Iowa Tops Penn State, Playoff in Sight
A college football game is four quarters long and lasts 60 minutes. When two top programs collide in a premier matchup, every minute of football makes a difference. Today, the Iowa Hawkeyes played 60 minutes of physical, opportunistic football to beat Penn State in the game of the year in Iowa City. There’s no quit in this Hawkeye football team, and today they showed just that. The Hawkeyes proved their standing as one of the best teams in the land. After fighting back from an early deficit, Iowa tops Penn State 23-20 and the Playoff is in sight.
After an Iowa punt to start the game, Penn State was pinned at their own one-yard line. On their first play from scrimmage, quarterback Sean Clifford was forced out of the pocket and threw an interception at the Penn State eight-yard line. Jestin Jacobs came down with the pick, and Iowa took over. The Hawks came away with three points following the turnover, and the momentum felt like it was all theirs.
Penn State’s next four drives resulted in 17 points, and Iowa faced their largest deficit of the season. In the first quarter alone, Clifford was 12-18 with 133 yards. Two Nittany Lion touchdowns came on the ground, and Iowa finally held them to a field goal early in the second quarter. This was new territory for Iowa, which hasn’t trailed by more than seven all season. The “under 25 points allowed” streak was on the ropes, and Iowa couldn’t get anything moving on offense. The Hawkeyes had just 49 yards of offense in the first quarter and Spencer Petras was one of nine with an interception.
Things began to change midway through the second quarter. Clifford came out of the game following an undisclosed injury that wasn’t apparent on the field. He took a big hit from Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell and landed awkwardly on his non-throwing shoulder. Clifford hopped up and jogged off the field before their field goal put the Nittany Lions up by 14 points.
Following Clifford’s exit, backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson took over and Iowa began to pick apart the Penn State offense. Not including their 42-yard field goal drive in the third quarter, Penn State’s average drive distance for the remainder of the game was one yard. Yes, just one yard. The crowd noise inside Kinnick Stadium was deafening and the Nittany Lions had eight false start penalties from the second quarter on. There was a clear shift in momentum, but Iowa still hadn’t found their footing offensively.
The Hawkeyes scored following the Clifford injury, cutting the lead to seven. They strung together an 11-play, 75-yard drive aided by a long pass to Nico Ragaini to set up inside the red zone. Petras got the ball to Charlie Jones for the score, and Iowa started to feel some offensive rhythm. Their next three drives resulted in punts, but each one managed to flip the field in favor of the Hawks. With the Hawkeye defense continuing to halt the Nittany Lions, it felt like things were on the verge of swinging in Iowa’s favor.
Penn State rode a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter when Iowa began to regain that rhythm. It started with a positive Iowa drive to midfield that resulted in a punt. Tory Taylor’s boot landed at the Penn State one-yard line early in the fourth quarter, and Kinnick Stadium erupted. The Nittany Lions took a false start penalty before going three-and-out. Momentum was fully in the Hawkeyes’ favor, and they took over at the 50-yard line following the punt.
On the second play from scrimmage, Petras hit the true freshman Keagan Johnson on a short out route. Johnson made four Penn State defenders miss on his way to the eight-yard line. Iowa settled for three points following the big play. There were now eight minutes left in the most anticipated game of the year inside Kinnick Stadium.
Down by four points with eight minutes to play, the Hawkeye defense again stepped up. The noise aided another false start penalty on the Nittany Lions, and they faced a huge third and 13 situation. On the play, an illegal chop block was called that, if declined, would have forced fourth down. Kirk Ferentz made a decision here that likely won the game for Iowa. He accepted the penalty, making it third and 24 at the Penn State 11 yard line. The call seemed questionable, but on the ensuing third down, Penn State committed another false start. When the third-down play was finally snapped, Roberson threw it incomplete and was forced to punt out of their own end zone.
The field position mindset of the Iowa coaching staff paid off huge in this situation. Iowa had the clear momentum on the defensive side of the ball, and Penn State was not getting anything with their offense. The accepted penalty resulted in a loss of 16 yards and put Iowa within striking distance following the punt.
With six minutes to play, Iowa ran a play-action pass to the far side of the field. Petras stopped in his tracks and threw across his body to a wide-open Ragaini who caught the football and took it in for six. The 44-yard touchdown pass gave Iowa their first lead since leading 3-0 early in the game, and Kinnick Stadium was rocking. The play-action pass opened up the near-side of the field and Ragaini was running alone. He dove into the end zone for what ended up being the game-winning score. Iowa sealed the victory with that 44-yard touchdown and solidified their spot as one of the nation’s best.
Turnover Battle Won
Penn State’s final three possessions resulted in a turnover on downs, an interception, and a turnover on downs. The Hawkeyes won the turnover battle recording four interceptions to just one on Iowa’s end. However, they did something they haven’t done all year, and that was not capitalizing with points following a turnover. Of the four interceptions, only one resulted in points and it came in the first five minutes of the game. All year, Iowa has taken advantage of the turnover game to put points on the board. Today, they showed points can come in other ways, which is pivotal when competing at the top.
Iowa Tops Penn State, Playoff in Sight
This football team can compete with the best, and win. Despite giving up an early 17 points, Iowa played opportunistic football and came out on top. With what they showed in this win, Iowa has Playoff potential. In the biggest regular-season game since 1985, Iowa made the necessary adjustments and relied on more than just the turnover. While the turnovers continue to flow their way, the offense and special teams showed they can step up in key situations against tough opponents. Iowa beat the fourth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions and solidified their standing as one of the top teams in the land. This is a signature win on the resume for Iowa, and conversations about the College Football Playoff are legitimate.