Turns out it really does add up.
The talk this week from the Iowa football camp was about how Penn State’s winless record coming into Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium didn’t make sense. The Nittany Lions had way more talent than that, were a much better team than 0-4 and one that absolutely shouldn’t be slept on.
The numbers just don’t add up, Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Yet they do. And they did.
Iowa’s 41-21 victory moved one of the bluest of the nation’s blue blood programs to 0-5 for the first time in school history. Other than two plays in the third quarter that went for PSU touchdowns and made this game way more interesting than it probably should have been, the Hawkeyes were out and out better.
Thus ends a six-game losing streak against the Nittany Lions for Iowa (3-2). This was Coach Kirk Ferentz’s 100th-career Big Ten Conference victory, and it came in his home state.
Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Amos Alonzo Stagg are the only other guys to hit the century mark in the league.
“No one I’d rather play for. A great coach, an outstanding accomplishment,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras. “Especially (coming) at a historic place like Penn State. What an accomplishment.”
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta presented Ferentz with the game ball in the locker room postgame, and his players gave him a standing ovation.
“Winning here, it is special. Where you grew up, all that stuff,” said Ferentz. “As a kid, I grew up watching Penn State football, and I just have so much respect for it. So that part’s all good, the locker room was great, just happy the guys could be a part of that.
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"But the bigger picture is things like that don’t happen by accident. You have to be at a really good place, you have to be around really good people. Coming up on my 31st year at Iowa, the common denominator is good players, good coaches, good support staff, good administration and a quality place to work just overall. And a quality place to live. How lucky can you get there?”
Iowa has won three games in a row after those two brutal losses by a combined five points to start the season. It has outscored its last three opponents (Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan State) by a 125-35 margin.
The Hawkeyes simply are playing at a very high level.
“Starting 0-2 was obviously not what we were wanting to happen,” said linebacker Nick Niemann, who had 17 tackles. “Those were heartbreaking losses, obviously. But in training camp and at the beginning of the season, we knew what we had on the table, we knew what we were capable of doing. It was kind of just putting our foot down and making a decision that we weren’t going to let the train go off the tracks and let this thing slide out of control. We were going to show up, keep working and play like we were capable of.”
Iowa’s four offensive touchdowns came via the run: two by Mekhi Sargent, one by Tyler Goodson and the other by Petras on a sneak. The Hawkeyes had another strong game on the ground, rushing for 175 yards.
Then the defense did its thing. It stuffed a pair of PSU runs on third-and-short and fourth-and-short at midfield with under a minute left in the first half, allowing the offense good field position it cashed in with a TD drive culminated by a Sargent 2-yard run with 11 seconds left.
That made it a 24-7 game at the break. It was 31-7 late in the third, when Penn State made a quarterback change: subbing veteran Sean Clifford for Will Levis.
Clifford threw touchdowns passes of 28 and 62 yards on his first two plays, suddenly making it a game (31-21). But Chauncey Golston intercepted a Clifford pass tipped by fellow lineman Daviyon Nixon on Penn State’s next possession, increasing Iowa’s pick streak to 12 consecutive games.
That led to a short Keith Duncan field goal. Nixon put it to bed with under two minutes to go: intercepting Clifford and rambling 71 yards for a pick-6.
Iowa forced four Penn State turnovers.
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“We knew they were the kind of team that was going to come back in the second half, that had really strong second halves,” said Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg, who plopped on a pair of Penn State fumbles. “Obviously we didn’t want that to happen, but we prepared for it, and I think we did a really good job of closing out the game.”
“We kept playing, stuck together,” Ferentz said. “Really happy about that. Hopefully that will pay off for us as we move along.”
Iowa plays Black Friday this coming week at home against Nebraska (1-3).
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