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The Morning After: Penn State

More trouble with the run game and untimely mistakes leave much to be desired this Sunday morning coming down.

Penn State v Iowa
The stats don’t show it, but it was another rough night for Nate Stanley.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

There’s an old Johnny Cash song that seems appropriate this Sunday morning. It starts out (and I apologize in advance for my singing voice):

Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.

The song, aptly titled Sunday Morning Coming Down, goes on bemoan the pain and loneliness of the sleeping Sunday sidewalk and Sunday morning coming down.

For the second week in a row, Hawkeye fans can relate. Oh, can they relate. There is perhaps no worse feeling on a Sunday morning than waking up with another loss while recovering from a day full of tailgating and a night full of cheering on the Hawkeyes. It’s sobering, it’s frustrating and it’s lonely.

Just as with a week ago at Michigan, last night’s home loss to Penn State (the 6th straight) fell squarely on the shoulders of the Iowa offense. The defense came to play and looked spectacular the vast majority of Saturday night. Sure there were times when Penn State was able to lean on the Hawkeyes more than we’re used to and their ability to rack up yards on the ground is something we can only dream of, but Phil Parker and company held Penn State to under 300 yards of total offense and only gave up one touchdown unassisted by an Iowa turnover.

Once again this week, the offense struggled to run the ball. The sack numbers didn’t make the rushing total look absurdly bad, but Iowa still only managed 70 yards on the ground. If you’ve been an Iowa fan for more than a couple weeks, you know that’s unacceptable. As The People’s Champ pointed out on last week’s SpoCo Radio pointed out (via Scott Dochterman of The Athletic), Iowa is 40-4 in games they’ve ran for 100 yards dating back to 2015. In games they don’t hit 100, they’re now 1-14.

The problems don’t end with the running game, but that’s certainly where they begin. The Hawkeyes rushed the ball 30 times last night, not abandoning it the way they did a week ago. And yet, the results were similar. The offensive line was blown up right in the middle and so many run calls were dead on arrival.

In this particular example, Penn State is bringing pressure with two blitzers, but neither of them impact the play. Instead, its defensive tackle #97 that goes entirely unblocked and makes the strip tackle. The fumble ultimately led to 3 points for Penn State on the short field.

But it wasn’t just the big turnover plays that killed Iowa, the offense was stymied all night by defensive linemen in the backfield. More often than not, that pressure came right up the middle and left both Nate Stanley and running backs with nowhere to go. Six weeks into the season, it’s a major concern.

Unlike a week ago, Iowa played much cleaner football last night. They were only credited with one penalty for five yards and they only gave up two sacks, which is very good against a team that averaged 5 a game coming in and significantly better than the 8 they gave up a week ago.

But the offense again had multiple turnovers. In addition to the fumble by Tyler Goodson, Nate Stanley had a brutal interception that directly led to points.

Stanley doesn’t have a ton of time here as the left guard is destroyed once again. Nate throws a brutally bad pass and a few minutes later, Penn State had 7 more points.

That was really the entire story of Saturday night. The Iowa defense did its job, short of creating its own turnovers (Penn State had none). The Iowa offense moved the ball well at times, but was never able to get the run game going and shot themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times with turnovers, missed throws and dropped passes.

They actually outgained Penn State 356 to 294 total yards, but Penn State rushed for 177 yards while Iowa only managed the aforementioned 70. Nate Stanley had a good statistical night, finishing 25 of 43 (58%) for 286 yards and a touchdown to go with the interception. But the missed throws and the turnover came at times that cost Iowa points.

The Hawkeyes also left 3 points off the board with a missed 40-yard field goal by Keith Duncan and in the end, if one or two plays go differently, Iowa wins another home game against a top ten opponent.

Instead, this week feels like a carbon copy of a week ago. The defense looked great, the running game was almost non-existent and mistakes cost Iowa a game they still could have won.

And again we’re left feeling disappointed, frustrated and lonely this Sunday morning coming down. Such is life as an Iowa football fan.