The Penn State Nittany Lions found themselves ranked No. 12 when the initial College Football Playoff poll was released Tuesday evening, and they spent Saturday night proving why they deserved to be ranked so high.
The Nittany Lions marched down the field in 2:17 on the opening possession to put the first of many touchdowns on the board against the Iowa Hawkeyes in front of 106,194 people at Beaver Stadium. Penn State went on to score 34 more points on the evening, defeating the Hawkeyes 41-14 Saturday evening.
A balanced yet explosive offensive attack and a smothering defense made up the recipe for success against Iowa, and the Nittany Lions moved to 7-2 on the season and 5-1 in the Big Ten.
“Everyone is singing the same song, and everyone is singing in the same tune,” said head coach James Franklin.
Quarterback Trace McSorley helped account for three of the five Penn State touchdowns scored Saturday night as the sophomore put on another stellar performance. McSorley found the endzone once with his feet and twice with his arm with touchdown passes to Saeed Blacknall and Saquon Barkley.
Barkley found himself with over 200 all-purpose yards for the second-straight game after rushing for 167 yards and hauling in a 44 yard reception for a touchdown for good measure as the true sophomore slowly creeps his way into the Heisman race.
Coming into the game, Iowa was allowing only 18.1 points-per-game, however the 41 points the Nittany Lions put up weren’t nearly as impressive as the 599 total yards of offense they accumulated. On paper, it’d be hard to believe the Hawkeyes were allowing an average of 167.9 yards on the ground after Penn State gashed them for 359 yards Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions deployed six players to help get their 359 yard offensive total, with backup quarterback Tommy Stevens accounting for the third touchdown from the running back unit. Stevens lined up as a slot receiver and found himself on the receiving end of a jet-sweep hand-off as he ran 13 yards to the endzone.
While the running and passing games flourished, the most improved statistic this evening was in the third down conversion column. Third down conversions for Penn State have been few and far between this season for Franklin’s offense, but against Iowa, Penn State converted 7-of-14 chances, its best effort of the season.
“I thought third down was huge. Fifty percent … I think we improved in that area.” Franklin said.
Penn State’s defense forced a turnover on downs on the Hawkeyes’ first drive of the game and, from there, it was pure domination for four quarters.
For the second time in as many games, the Nittany Lions held an opponent under 50 yards on the ground — Iowa managed a mere 30 yards. Playing from behind the entire game, the Hawkeyes managed 204 yards through the air as quarterback C.J. Beathard struggled to find any sort of rhythm against Penn State’s defense.
“It’s our front seven and getting those linebackers back … it’s the reps and the depth that those other guys had to play before,” Franklin said.
Defensive tackle Kevin Givens helped lead the way defensively for the Nittany Lions, accumulating a sack and four tackles while seemingly being in the backfield on nearly every play he was in on. Givens and linebacker Jason Cabinda accounted for one-fifth of the defense’s sixty tackles as Cabinda led the way with eight tackles for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions continued forcing turnovers as Troy Apke recorded the first interception of his career in the fourth quarter, setting up the McSorley to Barkley touchdown strike. With the seven points off the Apke interception, Penn State has now converted the last five turnovers it has forced into touchdowns.
Areas of Improvement
While Penn State may have dominated the stat sheet and the scoreboard, Franklin and his staff weren’t completely satisfied with the victory.
“We will never be satisfied, ever,” Franklin said. “That is not coach speak. I mean that. Looking at areas we can improve, depth that we need to create. There were mistakes. Nine penalties alone need to be (deleted) from the game.”
Those penalties helped keep drives alive for the Hawkeyes and put them in position for their first touchdown. A questionable roughing-the-passer penalty put Iowa within striking distance to put a touchdown on the board before the end of the half.
Of the nine penalties the Nittany Lions accumulated, four were personal fouls, a statistic Franklin wasn’t pleased with.
“We got to clean up the penalties. We didn’t do a great job with that,” Franklin said. “We’ll work on that this week.”
With the victory over Iowa, the Nittany Lions will head to Indiana next Saturday for the first of two November road games against Big Ten foes. The Hoosiers are the the last team Penn State will face in the regular season that has a winning record; Rutgers and Michigan State have a combined four wins.
Indiana enters next Saturday’s match-up coming off a 33-27 victory over Rutgers on Saturday. The game in Bloomington, IN, will kick off at noon EDT on ABC.
While the Hoosiers may prove to be the toughest remaining team on the schedule, Franklin is focusing on improving and getting better week to week.
“We are getting better every single day and every single practice,” Franklin said. “Our approach, our mentality, our trust and belief in one another, our confidence, translates into getting better.”
Image credit: Phoebe Sheehan/Centre Daily Times