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Penn State’s Post-Iowa Report Card

No. 14 Penn State football squeaked out a huge 30-24 victory over No. 19 Iowa on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions improved to 6-2 this season, but not without nearly letting a late lead slip yet again.

How did some of the most important Nittany Lions fare on Saturday afternoon?

Quarterback: B

Without context, you might think Penn State’s quarterbacks weren’t all that spectacular against the Hawkeyes.

Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens finished the game a combined 13-for-29 passing with 194 yards and a touchdown. McSorley threw the lone touchdown pass to Pat Freiermuth and ran for a 51-yard score, while Stevens added a three-yard rushing touchdown of his own.

Those numbers aren’t incredible, but the fact that McSorley went down with an apparent lower-body injury in the second quarter makes me hesitant to criticize him much at all. His rushing touchdown came after he limped off the field, and Stevens was admirable in his brief cameo.

Head coach James Franklin called McSorley “the best player in college football” following his effort. Despite his low yardage totals, it’s hard to argue with that assessment after he battled back from injury.

Backs & Receivers: C+

Miles Sanders had, statistically, his second-worst game of the season after rushing for just 62 yards on 17 carries. Iowa’s defensive front did a good job bottling up the electric running back, who didn’t make a single catch after hauling in six passes against Indiana.

Oddly enough, only four receivers caught passes for the Nittany Lions. DeAndre Thompkins put together his most impactful game of the year — he made a season-high five grabs for 59 yards on nine targets. KJ Hamler continued to star for Penn State, pacing the receiving corps with 96 yards on five receptions.

Pat Freiermuth made one reception, but he made it count; his 18-yard touchdown late in the first quarter helped Penn State get back in the game after falling down 12 points within the first 10 minutes of the action.

Jahan Dotson once again made his presence felt in a reserve role. He made two catches for 21 yards and didn’t drop a single pass. Brandon Polk was held without a catch on two targets, and Mac Hippenhammer and Juwan Johnson were also shut out on one target each.

Offensive Line: C

Iowa’s defensive front did well to smother Miles Sanders while also getting to Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens in the backfield.

Outside of McSorley’s 51-yard rushing touchdown, Penn State’s rushing attack was limited to just 67 yards on 34 carries. Despite these low numbers, the Hawkeyes managed to muster just five tackles-for-loss on Saturday.

It’s also probably not a good day for the offensive line when its starting quarterback is forced out of the game due to injury. This point is probably moot, as McSorley returned to action in the second quarter and finished the game despite his injury, but the Nittany Lions’ signal callers took three sacks on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.

Front Seven: B+

Yetur Gross-Matos was a man on a mission on Saturday afternoon — he registered a game-high nine tackles, four of which came for a loss of yardage. Gross-Matos took the starting job only because Shane Simmons was out with an injury to start the year, but he now has 19 tackles and four sacks in his last two games. He should be a force on Penn State’s defensive line for years to come.

Miller had a quieter day with just two tackles, but he didn’t even need to have a spectacular day thanks to Gross-Matos’ heroics. Defensive tackle Robert Windsor also made two stops — including a sack of Nate Stanley in the second quarter — but Kevin Givens didn’t make a tackle for the second straight game.

The linebacking core of Jan Johnson, Koa Farmer, and Cam Brown had a quieter day, but still managed to make an impact. The three players made four, five, and six tackles, respectively, but true freshman Micah Parsons led the position group with seven tackles.

This group’s lack of production could be a concern going forward, as Gross-Matos made four of the Nittany Lions’ six tackles-for-loss and registered two of their three sacks.

Secondary: A

Penn State’s secondary was spectacular on Saturday afternoon and made two of the game’s most important plays.

John Reid’s fourth career interception and subsequent 44-yard return set up Tommy Stevens’ three-yard rushing score in the second quarter, and Nick Scott came up with a huge interception when Iowa’s defense was three yards away from scoring a go-ahead touchdown. To put it simply, Penn State doesn’t win this game without these two plays.

Scott was excellent at safety, but he had several different partners at the position due to Garrett Taylor’s first-half suspension for targeting against Indiana. Taylor came back in the second half and made six tackles in just 30 minutes of football, but players like Ayron Monroe and Jonathan Sutherland were solid in his place.

Sutherland was banged up early in the game, so Monroe got his chance to shine and made two stops for Penn State. The secondary’s clutch performance paced the Nittany Lions to a huge victory over a ranked opponent.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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