No. 10 Penn State passes big test, stays undefeated with gritty road win over No. 17 Iowa

Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert, left, loses his grasp of Penn State running back Noah Cain as Cain runs in for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
Penn State running back Noah Cain rushed for 102 yards in the win over Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

No. 10 Penn State passed its first massive test of the season.

The Nittany Lions went into a hostile environment — a night game against No. 17 Iowa at Kinnick Stadium — and emerged with a hard-fought 17-12 victory. The Nittany Lions scuffled early on offense but got things going with the run game and forced two second-half turnovers to improve to 6-0 on the year.

Penn State went into halftime holding a 7-6 lead thanks to a highlight-reel touchdown by speedy receiver K.J. Hamler and a goal line stand in the final minute of the half that limited the Hawkeyes to a field goal.

The defensive struggle continued in the second half. But it was the Penn State defense that made the plays that changed the game. Late in the third, defensive lineman P.J. Mustipher roared into the backfield and knocked the ball from Iowa running back Tyler Goodson. PSU recovered the fumble deep in Iowa territory and extended its lead to 10-6 with a field goal — but only after a touchdown was curiously taken off the board.

The teams traded punts on the next two drives, with PSU’s Blake Gillikin pinning the Iowa inside the 5-yard line. Three plays later after the clutch punt, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley felt pressure in his face and sailed a pass that was intercepted by Jaquan Brisker at the Iowa 35.

Noah Cain’s emergence

Brisker’s interception set up a five-yard touchdown run by freshman Noah Cain — a score that ultimately sealed the victory for the Nittany Lions and the first road win against a ranked team for James Franklin.

Cain played a huge role in PSU’s win. Up to this point in the year, the Nittany Lions have been using a running-back-by-committee approach. Cain, however, has emerged as the team’s most reliable and efficient back in recent weeks. After going for 105 yards on 12 carries last week against Purdue, Cain led all ball carriers with 102 yards on 22 carries.

Penn State needed every last yard to leave Iowa City with a win.

Iowa would score a touchdown to cut Penn State’s lead to 17-12 with 2:31 to go, but PSU gave the ball to Cain five straight times and the freshman gained enough yardage to gain a game-sealing first down.

What does this mean for Penn State?

Well, the Nittany Lions have established themselves as the top contender behind Ohio State in the Big Ten East. But there’s a long way to go before Penn State will get a shot to play the Buckeyes.

That starts next week when No. 16 Michigan visits Beaver Stadium for a primetime “White Out” game.

Road trips to Michigan State and undefeated Minnesota come in the weeks that follow, but at this point in the season you have to include Penn State in any discussion about the College Football Playoff.

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