5 takeaways from Penn State’s loss to Iowa

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OK, that was a tough one for Penn State on Saturday, and the hopes of an undefeated season came to an end for the Nittany Lions against the Iowa Hawkeyes. But was it really all that bad in the grand scheme of things?

As difficult as it may have been to watch Penn State slowly lose its grip on a double-digit lead in Kinnick Stadium before having to escape a field-rushing of Iowa faithful at the bitter end, there may have been some signs of hope for the rest of the season.

Losing Sean Clifford was literally a game-changing moment

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There is no overlooking the single biggest difference in the game, no matter how many angles you choose to look at it. Penn State losing Sean Clifford was a huge momentum swing in the game. Clifford headed to the locker room with Penn State owning a 17-3 lead (it would be 17-10 by the time the offense returned to the field, however), and the offense never looked the same again.

Ta’Quan Roberson was put in a bad spot and the play-calling and field position didn’t really give him much of a chance. Do you know what could have helped out Roberson a little bit? A competent running game.

The lack of a running game hurt more than the backup QB

Byron Houlgrave-USA TODAY Sports

One of Penn State’s biggest weak point this season has been its lack of a running game. After seemingly taken some steps forward a week ago against Indiana, Penn State’s running game was never able to get going against the Hawkeyes.

Sean Clifford was the team’s leading rusher with 36 yards on three carries, and he missed most of the game. Perhaps this is more evidence of the importance of Clifford’s impact on the game, but Roberson was able to rush for 27 yards on 10 carries and Keyvone Lee added 30 yards on 10 carries. But Noah Cain was contained and John Lovett was banged up. As a team, 107 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns against Iowa doesn’t sound terrible. But Penn State needed a stable running attack to power its way out of bad field position with an inexperienced backup quarterback, and it was unable to deliver.

NEXT: The defense did all it could for as long as it could

The defense slipped once, and it cost them

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

This was one of those games where Penn State needed the defense to win it a game. And it nearly did. But eventually, losing a lopsided battle of field position cost Penn State, and the Nittany Lions getting lost in coverage just once proved to be the difference in the game.

In a game where the last thing you could do was let Spencer Petras beat you, Penn State let Spencer Petras beat them. Finding a wide-open Nico Ragiani for a 44-yard touchdown is a play that will go down in the history of this series as one of the many regrettable moments for Penn State. Iowa at least had to work for their other touchdowns scored in the game, but that was the first play of a series just past the midway point of the fourth quarter.

It was an absolute dagger.

The bye week comes at a perfect time

Byron Houlgrave-USA TODAY Sports

Win or lose, Penn State’s bye week came at a pretty good time on the schedule. Penn State is now midway through the season and this matchup with Iowa left Penn State a bit bruised and battered. Taking an extra week off to recover should be welcomed after the first half of the schedule, especially considering the matchups still come down the road against teams like Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State.

And if Clifford is going to be out for an extended period of time, then the extra time to get Roberson more comfortable running the offense will be extremely handy. Penn State gets a home game against Illinois after the bye week before having to make the difficult road trip to Columbus, Ohio to face the Buckeyes.

There’s still plenty to play for

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It was true going into the game and it remains the truth coming out of it, even on the losing end. Penn State’s path to a Big Ten championship game has not been altered. With all of their division opponents still ahead of them (except for Indiana), Penn State has every opportunity to play for a Big Ten championship it did prior to the loss to Iowa. And that means a shot at a spot in the College Football Playoff still exists as well, even if it feels more distant now than you’d like.

Running the table will lead Penn State to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game, which would likely set the stage for a rematch with the Hawkeyes. But of course, that will be a difficult task given the remaining schedule.

So with an uncertain quarterback situation and in need of a slight regrouping, James Franklin has a lot on his plate for the bye week. The work done during the bye week will ultimately influence what happens the next time we see this team take the field. Getting a rebound opportunity at home against Illinois could be just what the doctor ordered for this team.

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