College Football

Stat Pak, Iowa football vs. Penn State: Check the gas tank, time for tug o' war

Iowa's path almost led to victory and certainly led you to anxiety

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley (25) scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of their B1G football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 23, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley (25) scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of their B1G football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 23, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Five quick thoughts from Iowa's 21-19 loss to No. 4 Penn State Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.


1. Painful final play

I’m not exactly breaking news here. Head coach Kirk Ferentz was quick with the “the game wasn’t decided on one play.” And he’s right. Football is Jenga and it’s never just the one. There’s usually about five plays that decide a game.

Four of the five were the final play.

Iowa was in man coverage. Safety Amani Hooker said, “Don’t let your receiver get inside, just man him up.”

Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson lined up in the slot. From the press box, he looks like a normal-sized human, but in the program it says he’s 6-4, 226 and, man, Penn State has a lot of wonderful toys.

Strong safety Miles Taylor had Johnson and lined up on his inside shoulder. Johnson put a jab step to the outside on him and Taylor bit. He opened his hips to the outside and Johnson cut back to the inside.

Still, it was an impossible window. The ball just inched over Hooker’s fingers.

LB Josey Jewell blitzed and was picked up by RB Saquon Barkley. It was like the movie “Highlander.” There can only be one.

2. The safety

Iowa really needed defensive end Shareef Miller to bite on the inside handoff. He didn’t. Instead, the 6-5, 257-pounder ran to a point upfield to make running back Akrum Wadley bow out while receiving the toss. Miller was a good enough athlete to corner Wadley and grab his ankle.


Miller was a designed free runner on the goal line. High risk, high reward. Great play by a ... I was going to say probably first-team all-Big Ten player, but Penn State vs. Ohio State will have maybe THE say in that.

By the way, Miller wore No. 19 to honor his DE running mate Torrence Brown, who was lost with a knee injury sometime in the first three weeks.

3. Destruction per snap

I had Iowa freshman DE A.J. Epenesa with 39 snaps, career-most for him. I also had him for a sack/strip that Jewell recovered and four QB hurries.

I might be off on this, but I believe Epenesa played the first first down of his career vs. PSU. He played a read-option hand off hard and sent Barkley flipping in the air.

Crazy prediction time: You’re going to see more Epenesa.

4. Iowa’s offensive line is just going to have to learn to deal with a lot of bodies

I don’t think there’s any way under the moon and the stars that another team blitzes Iowa like Penn State did.

There were a few O-linemen in postgame. When asked about PSU blitzes, they said, yes, they knew it was coming. Center James Daniels said PSU was a 45 percent blitz team going into the game. I have to think that number was knocking on 60 percent vs. Iowa.

Well, it worked enough.

Credit OC Brian Ferentz for not doing anything that was totally “un-Iowa” and for hanging with the plan and picking the two spots to unleash Wadley for big plays.


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Wadley’s 70-yard TD pass from Stanley was vs. a blitz and Iowa caught LB Jason Cabinda. On Wadley’s 35-yard run, it looked like a split zone, with left guard Ross Reynolds getting a good inside seal and left tackle Alaric Jackson getting an effective kickout. Wadley’s speed did the rest.

Teams with top-tier team speed on defense are basically sending the front seven at the Hawkeyes straight ahead, full speed. This reminded me of the Outback Bowl. Florida’s technique was sort of like coming out of the blocks for a 100-meter dash.

Iowa used that against Penn State. The patience that took was impressive.

For as much as PSU blitzed — it most definitely piled up QBH — Iowa QB Nate Stanley took just one sack.

5. How’s the gas tank?

That was a 90-degree night against the No. 4 team in the country.

Of course, you know that Iowa faces its forever tug-o-war partner Michigan State this weekend. All of the energy saved from low snap counts for the D-line vs. North Texas was spent vs. PSU.

Get ready for two hungry dudes fighting over the last piece of pizza.

Three stars

1. RB Saquon Barkley

Look, I know how this is going to sound, but I was asked on Twitter about the great performances I’ve seen against Iowa.

Well, I’ve done this for more than 20 years. I do have a decent reservoir of performances, but I just can’t recall them at a moment’s notice.

So, I’m going to go over what Barkley did and then add two performances that pop into my head.


40 touches for Barkley. 211 rushing yards. 94 receiving yards. 12 receptions, 28 carries. 305 yards from scrimmage at 7.6 yards a touch. Three kick returns for another 53 yards.

