Iowa postgame mailbag: Loudest Kinnick crowd ever? And cue the Big Ten title game talk
The most-hyped Iowa football game lived up to that very hype.
For about 50 minutes, it looked like Iowa's fortunes were running out. And then Iowa rallied for a win over No. 4 Penn State people will talk about in these parts for years.
No. 3 Iowa's 23-20 victory solidifies them as legitimate playoff contenders through six weeks. Accounting for rankings when the games happened, Iowa's defeated three ranked teams and two teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time.
We're at the midway point in the season, and Hawkeye buzz is at rare heights. Let's get into some questions in this week's postgame mailbag:
How many points was Kinnick stadium worth vs. Penn State?
Before I get into some analysis on how the crowd impacted the game, here's what a few Hawkeye players and head coach Kirk Ferentz had to say about the environment:
Quarterback Spencer Petras: "That was the loudest I've ever heard that stadium."
Defensive lineman Logan Lee: "That's the loudest experience I've ever had in my life."
Coach Kirk Ferentz: "Our fans did a great job. We knew they'd be ready to go to start. They were more ready than we were. And what a great scene at the end (as fans rushed Duke Slater Field to celebrate), that's what makes Kinnick special."
Entering the game Iowa was a narrow favorite. I suspected that small difference in the spread was because of the projected atmosphere, and it overdelivered on Saturday.
On Penn State's opening drive quarterback Sean Clifford threw an interception on the first play. Twice in the game, Penn State's offensive line had three false start penalties in one drive (seven false starts overall). What do these three instances have in common? Each one occurred when the Nittany Lions were pinned back deep in their own territory when Hawkeye fans could make it most difficult to execute.
The first sellout in Kinnick this season was an absolute difference-maker in the outcome of the game. It left an impression on the Hawkeyes, likely rattled Penn State at key times, and likely wowed the dozens of recruits taking in the game as well.
Good news for Iowa: There's another sellout next week against Purdue.
What was the play of the game?
(Caveat: Besides Nico Ragaini's go-ahead score, which was the obvious play of the game.)
This play won't show up on the stat sheet other than an incomplete pass, but it unquestionably changed the outcome of the game.
Third down-and-7 yards to go with 12:34 remaining in the second quarter, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was looking for receiver Brenton Strange when Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell shot through the Penn State pass protection and delivered a devastating hit. A clean hit but devastating to Penn State's offense.
That was Clifford's last play of the game. Penn State ended that drive with a field goal and at that point, Clifford led the Nittany Lions to scores on three of his last four drives and Iowa trailed 17-3.
Insert backup quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson. Penn State only scored three points for the remainder of the game.
You never like seeing people get hurt. But that was clearly a momentum-changer that everyone could feel.
With Roberson in the game, Penn State's offense went from an attacking passing offense that had Iowa scrambling to a ground-focused team with little shots down the field. Clifford threw two interceptions but aside from that completed 13-of-23 passes for 146 yards and ran it three times for 36 yards and a touchdown. Penn State was moving efficiently down the field. Meanwhile, Roberson only managed 62 yards total, completed 7-of-21 passes and threw two interceptions himself.
Would Iowa have staged a comeback anyway? Who knows.
What's very clear: It would have been much more difficult against Clifford as quarterback.
Thoughts on the (defunct) turnover points streak when we were only able to turn turnovers into three points?
And now some lowlights: For the first time this season Iowa's offense didn't capitalize on the turnovers the defense provided.
Jestin Jacobs first quarter interception only turned into only three points. Three is better than zero, but the Hawkeyes started at the Penn State 8-yard line and moved back another eight yards in three plays. You'd like to see a touchdown there.
Jack Koerner's interception was quickly returned by an interception from Petras, and Riley Moss' interception right before halftime turned into a quick three-and-out. Overall, we saw the difference in how close games can be when the offense isn't capitalizing like they have been in earlier games.
It's worth noting that Penn State's defense was Iowa's biggest challenge to date. They're a unit layered with elite talent and their athleticism (and consistent blitzing) caused problems for the Hawkeyes offense.
I don't think it's a concern at the moment; Iowa was due for a game like this. The silver lining is that in the fourth quarter the offense broke through and, most importantly, they won.
Next week will be an opportunity to correct mistakes before the bye week.
Is Indianapolis more likely then ever now?
On paper, Iowa's defeated the best Big Ten team on their schedule. On paper, the Big Ten West is as weak as it's been in years.
So yes, it would seem, Iowa's chances are better than ever.
The most encouraging news is Iowa's created some breathing room in the Big Ten West. More than half of the division already has two conference losses, and everyone but Iowa has lost at least one conference game.
But we're only halfway through the season and anything can happen, especially this year in college football that is chaotic.
Ferentz and his players are known for their laser focus. They'll need it to finish this season strong, regardless of how the schedule looks on paper.
Iowa's opponent next week is Purdue, who has won three of the last four matchups against the Hawkeyes. After the bye week comes Wisconsin on the road, which will be a great challenge. The Badgers, down as they are this season, have claimed six of the last eight matchups.
Northwestern's on the road and they've claimed four of the last five.
See where I'm going with this?
Iowa's dominated both Minnesota and Nebraska, but that also adds to their motivation to break losing streaks and with Iowa's playoff positioning, they'd love nothing more than to spoil their season.
Will Iowa be favored in most if not all of these games? Yes.
But is their ticket punched to Indy for the Big Ten championship yet? Not close.
Kennington Smith is the Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org