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Penn State’s Post-Iowa Report Card

Penn State football is no longer undefeated.

The Nittany Lions fell to No. 3 Iowa 23-20 Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium in heartbreaking fashion. James Franklin’s group jumped out to a 17-3 early in the second quarter, but a game-ending injury to Sean Clifford allowed the Hawkeyes to fight back and claim a victory.

Penn State now stands at 5-1 and ranked as the No. 7 team in the country. But before the Nittany Lions move on to the bye week, let’s hand out the grades for the week-six loss.

Quarterbacks: C-

This one’s tough. Besides his two interceptions, Clifford managed the offense in an efficient manner before going down with an injury in the second quarter. The redshirt senior finished with a completion rate of 60% and 146 yards through the air. He led three scoring drives, including one that ended with his four-yard touchdown on a draw play.

After Clifford’s unspecified injury, however, Ta’Quan Roberson struggled to settle into a nearly impossible role.

Roberson first faced immense challenges in being loud enough for the offensive line to hear him, as the Nittany Lions had three consecutive false starts with their backs to their own goal line. In fact, Penn State finished the game with a ridiculous eight false start penalties due to the communication issues with the second-string quarterback.

Roberson finished his day an ugly 7-of-20 on his pass attempts and managed just 34 yards through the air. The redshirt sophomore managed to keep a couple of plays alive with his feet, but other than that, he mostly struggled in his high-leverage role.

It’s unclear how much time Clifford will miss with his injury, but if it lasts past this week, the Nittany Lions can hope more first-team reps will help Roberson settle into a starting role.

Running Backs: D+

People said that if Penn State couldn’t get its running game going against Villanova and Indiana, how could it do it against Iowa? Well, it couldn’t.

While John Lovett and Devyn Ford were both knocked out with injuries, the rushing attack truly never got going. Keyvone Lee had a couple of strong runs here and there and totaled 30 yards on 10 attempts. Noah Cain earned eight chances on the night and totaled just 15 yards.

Outside of Cain’s early touchdown, there really wasn’t anything notable to report for the group.

For now, Lee seems to be the only option that can make positive things happen in the backfield, but it clearly wasn’t enough to help Roberson against a top Iowa defense.

Wide Receivers: C+

It’s tough to criticize Penn State’s wide receivers here, mainly considering Roberson’s inexperience hindered the passing attack plenty. However, it was certainly a quiet night for a group that had big performances through the first five games of the season.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith played a fairly substantial role on multiple drives, as he made a couple of nice plays on quick-screen passes with Clifford. The sophomore also made a massive 30-yard grab to set up Clifford’s score in the first quarter. “KLS” finished his day with five grabs and led the team with 61 receiving yards.

To no surprise, Penn State forced the ball to Jahan Dotson on multiple occasions. Clifford and Roberson both tried deep shots to the stud wideout, but both resulted in interceptions thanks to the strong breeze at Kinnick. The senior was targeted 17 (!) times but finished with eight catches for 41 yards.

Other contributors for Penn State included Parker Washington, who grabbed three catches for 26 yards, plus two catches for Cam Sullivan-Brown.

Tight Ends: D

It was another quiet performance for Penn State’s tight ends Saturday.

Theo Johnson didn’t record a catch, while Brenton Strange had one grab for 15 yards. Strange did make two notable drops, however, on key plays that would’ve helped Roberson and the Nittany Lions pick up first downs. The passes weren’t perfect, but they were plays Penn State needed to make to slide past Iowa.

Along with that, Johnson and Strange have continued to struggle in run-blocking, and that was clearly reflected against the Hawkeyes.

Offensive Line: D

Roberson clearly struggled with noise, so not all of the false start penalties can be blamed on the offensive line, but eight calls just can’t be looked past for the group.

Penn State’s rushing attack struggles are still apparent, and Phil Trautwein’s group certainly has to take the brunt of some of that. Iowa’s defensive line is obviously impressive, but the offensive line woes have been clear for the Nittany Lions over the past few weeks.

The pass protection wasn’t necessarily horrible for the group, as Iowa grabbed just one sack on the night. However, Nittany Lion quarterbacks were hurried on seven occasions.

Defensive Line: A-

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson gashed the Nittany Lion defense on a couple of occasions, but overall the group had another strong performance at Kinnick Stadium.

Spencer Petras was sacked on three occasions, hurried six times, and Penn State defensive linemen totaled six tackles for loss. The group was clearly gassed towards the end, mainly considering Iowa was dominating time of possession, but it’s tough to blame them for a couple of big-time rushes — they were truly few and far between.

Even without PJ Mustipher, other stars stepped up in front. Arnold “AK” Ebiketie paced the effort with nine tackles — including 3.5 for a loss — and even had a sack. Jesse Luketa once again flashed in his new role on the defensive line, even getting reps in the interior, grabbing six total tackles.

Derrick Tangelo and Nick Tarburton also added two tackles, the first of the pair splitting on a tackle for loss.

Linebackers: A

Penn State obviously lost the game, but we don’t really know how we’re supposed to criticize the linebackers.

Ellis Brooks and Curtis Jacobs were quite literally everywhere for Brent Pry’s defense. The redshirt senior Brooks paced the Nittany Lions with 14 total tackles, while Jacobs was coming off the edge with fire all game. He had five total tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hurry throughout his impressive afternoon. Brandon Smith also had five tackles on the afternoon.

The Nittany Lions’ defense certainly had a few breakdowns down the stretch against the Hawkeyes, but those issues weren’t on the linebacking core’s end.

Secondary: B+

Penn State’s secondary largely did its job against the Hawkeyes, but a couple of late-game breakdowns put this group in the B-range.

Spencer Petras was held to 195 yards through the air, but he made the throws he needed down the stretch. The Nittany Lions allowed two scores through the air to Petras, including the eventual game-winner on what seemed to be a miscommunication on a play-action pass.

To not much surprise, Jaquan Brisker was the leader for the Nittany Lions’ defensive backs. The senior had nine total tackles, broke up a pass, and grabbed Penn State’s sole interception of the night. Joey Porter Jr. also had a pass breakup, but the redshirt sophomore did have a missed opportunity when he bobbled what would’ve been a huge interception late in the fourth quarter.

It was a strong day for the majority of Penn State’s defensive backs, including Ji’Ayir Brown and even Daequan Hardy, but you just can’t overlook the missed coverages at the game’s final moments.

Special Teams: A

Jordan Stout balled out yet again, ladies and gentlemen. Iowa punter Tory Taylor had himself a day, but Stout can’t be overlooked, either.

The redshirt senior averaged 50.4 yards on five punt attempts and pinned the Hawkeyes inside their own 20 on two occasions. Stout also nailed a couple of clutch punts for the Nittany Lions when they were backed up to their own goal line. He also nailed both of his field-goal attempts from 32 and 44 yards and continued to bomb touchbacks with ease.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. 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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