It’s over and done, and as Penn State turns its attention to its fifth opponent of the season, it does so with a sense of relief, a sense of gratitude and a sense of accomplishment, having escaped Iowa Saturday night with a 2-point victory.
They were favored, yes, but as the Nittany Lions soon realized in Kinnick Stadium, it wasn’t going to be easy. “That stadium, first of all, was one of the loudest places I’ve ever been in my life,” said sophomore Ryan Bates, adding how the offensive line “had troubles hearing the calls and hearing the cadence.”
It was just one of the many difficulties that the Hawkeyes presented – and one of the challenges that PSU had to overcome. With that, it’s onto its week five opponent, Indiana, and with lessons learned in hand after a formidable test in the Big Ten opener.
Although there were struggles and there were miscues, there was also resilience, grit and a don’t-give-up attitude that helped lift PSU to a 21-19 win on the final throw of the evening.
All of it, Bates said in reflection on a teleconference Tuesday morning, can help his team maintain forward momentum as it now is embarking on the thick of the toughest portions of the schedule.
“We know how special we are,” Bates said. “We consider ourselves to be the best offense in the country. We know how special we can be with the offensive coach we have, with Saquon, Trace, our receiving corps, Tommy Stevens and the O-line. I feel like we’re all playing pretty well right now. Obviously, there’s always room for improvement, but we know our potential and the sky is the limit for us.”
In watching the film from the Iowa game, Bates and his teammates found many areas in which they can improve heading into this week’s game against the Hoosiers. That’s the case after almost any game, as Bates said that even after the blowout win against Georgia State the week before that he, personally, had to become more physical in blocking for the run game.
“I thought I did that vs. Iowa,” he said. “I thought I got after it more than any other game throughout the season. I’m happy with my play, with the exception of some hiccups here and there.”
While he helped lead Saquon Barkley to 211 yards on the ground, what Bates found is that Iowa presented a new set of challenges for the offensive line. There is a learning experience to take away from almost every game, but this is more specific to Iowa than the rest of the opponents on PSU’s schedule.
The average height of the Hawkeyes’ DL is almost 6-foot-5. That helped in disturbing Penn State’s passing attack in ways that it hadn’t been yet this season.
“It’s always a challenge playing long defensive ends (and) defensive tackles,” Bates said. “They have the height advantage. For me an emphasis, especially at tackle, when you’re playing against longer guys the whole goal is you don’t want them to get their hands on you. Throughout the game you have to have emphasis of getting their hands off you, or not even to begin with.”
Some things are easier said than done, and what was perhaps even more complicated than keeping their hands off the OL was keeping their hands out of passing lanes.
Iowa finished the game with five pass deflections at the line of scrimmage, and possibly provided a blue print on how to slow the Nittany Lions’ passing attack, one that is largely predicated on explosive plays.
However, will PSU face another DL with the height advantage that Iowa had? And if it doesn’t, can a DL shorter in stature have the same effect?
Iowa’s DL, due to their towering height, barely even had to jump to knock a pass out of the air. If future opponents try something similar – if they’re not as tall, therefore they must leave their feet in order to leap and disrupt it – then Bates and the OL have a plan to counter it.
“There really is no proper technique to keep someone from putting their hands up to swat the ball (if they don’t jump),” Bates said. “These guys at Iowa, they weren’t even jumping, they were so tall. They’re 6-7, 260. All they had to do was put their hands up, but if they weren’t that tall and they were to jump up, you’ll have to turn it into a run block and try to put them on their butt (in an attempt) to get their hands down.”