which is exactly what you want.
Sargent pretty much runs through two Penn State defensive players and breaks another tackle further down the field, but the time he spends eluding him costs him a shot at an even longer run.
The run game was about as hot-and-cold as it gets. When Iowa was able to fire off and get good push — shocker — the run game was there. When they didn’t, well, it didn’t go very far.
Take the very next play, for instance.
Cole Banwart is in at right guard and does a terrible job of blocking Penn State defensive lineman Damion Barber (#90) who is through the line almost immediately.
Banwart and Dalton Ferguson split time at right guard, with the snap counts at 48 and 40, respectively.
Alaric Jackson drives his guy — Yetur Gross-Matos (#99) — straight into Sargent, who has just put a pretty nice stiff arm on Barber. Gross-Matos had a fantastic day, finishing with a team-high nine tackles, two sacks and four total tackles for loss.
Jackson did not have a good day and that was one of the reasons Iowa lost. While Sargent probably isn’t getting much on this play regardless, there’s a decent chance he gets a bit closer to the line of scrimmage.
Sargent leads the running back group in yards lost rushing this season with 25. Here’s his other negative run of the day:
This play, out of the shotgun, probably works if Jackson gets a better chip block on Gross-Matos, who puts a nice little spin move on the Hawkeye offensive tackle.
Reynolds doesn’t really need help on the linebacker (Cam Brown, #6) and that might have sprung the play for a first down. Instead, Sargent is taken down well behind the line of scrimmage due to the east/west nature of the run.
Iowa fumbles on the next play on a bad snap and then does a strange trickeration play with two quarterbacks on fourth down, which doesn’t work.
We’ll get to those things in a few, but if Jackson gets this block, there’s a non-zero chance Iowa gets at least a field goal before halftime. Instead the Nittany Lions get the ball back and get a field goal of their own to tie the game.
Iowa ran a couple more runs out of the gun, with this 20-yarder in the fourth quarter. It was also Sargent’s final carry of the day.
It’s a read option and I believe Stanley has the option to tuck it, but obviously hands it off to Sargent, who makes defensive end Shareef Miller (#48) miss.
That’s a one-on-one battle and Miller is left unblocked on purpose. It allows Nate Wieting to get out in front and get the block that springs this run. Sargent shows off his speed a bit and nearly gets it down to the seven-yard line before a review brings the ball back to the Penn State 37.
Despite Sargent playing pretty well down the stretch, Iowa elected to run the ball just one more time on this drive, a reverse to Ihmir Smith-Marsette. I don’t know why the ball wasn’t run more at the end of the game and on replay, it’s shocking to me that Iowa used a fullback just twice on its final five drives.
Moving on, fumbles were a bit of issue throughout the game, though somehow Iowa managed to recover them all.
These three all came in the first half — one by Hockenson, one by Ivory Kelly-Martin, and the third a bad snap. Iowa also had one more in the second half, but Stanley got it and threw it out of bounds without much trouble.
The Hawkeyes are lucky they recovered them all, especially that one by Kelly-Martin. The most frustrating one, I think, was the early snap to Stanley. I’m not sure what kind of miscommunication was going on there, but it was rough to watch.
And, really, that’s about as perfect of a way to segway into talking about Stanley, who had an incredibly tough day.
Overall, the junior signal caller was 18-of-49 (36.7 percent) passing for 205 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was also sacked three times and especially struggled in a place where he’s usually very good: third down.
Coming into this game, Stanley was 40-of-71 for 772 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions on third down. He’d also picked up 34 third downs in the process.
On Saturday, Stanley was 5-of-10 for 57 yards, an interception and a sack on third down. Three of those completions and most of those yards came on Iowa’s final two drives.
The most brutal miss on third down came early in the game. It was a throw to Hockenson and would have been a touchdown.
Iowa’s in tight here, with no wide receivers, three tight ends, a fullback and a bruiser of a running back in Toren Young. This has been an area where the Hawkeyes have used a fullback to run a bunch this season and honestly what I thought they were going to do.
Instead, Stanley has a tremendous fake, which Young sells really well.
Then the junior quarterback overthrows Hockenson by about five yards. If Iowa gets this play, the Hawkeyes go up 21-7 and I don’t think they look back. Instead, Stanley’s confidence is pretty much gone and doesn’t get into any sort of rhythm again until late in the game.