USC’s Carson Palmer in the 2003 Orange Bowl vs. Iowa: 21 of 31 for 303 yards, a TD and no picks. That’s 9.8 yards per attempt and 160.5 passer rating.

Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey vs. Iowa in the 2016 Rose Bowl: 172 rush yards and TD, 105 receiving yards, one kick return for 28 yards, one punt return for 63 yards and a TD. Plus, Stanford ran a play that was a fake fumble.

I wrote last night that Barkley played like the kid who drove himself to the junior high football game. I’m not sure we’ll see a better performance in the Big Ten this year. Maybe gutsier. Those November days and nights produce winter-strong heroes, but Penn State needed every inch of what Barkley could give it Saturday night.

2. LB Josey Jewell

16 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, fumble recovery, two pass breakups and a pick.

Yes, he lost plays to Barkley. A lot of NFL players are going to lose plays to Barkley. Jewell is an NFL player and he’ll usually win more than he loses. Barkley got him by a few Saturday night, but it was much closer than anyone thought it might be — the game and this matchup.

Anyway, I’m going to start seeing Josey Jewell’s face in Clint Eastwood movies, aren’t I? I love those movies. Still watch them. But now I’m just going to watch “The Good, The Bad and They Ugly” and picture Jewell in all three roles.

3. DE Shareef Miller and DE Anthony Nelson

For Miller: Two tackles for loss, QB hurry and a safety.

For Nelson: 2.5 sacks, two passes batted down, three QB hurries, two QB hits and a blocked field goal. If Nelson played at Wahlert in the mid-1980s, that’d be 10 skull-and-crossbone stickers and a football sticker for special teams (if I remember that correctly, stars were offensive stickers and footballs were special teams).

3. (Sue me.) RB Akrum Wadley

19 rushes for 80 yards and a TD. Four catches for 75 yards and a TD. That’s 6.74 a touch.

Oh, and Wadley might be the most clutch offensive skill player of the Ferentz era. Think about this seriously and let’s walk through this.


Is there another player who’s come through as much as Wadley when Iowa has absolutely had to have it? I might only be talking about this season, too. The name I’d throw out would be TE Dallas Clark.

We’ll debate this one throughout the week, I’m sure, but it’s going to take a lot to knock Wadley off this for me.

The DVR Chair

(It’s sort of an ugly green)

— On Penn State’s final drive, I had Iowa in nickel (CB Michael Ojemudia in, LB Bo Bower out) for seven of the drive’s 12 plays. Iowa got decent pressure (I had three QBH and a QB hit). I thought the coverage was OK.

PSU QB Trace McSorley was pinpoint. That was his drive. It became 7 on 7 and Penn State just has more of that kind of talent. I know you’re not going to like this because he punted that last PAT, but McSorley was fantastic this drive.

He’s probably the first-team all-Big Ten QB. I’m not counting out Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. It’s a long race, but if McSorley keeps ascending, these are the highlights you’ll see. I’m sorry.

— I had Iowa with 14 blitzes. I had five of those directly affecting plays, including that weird McSorley fumble that was basically handed to OL52. Weird play. And also a play that shows just how close this thing was.

— Defensive targets: CB Manny Rugamba 5 of 8 for 38 yards, S Amani Hooker 3 of 4 for 27, S Miles Taylor 4 of 5 for 60, LB Josey Jewell 5 of 7 for 54, LB Bo Bower 4 of 4 for 35, LB Ben Niemann 3 of 4 for 14, CB Josh Jackson 4 of 7 for 31, CB Michael Ojemudia 2 of 2 for 30


— Offensive targets: TE Noah Fant 1 of 3 for 13 yards, TE T.J. Hockenson 0 of 1, WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette 2 of 3 for 37, WR Nick Easley 2 of 4 for 27, WR Matt VandeBerg 2 of 7 for 27, RB Akrum Wadley 4 of 4 for 75 yards, RB Ivory Kelly-Martin 2 of 2 for 12

— Special teams helmet sticker to Anthony Nelson. Iowa now has back-to-back blocked FGs in consecutive weeks.

