Penn State 30, Iowa 24: What we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In a game filled with mistakes, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley made the costliest and Penn State survived for a 30-24 win Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

There were two safeties, a pick-six, penalties galore and a fake field-goal touchdown in a wild football game. But it came down to Stanley's decision on a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line with the Hawkeyes needing a touchdown to take the lead. 

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz looks on from the sideline during the second quarter against Penn State at Beaver Stadium. The Hawkeyes would go on to lose to the Nittany Lions in a crucial Big Ten West matchup.

The junior quarterback appeared to call an audible at the line of scrimmage, but there was clear confusion among the Hawkeye players. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz even ran onto the field in a late attempt to get a timeout. It didn't happen. Instead, Stanley dropped back and tossed a pass in between two receivers who didn't appear to know the ball was coming to them.

FIRST THOUGHTS:Nate Stanley's errors too much for Iowa to overcome

Instead, Nick Scott grabbed the errant pass and Iowa never got within striking distance again.

The No. 18 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten Conference) saw their three-game winning streak snapped and lost to Penn State for a third consecutive year.

No. 16 Penn State (6-2, 3-2) got a gutty performance from senior quarterback Nate McSorley. He left briefly with an apparent knee injury but returned to compile 230 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

Here’s what we learned:

Fumble-recovery game is on point: The Hawkeyes were tied 17-17 at halftime because of their ability to fall on their own fumbles. Both of Iowa’s first two scoring drives were made possible only because of a poor play by a ball-carrier followed by a heads-up play by a teammate. First, tight end T.J. Hockenson coughed up the ball at the end of a 29-yard gain that was the longest of the half for the Hawkeyes. Penn State had a chance to collect the mistake, but fellow tight end Nate Wieting hustled downfield to grab the football first. Iowa ended up with a field goal. Next, it was running back Ivory Kelly-Martin who had the ball jarred from his hands. Again, it appeared that the Nittany Lions were in position to grab the football. But Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs made a great play to jump into the pile first and extend a drive that ended up with his team’s lone first-half touchdown. For good measure, Iowa guard Ross Reynolds later got to a loose ball first after a bad exchange between center Keegan Render and Stanley. Recovering your own fumbles is a tough way to keep drives alive, but when you consider the alternative, it was a small miracle the Hawkeyes weren’t down 10 points heading into intermission.

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

Hawkeye offensive line struggles: For the first time this season, Iowa’s offensive line looked overpowered by a strong Penn State defensive front. There were stunts, blitzes and just good, old-fashioned bull rushes that resulted in a great deal of pressure on Stanley. Stanley did not handle it well, either, taking three sacks, struggling to locate receivers, throwing two poor passes that ended up in the hands of Penn State defenders, and looking uncomfortable throughout the game. The Hawkeyes weren’t able to generate a ground game, too, picking up only 51 first-half rushing yards from a trio of backs. Mekhi Sargent did get going in the second half, running for 71 yards to give the offense a little balance.

Trick plays are fun ... when they work: The Hawkeyes built a 12-0 lead in the first quarter by unleashing their second successful fake field goal. This one was even more daring than the 4-yard run by Hockenson at Minnesota. Iowa was facing fourth-and-goal from the Penn State 10-yard line this time, when kicker Miguel Recinos jogged on the field for an apparent 27-yard field-goal attempt. Iowa had shown a fake field goal formation earlier, only to take a delay-of-game penalty before Recinos kicked a 27-yarder. This time, Recinos split out wide, holder Colten Rastetter prepared to take a shotgun snap and Hockenson motioned into the backfield and drew a lot of attention from the Nittany Lions. Instead, Rastetter lofted a pass to defensive tackle Sam Brincks, who made a beautiful, over-the-shoulder catch for his first career touchdown. But Iowa got too cute late in the first half, and paid the price. On another fourth-and-10 from the Penn State 42-yard line, the Hawkeyes opted not to punt to try to pin the NIttany Lions deep and instead brought backup quarterback Peyton Mansell onto the field. He initially lined up as a wide receiver, motioned into the backfield as Stanley split out right and then ran for no gain. Penn State then drove for the tying field goal with 3 seconds left in the half. Sometimes, the "boring" play is the smart play. This was one of those times.