While this drive does get extended, Stanley didn’t complete another pass until Iowa’s final offensive possession of the half. In fact, here’s what happens on the next drive, just two throws later:
This ball looks to be intended to go to Nick Easley, though Brandon Smith is also in the area and a little deeper down the field.
Regardless, it’s just placed awfully. It certainly wasn’t his only bad ball. As I mentioned above, there were several times in this game where the Hawkeyes were close to putting together a nice drive, only to have it sputter.
It goes back to third downs and Stanley just wasn’t able to convert.
Easley is about three yards deep and he’s got a step on his man. While the wideout probably isn’t going to get a first down, I think Iowa would have considered going for it on fourth down.
Regardless, Easley never gets the chance, because the throw is way too high and the ball sails about 10 yards past him. It wasn’t the only time Stanley would target Easley on third down and not have it work.
Now to be fair, Easley is grabbed as he cuts on his route here. The defender might have got away with a little defensive holding, but it wasn’t really that egregious.
Anyways, the ball is still well off target and Iowa’s forced to punt. Penn State scored a touchdown four plays later.
Stanley also missed on a third-and-goal early in the game.
Now this one’s a bit on the offensive line, as Stanley is hit as he throws and the ball comes out of his hand kinda funky. I think he was targeting Nick Easley, but the ball is just thrown into a really dangerous spot — there’s a bunch of Penn State defenders there.
And I’m really not a huge fan of this play design either. All these routes kinda break open late (just look at how open Hockenson is after his defender trips) and one of his best red zone targets — Fant — isn’t even on the field.
Stanley struggled to get the ball out the entire game and made some pretty poor decisions. On his lone sack of the day, he probably should have gotten the ball out faster.
That said, this play was hardly entirely his fault.
Alaric Jackson gets blown up here and with Sargent leaving pass protection late to be the safety valve, there’s no help. The sophomore offensive tackle definitely struggled throughout the day and this play is yet another example.
The entire pass protection was breaking down, however, and this really is a play where he needs to get the ball out. Instead Iowa loses eight yards on third down.
However, his worst decision came on the three-yard line late in the game.
Stanley kills the play and Noah Fant turned to Easley to let him know he killed it. Fant didn’t see the ball get snapped and is about a second behind everyone else.
Toren Young is running a little flat route that might have turned into a touchdown if the play had gone off as it was supposed to. I think Fant’s job was to put a bit of a pick on the defender, thus opening up the route for Young.
However, Stanley killed this play way late. Yes, Kirk Ferentz was apparently trying to call a timeout, but this was all way late in the play clock. It’s a bad interception on a ball that should never have been thrown and cost the Hawkeyes the game.
This was a nice, long drive that had given some needed rest to the defense and a touchdown here very well might have won the game for Iowa.
My biggest problem with this play is that it’s out of the shotgun on first down at the three yard line. There’s no reason for that, especially when 1) It wouldn’t hurt to burn a bit of clock and 2) You have running backs that should be able to pick up three yards. You have to. Penn State’s defense was reeling at this point and I think a simple dive play would have been enough to get a touchdown.
This is just an incredibly frustrating way to lose a football game.
The Hawkeyes did get one last-gasp drive to win the game, but couldn’t make much of it. Here’s a pass to Hockenson that sorta looked like a catch.
It was close, but again, had the ball been thrown better he would have been well within bounds.
Oh, Hockenson hurdled a guy early in the game too. He’s such an athlete.
That’s pretty much it for the offense, though I did splice together Iowa’s three ‘trick plays’ of which only one worked.
The first looked like a fake field goal that Iowa audibled out of, the second was the touchdown and the the final one was the two quarterback play that failed miserably.
I think that on the first one Miguel Recinos didn’t hear Colten Rastetter telling him to get back. That was definitely not something I noticed the first time.
Odd stuff. Especially that two quarterback play.
Oh, and here’s the final play of the game. Wish Stanley would have been able to get a ball down the field. And too bad Wirfs didn’t try to flip it backwards...
On to the defense.
Defensive snap counts
Defensive line: Anthony Nelson (45), Parker Hesse (45), Matt Nelson (36), Sam Brincks (36), Chauncey Golston (28), A.J. Epenesa (28), Cedrick Lattimore (19), Brady Reiff (19).