— Defensive stops (stopping the offense at 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down): Hooker 2, A. Nelson 3, Jewell 8, Niemann 3, Bower, Taylor, DE Sam Brincks 2, Rugamba 2, DT Brady Reiff, DT Nathan Bazata, DT Cedrick Lattimore

— QB hurries: Epenesa 4, Jackson, A. Nelson 4, Lattimore, Hesse

— QB hits: Brincks, A. Nelson 5, Lattimore, Epenesa

— Iowa’s personnel groups and what they did: 21 (two backs, one TE) — 0 of 3 passing for 0 yards, 3 rush for 24 yards; 12 (one back, two TEs) — 0 of 2 for 0 yards, 6 rushes for 1 yard; 22 (two backs, two TEs) — 2 rushes for minus-1 yard, 1 for 1 passing for 5 yards; 11 shotgun (1 back, 1 TE) — 6 rushes for 34 yards and TD, 8 of 13 passing for 124 yards and TD; 11 (one back, one TE) — 5 rushes for 18 yards, 3 of 3 for 55 passing and TD; 12 shotgun (one back, two TEs) — 1 run for a minus-4 sack; 21 shotgun (two backs, three TEs) — 1 for 1 passing for 6 yards

— Halftime adjustments: Iowa ran 21 plays for 219 yards (10.4 per play) in the second half. Penn State ran 52 plays for 360 yards (6.9)

Up next — Michigan State (2-1)

(at Spartan Stadium, 3 p.m., FOX)

— The Lansing State Journal’s Graham Couch and his three takes from the Spartans’ 38-18 loss last week to Notre Dame. Lots of unforced errors. Spartans dominated time of possession.

Five things Spartans learned from ND, from the Detroit News.

— Another “what they learned” and a “what to watch vs. Iowa” from the Detroit Free Press.

Take note of the brevity. No one is dumb enough to do Stat Pak.

The numbers game

Touchdowns in the red zone

Iowa — 0 of 1

Penn State — 2 of 5


Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Wyoming — 1 of 1 (off), 0 of 0 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 5 of 6 (off), 3 of 5 (def); Week 3 vs. North Texas — 3 of 5 (off), 1 of 1 (def); Week 4 vs. No. 4 Penn State — 0 of 1 (off), 2 of 5 (def)

The takeaway: The effort from Iowa’s defense in the red zone kept this a game. This was a top 20 national effort from Iowa’s defense in points per play. Conversely, the offense didn’t get out of the on-deck circle quite enough.

Three and outs forced by the defense

Iowa — 4

Penn State — 7

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Wyoming — 3 (def), 5 (off); Week 2 vs. ISU — 5 (def), 6 (off); Week 3 vs. North Texas — 3 (def), 2 (off); Week 4 vs. No. 4 Penn State — 4 (def), 7 (off)

The takeaway: At this point, it’s fair to call Iowa a slow-starting offense. Yes, should’ve been a TD on the first drive vs. North Texas, but no one remembers North Texas. Five of Iowa’s first six drives ended in punts. The one that didn’t? That was a safety.


(50% of needed yards on first down, 70% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down)

Iowa — 26.6 percent (12 efficient plays out of 45 total)

Penn State — 50.5 percent (50 of 99)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Wyoming — 42 percent (off), 34 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 46.3 (off), 47.2 (def); Week 3 vs. North Texas — 38.3 percent (off), 45.6 (def); Week 4 vs. No. 4 Penn State — 26.6 (off), 50.5 (def)

The takeaway: Teams have been operating, for the most part, ahead of the sticks against Iowa’s defense the first four games. I changed one number in that sentence from last week. Penn State had more chances in the batter’s box. Iowa had three efficient plays in the first half, while Penn State had 21. I believe this is why a lot of you are on heart meds and or benders. This isn’t the way to victory 99 times out of 100. It still wasn’t, but fortitude, man.

Explosive plays

(Runs of 12-plus yards; passes of 16-plus)

Iowa — 6 (2 runs, 4 passes)

Penn State — 13 (8 runs, 5 pass)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Wyoming — 5 (off), 1 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 9 (off), 10 (def); Week 3 vs. North Texas — 6 (off), 4 (def); Week 4 vs. No. 4 Penn State — 6 (off), 13 (def)


The takeaway: Yeah, only five from Barkley (all runs). Pretty clear what the conclusion is here. Too many for PSU. Wadley accounted for three of Iowa’s six. Also, five of Iowa’s six came in the second half. Wadley = clutch.

Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)

Iowa — 13

Penn State — 6

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Wyoming — 7 (off), 0 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 14 (off), 0 (def); Week 3 vs. North Texas — 7 (off), 7 (def); Week 4 vs. No. 4 Penn State — 13 (off), 6 (def)

The takeaway: Penn State got the six it had to have. Iowa did its damage in the final minutes of both halves. Say what you will about the offense, incredibly opportunistic performance. I don’t know if Stanley runs two-minute drills in his sleep or while eating lunch with fellow students or what. The guy has a knack.

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