Iowa defense remains stout during loss

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Oct. 6, 2007

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Even though enough points weren’t there, the message was: Don’t count Iowa out. That goes for the Hawkeye offense, which assembled a fierce comeback before falling to Penn State 27-7 this afternoon before nearly 109,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.

Iowa again did a masterful job protected the ball and won the turnover battle, 3-0. There were several more Hawkeye highlights — forced fumbles by Mike Humpal and Mitch King, a 58-yard punt by Ryan Donahue, interceptions by Brett Greenwood and Charles Godfrey; quarterback pressures by Kenny Iwebema and Chad Geary; two sacks by King; and a fiery quarterback who refuses to quit while he grows before the eyes of Iowa fans.

“We did some things well today,” Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Our guys came out ready to play and we’re just going to have to keep working through things offensively.”

Penn State improved to 4-2 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten; Iowa is 2-4, 0-3. Iowa had won five in a row and six of the last seven against the Nittany Lions. The Hawkeyes managed to make a game out of it, despite being out-gained 489 to 194, converting 18 fewer first downs (26 to 8) and having more than a 12-minute disadvantage in possession time.

From Iowa’s perspective, Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli chose a poor time to settle into a comfort zone. Morelli closed his ears to an occasionally disapproving home crowd and completed 18 of 31 passes for 233 yards and a long of 37. He threw two interceptions and was sacked twice. His counterpart, Iowa’s Jake Christensen, completed 16 of 29 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked five times. In the fourth period, Christensen completed 9 of 16 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.

“If we catch a spark, sooner or later it’s going to pop. We just have to keep pressing forward. Our guys never quit.”
Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz

“We have to find a way to muster more offense,” Ferentz said. “We have to move the football and score some points, but that will come. There’s no magic way to get this thing done.”

On defense, Humpal turned in another outstanding day, recording a team-high 12 tackles with a forced fumble.

“We went out there and wanted to keep fighting and not give up,” Humpal said. “Coach (Norm) Parker wanted us to keep chipping away and then let the game take care of itself.”

Matt Kroul also recorded double-digit tackles with 10, followed by Adam Shada and King with seven apiece.

Shada set the tone on the Nittany Lion’s first drive of the game. He had a pass breakup on Penn State receiver Derrick Williams on the first play, defended another against Deon Butler two plays later and recovered a fumble that gave the Hawkeyes possession at their own 39 on the sixth play of the game. The turnover came on first down from the Iowa 41 when Penn State’s Rodney Kinlaw had the ball jarred loose by Humpal and Shada recovered.

As expected in a field position battle, special teams played a pivotal role. A punt return helped the Nittany Lions put the game’s first points on the board. Donahue kicked out of his own end zone early in the second period. Williams returned from the Penn State 48 and took it to Iowa’s 34. The Nittany Lions put the ball in the hands of Evan Royster, who rushed seven straight times. On the sixth rush of the series, Royster neared the end zone when Humpal pulled the ball backwards, reversing what was originally ruled a touchdown. Prior to the next play, Penn State’s Mickey Shuler was whistled for illegal procedure sending the ball went back to the Hawkeye 7. On third-and-goal, with Iwebema bringing back-side pressure on Morelli, Shada nearly secured his second turnover. Shada deflected a pass in the right corner of the end zone intended for Williams. Williams, who turned into a defender and pulled Shada down before the Hawkeye had possession, saved the moment for Penn State, which then opened the scoring with a 24-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly with 9-minutes, 59-seconds left before halftime.

After a three-and-out by Iowa, the Iowa defense proved once again that it has one of the premiere front-fours in the nation by bottling Royster and sacking Morelli. On third-and-9, King blind-sided Morelli, dropping him for a loss of seven yards. That led to the best starting field position of the game for the Hawkeyes at their own 42. A procedure penalty moved the ball to the 37, but a 5-yard run by Albert Young and a 9-yard completion from Christensen to Trey Stross gave Iowa third-and-1 from just inside Nittany Lion territory. Christensen rolled out of the pocket and tried to run for the first down, but was stopped short at midfield.

Morelli came up big on the next two Penn State scoring possessions. He marched the Nittany Lions to a 10-0 lead by connecting on big pass plays over the top of the Iowa defense. Williams hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass three plays after a wide-open Chris Bell dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone.

Penn State took additional momentum into the locker room at halftime when it drove from its own 20 and Kelly converted a career-long 53-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Nittany Lions a 13-0 edge.

A career-long 58-yard punt by Donahue pinned Penn State back to its 10 as the Nittany Lions began the third period. Morelli converted two third-down passes and Kinlaw capped a 12-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run, putting the Hawkeyes in a 20-0 hole at the 8:36 mark.

An interception by Greenwood at the Iowa 14 at the beginning of the fourth period jump-started the Hawkeyes and allowed Christensen to show off his talent and leadership ability. Christensen connected on consecutive pass attempts to Stross (33 yards) and James Cleveland (21 yards) and Iowa was recharged and threatening. After an incompletion, Christensen completed a 9-yard toss to Paul Chaney Jr., rushed five yards for a first down and completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Stross with 12:47 remaining, making the score 20-7.

Penn State, realizing that the Hawkeyes were within comeback range, proceeded to clock-chewing mode and featured a steady dose of Kinlaw runs. Looking at third-and-short, Morelli made a rare second-half blunder. He was in the grasp of Geary, but instead of eating the ball for a sack, he heaved it away and it resulted in the fourth interception of the season for Godfrey at the Hawkeye 36.

Iowa couldn’t capitalize on the second of its two consecutive interceptions and the Nittany Lions again tried to milk the clock with their running game. The Hawkeyes got the ball back at their own 16 with 5:29 remaining. The drive was slowed by two false start penalties and ended inches shy of a first down when Young was wrestled down by three Nittany Lion defenders after a Christensen completion.

Kinlaw left the Iowa sideline with long faces by icing the victory with a 23-yard touchdown run with 2:15 remaining, making the final 27-7.

“If we catch a spark, sooner or later it’s going to pop,” Ferentz said. “We just have to keep pressing forward. Our guys never quit.”

Hawkeye special teams supplied a boost. Donahue punted 11 times for a 45.2-yard average (four inside the 20) and Iowa averaged 28.4 yards on five kickoff returns. Chaney led the team with 75 all-purpose yards. Stross hauled in a touchdown reception for the second consecutive game and totaled five catches for 56 yards against the Nittany Lions.

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