Linebacker: Djimon Colbert (60), Jack Hockaday (49), Kristian Welch (11), Nick Niemann (1).
Secondary: Amani Hooker (64), Jake Gervase (64), Julius Brents (64), Riley Moss (64), Geno Stone (63), Michael Ojemudia (8).
For the second week in a row the Iowa defense didn’t have any penalties, which was nice to see.
As for the snap counts, Kristian Welch was slightly injured, but was able to return. I have Amani Hooker with the secondary, but really he played more of a linebacker role. It continues to be interesting to have him out there doing that.
Iowa did go dime a couple times, which brought Ojemudia into the game. As for the defensive line, it was pretty much all systems normal.
Overall the Hawkeyes played pretty great on the defensive side of the ball, which was to be expected. Outside of a couple explosive plays, Penn State really wasn’t able to do much.
They did lose Trace McSorley on this play, however.
Colbert (#32) is blocked by the pulling guard while Jake Gervase is blocked by the running back and McSorley has just enough time to escape.
McSorley fakes a pass here for a split second before taking off and I’m really not sure why Jack Hockaday (#48) is sucked into the play. If Hockaday was a bit more patient, he would be probably been able to react sooner and perhaps hold McSorley to a short gain.
But, by the time everyone realizes what’s happening, McSorley is gone, helped by a nice block down the field from his wide receiver.
The Penn State quarterback had a couple nice throws, including the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown of the day:
It was the only catch of the day for tight end Pat Freiermuth, but it gave Penn State some much-needed momentum early in the game.
He just gets open in the back of the end zone and Iowa just loses him. Nice scramble by McSorley to extend the play as well.
The play prior to this was the first and only fourth-down conversion the Hawkeyes have given up this season.
Amani Hooker just gets lost here, I think. It’s one-on-one coverage all around here as Iowa is blitzing Colbert, Gervase and Hockaday. There’s no help for Hooker over the top and the wideout has a step on the defensive backs/linebacker hybrid.
But it was hardly a bad day for the Iowa defense. McSorley finished just 11-of-25 for 167 yards and was sacked three times. This play by Parker Hesse early in the game was certainly nice.
Iowa’s running what basically equates to a dime package here as the only true linebacker on the field here is Kristian Welch.
Hesse and Golston are both in their normal pass-rush package defensive tackle positions and stunt. Anthony Nelson gets great penetration here and McSorley isn’t able to escape because Hesse has done a really good job of containment.
The coverage down field is good and McSorley is forced to take the sack.
On another third down a little later in the game, the Penn State quarterback was sacked again. This was also the play that briefly knocked him out of the contest.
I really like how Iowa disguises Ojemudia’s blitz here. Just rather casually sitting about three yards off the ball while Colbert is showing blitz.
Colbert backs out of it on the snap, however, and instead takes responsibility for the running back. Meanwhile, Epenesa and Anthony Nelson are getting a good pass rush and the pocket collapses quickly.
McSorley has no place to go with the ball and takes the sack. A bad snap would give Iowa its second safety of the game a play later. It was the first time under Kirk Ferentz that the Hawkeyes have recorded two safeties in a game.
The defense scored three times (two safeties, one interception return) for the Hawkeyes, including this spectacular pick-six from Geno Stone. There’s a reason he’s been seeing the field so much as of late and Stone is really becoming quite the safety.
Hooker has decent coverage this play, but it certainly helps to have Stone over the top. The sophomore defensive back just steps in front of the ball, makes a couple nice moves on the return, and is in the end zone before anyone really knows what happened.
After this play I honestly thought Iowa was going to win the game. It felt like such a huge momentum swing and with 10 minutes left, all your timeouts and the defense playing pretty well... it just felt like the Hawkeyes were going to be able to pull this out.
Instead, Iowa gives up a huge kick return on the next play and Penn State ends up with a field goal, pushing the lead to six.
It really is rather impressive that the defense was able to keep the Hawkeyes in the game for as long as they did. And as impressive as that is, it’s equally as disappointing that the offense wasn’t able to do more in this game.
Iowa could have won this game. Perhaps even should have. That’s a real tough pill to swallow.
Especially since it’s second time in a span of a few weeks we’ve all had to do just that.