116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It’s time for Iowa City to party like 1985.
No. 3 Iowa’s biggest game at Kinnick Stadium since 1985 turned into one of the biggest wins at Kinnick since 1985, too, with a 23-20 win over No. 4 Penn State.
“Today was definitely special,” center Tyler Linderbaum said. “It’s something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”
The Hawkeyes spent almost the entire game trailing the Nittany Lions. When they were down 17-3 in the first half, it was their largest deficit since 2019.
Quarterback Spencer Petras and the Hawkeyes finally broke through with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter with a 44-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nico Ragaini.
Petras said Iowa had the touchdown-winning play in its “back pocket,” but the right opportunity to use it didn’t come until the fourth quarter.
It was “extremely important that we weren’t getting blitzed,” Petras said.
But he estimated Penn State blitzed on about 80 percent of drives.
“It’s kind of waiting for the right moment to call it,” Petras said.
Ragaini was hoping the Penn State defenders would “take the bait” on his route. They did, and then Petras “made a perfect throw.”
Iowa’s defense then put together a key stop on the next Penn State drive on fourth down with fewer than four minutes left. Iowa’s offense ran about a minute off the clock before the Hawkeyes made another stop defensively.
The win to keep Iowa’s record perfect was certainly not perfect.
Just like in the first five games, Iowa’s secondary once again gave the offense great opportunities with three takeaways in the first half. Punter Tory Taylor helped Iowa win the field-position battle, too.
But Iowa’s offense struggled to take advantage of the opportunities.
After scoring 75 points off 16 turnovers through the first five games, the Hawkeyes put up just three points off the three turnovers in the first half.
Linebacker Jestin Jacobs picked off Penn State’s Sean Clifford on the first play the defense was on the field, giving the offense the ball on the 8-yard-line.
The team went backward after a 1-yard run, incompletion and a sack, though, and had to settle for a Caleb Shudak field goal.
Then later in the first quarter, Iowa’s secondary picked off Clifford again. Safety Jack Koerner intercepted a deep throw near the end zone.
The subsequent Iowa drive lasted two plays, coming to an abrupt end with an interception on a Petras throw off the hands of wide receiver Nico Ragaini.
Iowa again couldn’t take advantage on cornerback Riley Moss’ interception late in the second quarter, going three-and-out. Even worse for Iowa, Moss suffered an injury as he celebrated on his way to the sideline.
The team leader in interceptions did not return and was in street clothes in the second half.
The Hawkeyes had some encouraging drives. Many of those drives ended in field goals or punts instead of touchdowns, though.
That included a 10-play, 45-yard drive where Iowa had to settle for a 48-yard Shudak field goal in the third quarter. Another seven-play drive ended in a punt.
Petras had a rough start Saturday, completing just 2 of his first 11 passes and throwing an early interception. The pick happened as the ball went off Ragaini’s hands and to Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker.
“That (throw) was forced,” Petras said. “You can’t force anything.”
He completed 7 of his next 10 throws to finish the first half with a 45-percent completion rate.
Six different Iowa receivers caught passes from Petras, although the junior quarterback did not have a completion to a wide receiver until about midway through the second half.
Iowa’s running game produced lackluster results, averaging 2.4 yards per carry Saturday. That average was improving in the second half until the last few minutes as Iowa tried running down the clock.
The Nittany Lions’ offense had been functioning smoothly aside from the interceptions until Clifford left the game with an apparent leg injury and did not return.
Penn State did not look the same after his exit. Backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson completed just 35 percent of his passes.
“It definitely turned to a more rushing offense for Penn State,” defensive lineman Logan Lee said. “We were pretty comfortable just forcing him to continue to rush the ball and forcing the third-and-long.”
The Nittany Lions’ offensive line was flagged almost a dozen times for false starts, too, since Roberson took the reins.
The win almost guarantees Iowa will remain a top-three team when the Associated Press poll comes out Sunday.
“I want our guys to enjoy this smartly, but enjoy it,” Ferentz said. “They deserve that.”
Iowa will not have another opponent of Penn State’s caliber for the rest of the regular season. No other Big Ten West team received any votes in the most recent AP poll.
The next, and only, chance for Iowa to pick up another win that would dazzle its postseason resume will be if the team makes it to the Big Ten championship game.
The team is focused on just beating Purdue next week despite its relatively pedestrian 3-2 record.
“As soon as you start thinking it might be a little bit easy, that’s when the door slams right into your face,” Ferentz said.
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