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Penn State’s Effort Against Iowa Puts It At Historically Bad 0-5

After Sean Clifford spelled Will Levis at quarterback and threw two quick touchdowns, Penn State somehow found itself with a chance to get within one possession of Iowa Saturday afternoon.

A victory still felt like a long shot, but when you’re 0-4, you’ll take any kind of hope you can get. The Nittany Lions’ comeback effort was short-lived however, as a confusing decision from James Franklin largely put an end to any momentum Penn State had left.

Down 34-21 with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, the head coach elected to send out the punt team on 4th and 17 rather than go for it.

It’s not like the Nittany Lions had a great chance of converting on 4th and long, but at this point, what do you have to lose? You haven’t won a game yet, are down two scores as the clock dwindles down, and are looking for any sort of hope for the offensive side of the ball.

Franklin’s decision to willingly give the ball back to the Hawkeyes in such a crucial point in the game seemed like a waving of the white flag more than anything else.

And now, with yet another loss on the board, Penn State sits as the only winless team in the Big Ten. In fact, this is the Nittany Lions’ first ever 0-5 start in program history.

“It’s not good enough,” Franklin said. “There’s obviously a lot of circumstances going on this year but none of that matters at the end of day. We gotta find a way to play good football, and we have not done that.”

It’s hard to know where to start with the amount of things that have gone wrong for this team so far. Plenty of issues off the field have certainly had an effect, including injuries and just the general effects of the coronavirus. Those off-field problems have clearly had an effect on the on-field product, as slow starts, uncharacteristic turnovers and penalties, and defensive struggles have all combined to give Penn State its worst start to a season ever.

Along with that curious decision to not go for it on fourth down, several other plays throughout Saturday’s game further reminded fans just how much this team is struggling to focus. The nail in the coffin for the Nittany Lions was clearly Iowa’s pick-six in the final minutes.

Daviyon Nixon snagged Sean Clifford’s pass attempt out of the air and took it all the way back 71 yards for a touchdown. As Nixon huffed and puffed his way down the sideline, Clifford didn’t seem to make much of an effort to wrap up the defensive lineman. A simple swat at the Iowa defender was hardly enough to slow him down, as he made a bit of a swim move en route to the score.

Plays such as that one are starting to feel like a perfect representation of this season so far. Whether it’s a missed tackle or assignment, there have been several occasions in which the Nittany Lions simply look unfocused, and in some ways unmotivated.

Now, more than halfway through the season, Penn State faces an uphill battle to even earn a win. The Nittany Lions are guaranteed a losing record even if they win their last four games, an extremely disappointing prospect for a team that found itself in the top 10 of the preseason AP Top 25 Poll.

Franklin and the rest of the coaching staff now have a tall task in keeping this team together down the stretch.

“I think, most importantly, we gotta stick together as a family and as a team,” Franklin said. “We’re being challenged right now. We’ve had to learn how to handle success, and now we’re having to learn how to handle adversity. It’s even more challenging when they don’t have the normal support system around them that they typically would have.”

As the Nittany Lions do their best to stay together during a historically difficult stretch, they’ll now turn their focus to a trip to the Big House. Michigan currently sits at an ugly 1-3 on the season, but Penn State hasn’t won at Michigan Stadium since 2009.

With that in mind, the Nittany Lions are going to need to have quite a week of practice and preparation in order to avoid an 0-6 slide to open the season.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is Onward State's sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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