Hawkeyes can only blame themselves after squandering chance to upset Penn State

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Even after all that had gone wrong for the No. 18 Iowa football team on a long and strange Saturday at Beaver Stadium — the penalties, sacks, missed receivers and missed tackles — there was still a chance to walk away with a victory over 16th-ranked Penn State.

Pennsylvania native Geno Stone grabbed an ill-advised pass and turned it into six Iowa points in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, the stadium of 90,000-plus fans was as quiet as the Hawkeye offense had been for most of the game.

Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent had his best game of the season, energizing his sideline with a 20-yard rush and a 15-yard catch on a frenetic fourth-quarter drive.

This is not how Iowa wanted to see its game end Saturday: With offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs trying to score from 44 yards out as time expired. It was that kind of day for the Hawkeyes, who made too many mistakes on offense and fell to Penn State 30-24.

But a game marked by bizarre plays had a couple more in store. One more interception at the goal line. One final play that ended up with a 315-pound offensive tackle running for 15 yards as time expired.

LEISTIKOW:First-and-goal frustration for Iowa in crushing Penn State loss

The scoreboard read Penn State 30, Iowa 24. The look on the Hawkeyes’ faces afterward read: “What just happened?”

“I thought we had the game. It’s just, we’ve got to minimize the mistakes,” Sargent said.

“Some would say we beat ourselves. (I agree) to a point. But we fought as a team. We fought hard.”

Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten Conference) did fight Penn State hard. The Hawkeyes also fought themselves, though. There were too many mistakes to overcome a good team on the road.

There was a stretch of 24 minutes, 32 seconds in which the Hawkeyes failed to score a point, watching the Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-2) turn what was once a 12-0 deficit into a 27-17 lead.

Penn State was going in for the kill at that point. The Hawkeyes looked listless. The game began to turn when Nittany Lion running back Miles Sanders dropped the ball at Iowa’s 9-yard line. Hawkeye middle linebacker Jack Hockaday fell on it with 12:57 left.

New life.

Iowa didn’t score. In fact, the offense failed to put up a point all afternoon. But it did gain 41 yards and saw Colten Rastetter’s punt pin Penn State at its 10-yard line.


On the second play, Stone, a sophomore who grew up in New Castle, Pa., dreaming of playing for the Nittany Lions, read quarterback Trace McSorley’s eyes and stepped in front of a receiver for an interception that he returned 24 yards to paydirt.

More life.

“I want to be a big-time player, so I feel like I’ve got to make big plays when the opportunity is there,” Stone said.

Iowa immediately surrendered a 67-yard kickoff return to K.J. Hamler, the lone mistake by a special-teams unit that provided 18 points Saturday. But the defense held, and Ankeny native Jake Pinegar’s 44-yard field goal left Iowa within striking range with 8:24 left.

That’s when Sargent went to work. His 20-yard run was a near-touchdown until replay revealed he had stepped out of bounds at the Nittany Lions’ 32-yard line.

FINAL THOUGHTS:Hawkeyes needed more Fant, fewer Nate Stanley mistakes

“I saw nothing but daylight, and I tried to get as skinny as possible on the sideline and they called it back,” Sargent lamented after a career-high 91-yard rushing day.

Sargent’s 15-yard catch put Iowa at the 17-yard line. A 14-yard strike to wide receiver Brandon Smith had the Hawkeyes 3 yards from an improbable win.

The next decision was Stanley’s worst. With the play-clock winding down and confusion overcoming the Hawkeyes, he called for the snap and tossed a pass in between two of his receivers and into the hands of Penn State’s Nick Scott.

Iowa got the ball back for one last-gasp drive, needing to go 77 yards in 83 seconds with no timeouts. It was too big of a chore for this offense on this day. An apparent 18-yard completion to tight end T.J. Hockenson was overturned after it was ruled that he didn’t control the ball while landing on his sideline.

“It’s out of my hands,” Hockenson said of the ruling.

WATCH:Iowa shows brazen fourth-down genius with another fake field-goal TD

Soon, it was out of Stanley’s hands as well. Iowa’s final play, from the Penn State 44-yard line, saw the junior quarterback being pressured and the ball squirting from his grasp backward to sophomore tackle Tristan Wirfs. He gained 15 yards to give Iowa 350 for the day on a season-high 88 snaps.

For Wirfs, though, and the Hawkeye offense, it was just a pointless exercise.

“This one’s going to hurt for a day,” Hockenson said.

After that, the Hawkeyes will need to prepare for a Saturday trip to Purdue. Which can’t be any weirder than this one was.