With the non-conference portion of the schedule officially in the books, Iowa opened Big Ten play by taking on Penn State in front of a raucous crowd at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) took a lead late in the fourth quarter only to see the Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0) score a game-winning touchdown on the game’s final play to pull out a 21-19 victory. Let’s look back and grade Iowa’s performance.
With the running game struggling to get going, Iowa was forced into third-and-long on the majority of its first-half possessions. This put Nate Stanley in a tough position right off the bat and things predictably did not get off to a great start for him. The sophomore was a bit off in the early going, as he completed just 5-of-12 passes in the first half, though his receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping several passes.
Things turned around in the second half, however, as it started to click for Stanley and the rest of the offense. Despite the pressure Penn State was applying, Stanley was composed in the pocket and rarely looked flustered. While he did miss on a few passes, he was fairly accurate most of the night and made quick reads and good decisions. Overall, Stanley was 13 of 22 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Grade: B+
To show how much Penn State was selling out to stop the run, look at the first-half stats for Akrum Wadey: 10 rushes for 0 yards with a long of 3 yards. Included in those first-half carries was a safety with Iowa pinned on its own 3-yard line. As the passing game opened up in the second half, however, Wadley began to find more running room and started to make an impact.
With Iowa trailing in the fourth quarter, Wadley caught a check-down pass from Stanley and turned it into a 70-yard TD, giving the Hawkeyes new life. Then, on Iowa’s ensuing possession, Wadley took a read-option hand off, broke left and ran 35 yards for a go-ahead score. Considering how things started for him, Wadley ended his day with strong numbers: 19 carries for 80 yards and a TD to go along with four receptions for 75 yards and a score. He did lose a fumble, but it was more of a perfect hit by the defender than Wadley not taking care of the ball.
Ivory Kelly-Martin didn’t receive any carries but did catch two passes for 12 yards. Grade: B+
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Generally speaking, the first half was not great for the offense and that was especially true for the receiving corps. The Hawkeyes dropped catchable balls, missed blocks in the running game and didn’t really take advantage of Penn State stacking the line in an effort to stop the run. Things improved in the second half, however, as the receivers started to generate more space and made plays, opening up the ground attack in the process.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette led the receivers, hauling in two passes for 37 yards. Matt VandeBerg and Nick Easley each caught two passes for 27 yards, including a 21-yard TD for Easley at the end of the second quarter. Noah Fant rounded out the group with one catch for 13 yards. Grade: C
Going up against a stout defense, things weren’t easy for the Iowa offensive line. The Nittany Lions stacked the box and made their way into the backfield often, blowing up plays before they had a chance to develop. The O-line struggled to adjust in the first half, as the Hawkeyes had difficulty moving the ball with any regularity. While Penn State was still able to get behind the line in the second half, Iowa played much better up front after halftime, with the Hawkeyes more consistently opening holes for Wadley while also giving Stanley time to find his targets. Grade: C
Overall Offensive Grade: C+
The first half was ugly, there is no getting around that. If the grade were for the first two quarters, there is little doubt what it would have been. Iowa made some adjustments at halftime, however, and the offense made some strides after the break. Could there be improvements? Sure, but don’t forget that Iowa was going up against what looks to be a tough Penn State defense.
Iowa knew it was going to have its hands full going up against Penn State and Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley, but despite the yards allowed, the defensive line played well on Saturday. The Hawkeyes were able to get into the backfield and applied pressure on Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley often. There were some missed tackles where Iowa appeared to have Barkley corralled behind the line of scrimmage only to see him escape, but you have to tip your cap to Barkley on several of those as he simply made other-level moves to make something out of nothing.
Anthony Nelson had quite a game for the Hawkeyes, finishing with five tackles, two and a half sacks, two pass break ups and a QB hurry. Nathan Bazata also added five stops, while Parker Hesse had three (two for loss) and forced a fumble. Sam Brincks had three tackles (one TFL) and a QB hurry, while Brady Reiff, Matt Nelson and Cedric Lattimore added two each. A.J. Epsensa may have finished with just a single tackle, but he made his presence felt with a sack, forced fumble and three QB hurries. Grade: A-
As was the case with the defensive line, the linebackers had the difficult task of trying to contain Barkley. While that proved to be too difficult, the linebacker corps still held their own. They were solid in coverage and tackled relatively well. Barkley was able to evade several attempted stops, but again, much of that had more to do with his skill than it did poor play by the Hawkeyes.
There was a lot of hype leading into the game regarding the matchup of Barkley versus Josey Jewell and it’s safe to say both players lived up to the billing. Jewell was all over the field on Saturday and finished with a game-high 16 tackles (three TFL), two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception. Bo Bower had seven tackles, while Ben Niemann added six (one TFL). Grade: A-
The Hawkeye defensive backs played well against Penn State. The coverage was solid most of the night and the tackling was good for the most part, though a couple of guys failed to wrap up on occasion.
Amani Hooker paced the group in his first start, finishing with 13 tackles and a pass breakup. Manny Rugamba had nine tackles, Miles Taylor had seven and Josh Jackson added five to go along with a pass breakup. Michael Ojemudia rounded out the group with one tackle. Grade: B+
Overall Defensive Grade: A-
Looking at the stats would leave one to believe this grade is way off the mark. After all, Iowa allowed 579 yards of total offense, with Barkley accounting for 305 of those. But as is often the case, the stats don’t tell the whole story. The struggles of the Iowa offense forced the defense to be on the field… a lot. As in 99 snaps a lot. Yet, despite being on the field over double that of the offense, despite allowing all those yards and despite Barkley’s ridiculousness, the Hawkeye defense held Penn State to 21 points and was one play away from an upset victory.
It was a bit of an up-and-down day for the special teams. On a positive note, Anthony Nelson blocked a field goal late in the fourth quarter, giving the offense the opportunity to take the lead. The coverage teams also continue to do an excellent job of keeping the opposition in check, as they did not allow Barkley to do anything on kick returns. Colten Rastetter was solid, if not a bit inconsistent, and finished with a 41.1-yard average on seven punts. On the negative side, Iowa allowed a blocked field goal of its own and also failed to do much of anything in the return game. Grade: C+
Overall Grade: B+
It was almost another take down of a top-5 team in Kinnick Saturday night but the Hawkeyes fell one play short. It wasn’t always pretty and there are things to improve upon on both sides of the ball, but it was an impressive effort nonetheless and showed glimpses of what this team is capable of.
Stat of the Game: 39:39 to 20:21
The Penn State offense held possession of the ball nearly double that of Iowa’s. This forced the Hawkeye defense to be on the field much longer than their counterparts (99 snaps to 45) and possibly contributed to Nittany Lions’ ability to drive down the field for the eventual game-winning touchdown.