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No. 4 Penn State Drops Heartbreaker To No. 3 Iowa 23-20

No. 4 Penn State football (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) dropped its first game of the season Saturday with a 23-20 loss to No. 3 Iowa (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten)

The Nittany Lions led 14-3 after the first quarter and appeared to be in full control. However, an apparent injury that kept Sean Clifford out for the remainder of the game proved to be the difference in the game, as Iowa was able to mount a comeback thanks to a non-existent Penn State offense.

Penn State now heads into its bye week with a 5-1 record and a major question at quarterback.

How It Happened

Penn State won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half, giving Spencer Petras and Iowa’s offense the ball to start the game.

Penn State defensive tackle PJ Mustipher went down with an injury on the fifth play of the game, and he didn’t return for the rest of the game.

Brent Pry’s defense held strong after two Hawkeye first downs, and Tory Taylor punted it down to Penn State’s two-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Sean Clifford made a massive mistake, throwing an interception while under pressure to Iowa’s Jestin Jacobs at at the Nittany Lions’ eight-yard line.

On 3rd and 7, Arnold Ebiketie sacked Petras for a nine-yard loss. Iowa’s Caleb Shudak drilled a 34-yard field goal to put the Hawkeyes up 3-0 with 11:08 left in the quarter.

Penn State’s ensuing drive started much better than the last, as Clifford connected with KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 17-yard gain and a first down. The Nittany Lions made their way down the field with a 16-yard completion to Parker Washington, followed by a 15-yard connection between Clifford and Brenton Strange.

Later in the drive, Noah Cain punched it in from two yards out to cap off Penn State’s nine-play, 75-yard drive with a touchdown. Penn State took a 7-3 lead with 8:37 left in the quarter.

The Nittany Lions’ defense dominated the Hawkeyes on the next drive, as Luketa tackled Tyler Goodson for a loss on first down, and Curtis Jacobs sacked Petras on second down. Two plays later, Iowa punted the ball down to Penn State’s 29-yard line.

After two Penn State first downs, Clifford’s deep ball intended for Jahan Dotson was intercepted by Jack Koerner in the end zone. The turnover parade continued two plays later, as Petras and Iowa gave it right back when Jaquan Brisker intercepted a pass that hit of the hand of Nico Ragaini.

Clifford and Co. started cooking immediately with a 30-yard pitch-and-catch to Lambert-Smith to bring the offense down to Iowa’s seven-yard line.

Two plays later, Clifford ran it in from four yards out to put Penn State up 14-3 with 3:21 left in the quarter.

After Iowa punted, Penn State started the second quarter driving on its own 48-yard line. Facing a 3rd and 7 from Iowa’s 39-yard line, Clifford scampered out of the pocket and took it for 22 yards down into the red zone.

However, the Hawkeyes held Penn State to a 32-yard field goal attempt, which Jordan Stout converted to extend Penn State’s lead to 17-3 with 12:31 left in the half.

Iowa responded with a nice-looking drive of its own, taking the ball all the way down to Penn State 12-yard line. Two plays later, Petras connected with Charlie Jones for a nine-yard touchdown to bring the Hawkeyes within seven about midway through the second quarter.

As Iowa scored, Clifford was walking into the locker room with presumably an injury, and he didn’t come out for the next drive. Ta’Quan Roberson entered the game at quarterback. It was a disastrous start for the Roberson-led offense, as on third down, the offense committed three, yes three, straight false starts before eventually punting it away. Stout punted the ball to Iowa’s 36-yard line with 5:46 left in the half.

After an Iowa punt, Penn State took over at its own three-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Roberson attempted a deep pass to Dotson, but he was intercepted at Iowa’s 45-yard line by Riley Moss. Iowa punted it back to Penn State, and the game went into halftime with Penn State leading 17-10.

Coming out of halftime, Clifford wasn’t in his pads, meaning his day was done. Roberson and the offense started the half with a three and out.

Following an Iowa punt, Roberson finally got the offense moving. Between a 12-yard completion to Cam Sullivan-Brown and two quarterback keepers, Penn State’s offense picked up three first downs within its first five plays of the drive. Later in the drive, Stout drilled a 44-yard field goal to make it a two-possession game with Penn State leading 20-10 with 6:40 left in the quarter.

Iowa inched closer on its next drive with a Shudak 48-yard field goal to cut Penn State’s lead to 20-13 with 1:36 left in the quarter. Following a Penn State punt, Iowa took over at its own 15-yard line. The third quarter ended with Penn State up 20-13.

The two teams exchanged punts, and Iowa started its next drive at midfield with 10:35 left in the game. The Hawkeyes were immediately threatening when Petras found Keagan Johnson for a 42-yard gain down to Penn State’s eight-yard line. However, Daequan Hardy came up huge for Penn State with a tackle for loss and a sack to force an Iowa field goal attempt.

Shudak made a 36-yard field to make it a 20-16 Penn State lead with 8:08 remaining in the game. Penn State punted to Iowa’s 44-yard line after going three and out once again.

On the first play of the drive, Petras found a wide-open Ragaini for a 44-yard touchdown to put Iowa ahead 23-20 with 6:26 left in the game.

Mike Yurcich’s offense moved the ball well at the start of the drive, advancing the ball to midfield. Later in the drive, the Nittany Lions faced a 4th and 3 at Iowa’s 47-yard line. Roberson completed a pass to Keyvone Lee for just two yards, and Iowa took over with just 3:39 left in the game.

Penn State’s defense forced a punt, giving the ball back to the offense with 2:38 left. Roberson couldn’t get the offense moving, and he threw an interception on fourth down to ultimately end the game. Penn State dropped its first of the season 23-20.

Takeaways

  • Penn State caught a bad case of the injury bug Saturday afternoon in Iowa City. Besides the obvious Sean Clifford injury, the Nittany Lions lost stud defensive tackle PJ Mustipher for the rest of the game, too. Additionally, John Lovett was seen in street clothes at the start of the second half, and Jonathan Sutherland exited the game and didn’t return, too. While they all ended up returning, Arnold Ebiketie, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Jaquan Brisker, and Dvon Ellies were all down on the field at some point. It appears Penn State’s bye week is clearly coming at the right time.
  • The penalties are just inexcusable for James Franklin’s squad. Penn State was penalized for eight false starts in the game. Total, the Nittany Lions were called for ten penalties. The penalties eventually proved to be too costly for Penn State to overcome, as shown in the final result. Penn State committed six more penalties than Iowa for the game.
  • Penn State’s defense can only do so much. Despite playing great for much of the game, Penn State’s defense finally folded in the fourth quarter on the 44-yard touchdown from Spencer Petras to Nick Ragaini. It’s tough to get on the defense too much, as once Sean Clifford departed, Brent Pry’s group had to carry Penn State. The unit was on the field for 34:19, compared to just 23:42 for Iowa’s defense.

What’s Next

Penn State has its bye week next Saturday, and it will return to action with a home game against Illinois on Saturday, October 23. The game will kick off at noon.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, NY and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his rants on all of his teams follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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