Opportunistic Iowa football showed up right on time in historic 23-20 win over Penn State
IOWA CITY — For the majority of Saturday's top-five matchup against No. 4 Penn State, the relentless version of the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes that fans were used to seeing lately was missing at key times.
Those Hawkeyes appeared in moments. The defense forced three turnovers, matching Penn State's total all season. Punter Tory Taylor downed Penn State's offense inside the 5-yard line multiple times, setting up Iowa's offense in favorable field position.
Iowa's rushing offense had bright moments, as well. Tyler Goodson had a near 100-yard day, and for the most part, was the only thing keeping the Hawkeyes moving forward.
But one key component was missing.
Kirk Ferentz highlighted it this week as the mark of any good team: Taking advantages of those opportunities.
Throughout the game, Iowa left several opportunities on the field that could've shifted the game. But just when it appeared as if it was too late, here came those Hawkeyes.
It resulted in a 23-20 come-from-behind victory that will be remembered in Iowa for years, if not decades.
It started late in the third quarter. A Caleb Shudak field goal cut the Penn State lead to 20-13 and, early in the fourth quarter, another opportunity to strike arrived.
Taylor pinned Penn State inside the 5-yard line for the third time, this time at the 1-yard line, and set up another chance for a defensive stand and subsequent favorable field position for the offense.
You couldn't have written it any better.
The defense held Penn State in check and the offense set up shop at midfield. The offense made it inside the Penn State 10-yard line but stalled out. But Shudak delivered with another field goal to cut the lead to 20-16.
On the next drive, the tide turned for the Hawkeyes for good. Another disastrous series for Penn State's offense, with three false starts that pushed them back to their own 6-yard line. Once again, Iowa's offense was set up to capitalize after a short punt gave them a first-and-10 on Penn State's 44-yard line with 6:26 remaining.
The next play: Quarterback Spencer Petras hit a wide-open Nico Ragaini for the go-ahead and game-winning touchdown: 23-20 Hawkeyes.
For the first time in 11 games, Iowa failed more times than not to capitalize on opportunities.
But when they needed to most, they found a way.
It wasn't pretty by any means. Iowa's offense turned four Penn State interceptions and a turnover on downs into 3 points. Entering the game, the heralded turnover-to-points number was a catalyst to their success.
The offensive line looked overwhelmed at times and allowed early sacks. Petras began the game only 1-for-9 with an interception. The defense allowed two quick Penn State scores and for the first time since 2019, Iowa trailed by double digits in a game when they fell behind 14-3 in the first quarter.
Despite all that went wrong in the first half, Iowa only trailed by 7. The beginning of the second half served as another opportunity for a momentum shift, but it went awry. Penn State's first offensive drive lasted just 52 seconds and punted to Iowa. However, six plays and 15 yards later, the Hawkeyes punted again.
Penn State's next drive? A field goal that extended the lead to 20-10, a two-possession game.
But Iowa continued to hang around. In the end, all that was needed was a few opportunities in a row to fall into place, and they did. Iowa not only proved yet again that they'll fight to the end, a program mantra, but on a national stage they proved that no moment is too big.
And again this year, they belong among the nation's elite.
The season is only at its halfway point. Right now, Alabama and Georgia appear to be the only sure things and the question looms: Who comes after them?
Enter the Iowa Hawkeyes. A team that's claimed their second top-10 win of the season and has overcome as much adversity as you'll see in doing so.
Iowa has answered another question and the biggest of all so far: Can they play with a team that seemingly has more talent and more recent national success? The answer now is a definitive yes.
Iowa is the clear No. 3 in a college landscape that is still taking shape. The Hawkeyes are here and now we will wait to see if they're here to stay with a clear target on their back from now on.
Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com