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IOWA CITY — When you first pick up the weight of the world, it’s not so bad. You kind of get used to it and think, all right, let’s do this.
Well, no one told you exactly how much the weight of the world weighs. And no one tells you how long you have to lug around the weight of the world. Pretty soon, the weight of the world is heavy and you’re looking for someplace to set it down.
Well, the Hawkeyes, carrying the weight of an embarrassing loss at Happy Valley for nearly a year, finally dropped the weight of the world just inches short of a season-maker.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley hit wide receiver Juwan Johnson for a 7-yard TD as time ran out, giving the No. 4 Nittany Lions a 21-19 victory over the Hawkeyes before 66,205 fans Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.
During the run-up this week, of course, Penn State’s meaty victory over the Hawkeyes last year came up and came up a lot. It was 599 yards against Iowa, the second-most in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 19 sesaons.
The defense got the note that it should show up. Iowa’s offense, given no room to operate by a super-aggressive Penn State defense, got what it needed from senior running back Akrum Wadley.
Wadley took a read-option hand off, got a perfect seal from the offensive line, mainly guard Ross Reynolds, and 35 yards later he took one high step into the end zone and into your memories.
Iowa had a 19-15 lead with 1:42 left in the game. Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) needed an 80-yard drive and it got it.
McSorley led a 12-play, 80-yard drive that needed the whole 1:42 that was remaining in the game. Iowa safety Amani Hooker got within inches of defending the game-winner, but it was a perfect pass from McSorley.
A lot of Kinnick sat stunned. It’s OK if you took a minute after this one.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is everything. The junior drizzled speed, power, hands and mostly elusivness all over Kinnick Stadium.
On a third-and-6 about midway through the fourth quarter, Barkley took a swing pass, leaped hard-charging cornerback Josh Jackson (he’s 6-2, by the way) and notched the first down with a 10-yard gain.
Barkley was all-everything Saturday night. He finished with 305 yards of offense (211 rushing, 94 receiving) and a TD.
And finally it was just too much for Iowa (3-1, 0-1).
Yes, it took four quarters for PSU to get to that “finally.” Iowa never yielded.
After three mostly empty quarters, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley ran a beautifully executed pass to Wadley. The play was into a blitz. Penn State kept that button mashed the entire game. But Stanley hung in the pocket and delivered to the wide-open Wadley, who burst through the middle of PSU’s defense for a 70-yard TD.
Trailing 15-13, Iowa went for a 2-point pass. Penn State had three defenders around tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Penn State outgained Iowa, 579 to 273, but somehow it was a game that went down to the last play, one that was achingly close to Iowa’s defense saving the day.
Iowa hung on to a 7-5 lead. But after Iowa’s offense started the second half with its fifth three-and-out, the Lions took an 8-7 lead on Tyler Davis’ 21-yard field goal with 10:42 left in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes answered with what had to have felt like a ray of hope for the Kinnick crowd on a hot summer night. Stanley caught Penn State offsides and made the most of the free play, hitting wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a 29-yard gain to the Lions’ 35.
If you consider Iowa’s offensive output at this point in the game, this was momentus. On the next play, Wadley broke free. At the end of his run, he came out of a spin move and PSU safety Marcus Allen put his helmet right on the ball. Penn State recovered the ball and it went right back to Barkley.
Eight plays later, the officials reviewed whether or not he scored on an 8-yard run. They might’ve been checking for beauty. All night, Barkley ran like the kid who drove his own car to the junior high football game. He was the biggest, baddest and flashiest player on the field.
Even with the weight of the world hammering down on it, Iowa’s defense allowed the Hawkeyes to keep a foot in the door.
True freshman defensive end A.J. Epenesa sacked and stripped McSorley and the Hawkeyes recovered at Iowa’s 45. Wadley took a slip draw handoff 20 yards to PSU’s 20.
Allen blitzed from his safety spot and sacked Stanley for a 4-yard loss on first down. The drive, a chance to possibly tie the game, was smothered and then, for good measure, a Lion got a hand on Miguel Recinos’ 36-yard field goal.
Penn State called an aggressive defensive game plan against the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s offensive line was overwhelmed by speed and/or bodies. Penn State took away Iowa’s inside zone running play and most of everything else.
Iowa played like it wanted points for degree of difficulty in the first half. It simply made things harder than it needed to be.
The Lions would put together a drive, but then something would happen, mostly Iowa standing tall on defense.
Penn State drove to Iowa’s 35 on its opening drive. Jewell killed it with a tackle for loss on a second-and-3. Next drive, Nelson came up with his first sack on third down.
Next drive, linebacker Bo Bower saved a TD with a tackle of McSorley and the Lions settled for Davis’ 19-yard field goal.
The standing tall continued. And again, it was Jewell.
On a third-and-5 from Iowa’s 23, Jewell blitzed and batted down a pass. Davis missed a 41-yarder. Iowa stopped the next drive on a QB hurry on third down.
The Iowa offense was stuck in the FieldTurf. The Hawkeyes faced a second-and-8 from their 3. Stanley pitched the ball to Wadley and Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller was untouched. There was a pile on Wadley in the black of the end zone and it was 7-5 Lions with 7:40 left in the first half.
Iowa’s offense was pinned. Iowa’s first half starting field positions were its 9, 10, 18, 23, 1 and 22. It was a Hawkeye punt-a-lanche. But ... but ... the defense refeused to tap out.
The defense’s stubborness accounted for Iowa’s point.
On a first-and-10 from Penn State’s 45, Iowa defensive end Sam Brincks won an outside rush and just got to McSorley’s arm while he was throwing a pass. The ball went duck in the air and right to Jewell.
Jewell returned the ball to PSU’s 21. On Iowa’s only play on PSU’s side of the field in the first half, Stanley, blitzed relentlessly all night, hit wide receiver Nick Easley for a 21-yard TD with 37 seconds left before halftime.
Through sheer cussedness from the defense, Iowa had life and a 7-5 halftime lead.
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