STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Fast forward to the moments outside of Iowa’s locker room.
It’s dark, closer to an alley than a stadium concourse. Camera lights, almost the only illumination outside of the glow from inside the stadium, shine on the interviewees. It’s such a contrast, going from the dark to the blazing white light right in the face.
They sort of showed the truth.
Nate Stanley’s eyes were red with dark circles underneath. His voice cracked. The next few minutes were going to suck for everyone.
“That’s the goal, to be a close team,” Stanley said. “That’s my only hope for them, that they keep their trust in me and have my back and help me play better next game.”
For sure, No. 18 Iowa’s wrenching 30-24 loss to No. 16 Penn State before 105,244 fans at Beaver Stadium on Saturday came with plenty of crumpled moments that should give everyone involved night sweats for months.
We’ll get to the guts, but the Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2) are down to the filter as far as anything Big Ten West championship goes.
Northwestern leads the West Division with a 5-1 record. The Hawkeyes, Wisconsin and Purdue are 3-2. Iowa goes to Purdue next week and plays host to Northwestern the week after that.
Iowa can’t lose anymore if it wants to go to the Big Ten title game. After Saturday night and too many collapses in too many big moments, probably take this one step at a time, probably hold off on the hotel reservations.
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“We’ve got a lot to accomplish still,” defensive end Parker Hesse said. “We’re going to flush this, work as a team and move toward Purdue.”
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. Medicine made him a new man at halftime. On a third-and-2 on the Nittany Lions’ first series of the third quarter, McSorley broke off a 51-yard TD run to give Penn State (6-2, 3-2) a 24-17 lead in the third quarter.
McSorley had 230 yards of total offense and rushed and threw for TDs.
No one put up terribly impressive numbers (Iowa outgained PSU, 350 to 312). The defense was ferocious. In the end, Penn State’s defense disrupted Iowa’s offense to the point where the Hawkeyes might’ve been mumbling to themselves a little bit.
Let’s get to the first-and-goal from Penn State’s 3 with 3:18 left in the game. The Hawkeyes trailed 30-24 and, after Stanley and running back Mekhi Sargent pushed Iowa downfield, it looked pretty good for the Hawkeyes.
And then so much went wrong on that first down.
Stanley saw something he didn’t like and started waving his arms, presumably to kill a call. He was in shotgun behind center Keegan Render and moving around. Render took a look between his legs and saw the play clock was at 4 seconds.
“I saw the clock and looking back I wish I would’ve held it or called timeout or taken a delay of game or call timeout,” Render said. “It’s not up to me. Nate was calling for the ball, I snapped it and went with it.
“I trust Nate with my whole heart.”
Ferentz noticed Stanley’s uncertainty and sprinted down the sidelines to call a timeout. He was too late.
“There was discombobulation,” Ferentz said. “I also was worried about us getting the ball snapped, the clock was running down. In retrospect, I didn’t know it was going to end up in their hands. There was some traffic there we weren’t anticipating.”
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Lots of “in retrospect” on this play. Lots of “in retrospect” from the Wisconsin game. Can’t quite label the season that yet, but you do you.
“In retrospect, I wish I could’ve blocked him, but on a passing play, you can’t block the defender,” tight end Noah Fant said. “It was unfortunate, it was something we needed to bounce back from. We didn’t want it to happen, but it happened.”
What happened was Penn State sent a blitzer, Stanley, who injured his thumb in the fourth quarter, lofted a prayer and Penn State safety Nick Scott picked it off.
“I just tried to rush it too much,” said Stanley, who completed 18 of 49 for 205 yards and two interceptions (the 63.7 passer rating was the second-lowest of his career). “Should’ve just taken a timeout and tried not to force anything.”
Iowa had another shot, but tight end T.J. Hockenson had an 18-yard reception overturned on review and the Hawkeyes never caught their breath.
Stanley was pretty hard on Stanley, who missed a wide-open Hockenson for a touchdown in the second quarter. A reporter brought up the thumb thing. “That’s no excuse for the throws I missed," Stanley said.
There’s no referendum on Stanley, so walk that off. That said, his inconsistency Saturday earned him “social media whipping boy” status.
“I think he’s played really well for the most part this season,” Ferentz said. “I think he’s a really good football player. Didn’t have his best night tonight, that was clear. Good players hit tough times sometimes, good teams do. Good ones bounce back, and he will.”
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