116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Easy? How could this be easy?
You can’t be Iowa in a Top 5 football matchup and go sailing on a Saturday afternoon. That’s not how it works here.
This had to make you fret and sweat and fret a lot more. It had to be hard. You couldn’t have the indelible clutch moments, the mental snapshots that will endure for years, nay, decades, if things were breezy.
The snapshots were taken and will endure. No. 3 Iowa beat No. 4 Penn State Saturday in Kinnick Stadium, 23-20. It wasn’t easy. It was as clutch as clutch can be.
Spencer Petras to Nico Ragaini, 44 yards, touchdown with 6:26 left. The same Petras who was 1 of 9 passing in the first quarter with an interception. He had a quarterback rating of 2. You get a 2 just for spelling your name correctly.
After falling behind 17-3 and looking without a semblance of an offense, the Hawkeyes appeared to be fading right out of the national picture, in danger of being ignored once the College Football Playoff people start naming names in a few weeks.
Sure, they could keep all the things they brag about that don’t really cut a cube of ice outside the state. All the great defensive stats, their incredible pile of interceptions that included three in the first half Saturday. All their players developed in Iowa City and delivered to the NFL, the title “Tight End U,” all that jazz.
Finding a way to beat No. 4 Penn State to stay in the Top 3 and set yourself up for a run at a 12-0 regular season? That’s something you don’t have to explain. You did it, everybody who cares about college football saw it or heard about it or watched the highlights, and it’s worth a thousand traveling trophies.
Yeah, this one took a lot of frettin’ and sweatin’. But Iowa did it.
Even with Jestin Jacobs’ interception of Sean Clifford at the Penn State 8 on the Nittany Lions’ first offensive play, even with another first-quarter interception of Clifford, the veteran quarterback moved the Lions to touchdowns twice in the opening quarter.
Penn State added a field goal after picking off Petras at the Iowa 39, and it was 17-3 and looking bad for the Hawkeyes. But Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell blasted Clifford’s ribs just before Clifford let go of an incomplete third-down pass.
Clifford gingerly left the field, not to return thanks to his rib injury. For all the booing Hawkeye fans did about Penn State injuries they suspected were fraudulent, no one in the stadium’s black-and-gold stripes complained about Clifford staying gone.
While Iowa constructed a 75-yeard touchdown drive, Penn State readied to insert backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson, a sophomore who had thrown but eight career passes before the game.
It was like going from Gouda to government cheese. The first five snaps or near-snaps to Roberson resulted in a near-lost fumble, a near-interception by Campbell, and three false start penalties to three different Lions.
PSU had eight false starts after Clifford left. Find a place in the box score for Iowa’s fans to get an assist. A big one.
At halftime it looked like it was the Iowa offense’s game to win with the unsteady Roberson running Penn State’s show. Except that wasn’t the case at all. And then it was.
It was one play after a Penn State punt from its end zone to its 44. Misdirection against Penn State’s aggression. A perfect Ragaini-run route to the backside. A Petras pass lofted right into wide-open Ragaini’s hands. A touchdown.
The defense did the rest. Iowa ended with four picks, a slew of quarterback hurries, a ton of smashes, and one sweet victory.
There was a crowd storm. It covered the field like Iowa’s defense covered the Nittanies. And oh, the noise. This was a sound emanating from Kinnick Stadium that probably bounced off every oak in Lone Tree, scared the cattle outside Holstein, loosened lug nuts in Mechanicsville.
This was 69,000 fans repeatedly emptying their lungs for over three hours because the Iowa football team kept refilling them with passion, relentlessness against a ferocious foe, and finally, sheer joy.
Iowa’s hanging around in the national discussion. Not that any Hawkeye fan had any voice left for it Saturday night.
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