By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — One play stood between the University of Iowa football team knocking off fourth-ranked Penn State on Saturday night inside Kinnick Stadium.
The Nittany Lions were down to their final play, trailing 19-15 with four seconds left in the contest. On fourth and goal from the 7, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorely connected with Juwan Johnson for the game-winning touchdown pass as time expired to send the Nittany Lions to a 21-19 victory over the upset-minded Hawkeyes.
Iowa grabbed the 19-15 lead — its first of the game — on a 35-yard touchdown run by senior Akrum Wadley with 1:42 remaining. The Nittany Lions’ final drive started from their own 20.
Penn State converted a fourth-and-2 from its own 40 when McSorely hit Saeed Blacknall for a 6-yard gain and first down. After McSorely scrambled for 12 yards into Iowa territory, he completed passes of 18 and 14 yards to the 10.
After a 3-yard completion on first down, Iowa forced a pair of incompletions to set up a fourth-and-goal. Following a timeout, Johnson faked to the outside before cutting in to catch the game-winning touchdown to send the Nittany Lions to a 4-0 record this season.
Penn State finished with 579 yards of total offense and All-American running back Saquon Barkley was a human highlight package, finishing with 358 all-purpose yards. He had 28 rushes for 211 yards, caught 12 passes for 94 yards, and had three kick returns for 53 yards.
McSorely was 31-of-48 for 284 yards and one touchdown — the game-winner.
The Hawkeye offense had 273 yards in the contest. Sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley was 13-of-22 for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and Wadley accounted for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He had 80 yards rushing on 19 attempts and four receptions for 75 yards.
Following a 70-yard touchdown pass to Akrum Wadley, Penn State took over at its own 21-yard line with 10:02 left. The Nittany Lions rode Barkley down the field as the running back had 10 touches on a 16-play, 75-yard drive.
After the drive stalled, Penn State sent kicker Tyler Davis in for a 31-yard field goal attempt. It came away empty when Iowa sophomore defensive end Anthony Nelson blocked the attempt to turn the momentum in Iowa’s favor.
The Hawkeyes followed with a quick strike attack, needing just one minute and three plays to cover 80 yards. It started with a Penn State pass interference penalty before Stanley connected with Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Matt VandeBerg for 8 and 22 yards to the Nittany Lion 35. Then Wadley broke free for a 35-yard touchdown run on a draw to give the Hawkeyes their first lead.
The problem; there was still 1:42 left in the contest.
WHEN IT WAS OVER
The 66,205 fans in attendance were on the edge of their seats until the 211th minute of Saturday’s primetime showdown. A stop on fourth-and-goal would have sent the Hawkeyes to their second straight victory over a top-five foe and sent the Kinnick crowd into hysteria.
Instead, the stadium was stunned when Johnson broke free for the game-winning touchdown. It broke Iowa’s streak of four straight night game victories in Kinnick Stadium and dropped the Hawkeyes’ record to 3-1.
Wadley took a little while to get going, but the senior running back displayed his big play ability. Wadley had a career-long 70-yard touchdown reception, weaving in-and-out of Penn State defenders to cut Iowa’s deficit to 15-13 with 10:02 left in the fourth quarter.
The New Jersey native also capped Iowa’s go-ahead drive with a 35-yard touchdown run. He took a handoff on a draw play and bounced it to the outside for the score. He finished with 155 yards — 80 coming on 19 attempts and 75 yards coming on four receptions.
Senior Josey Jewell was all over the field, tying career highs with 16 tackles, including 11 solo stops. The 16 stops were a game high. The linebacker had a career-best three tackles for loss, two pass breakups and a first-half interception — the fifth of his career. He moved into 12th place on Iowa’s career tackles list with 345.
Sophomore Anthony Nelson was disruptive from his defensive end position. The Waukee, Iowa, native finished with five tackles, a career-best 2.5 sacks, two pass break-ups, and a quarterback hurry. He blocked a fourth quarter Penn State field goal, leaving the Nittany Lions nothing to show following a 16-play, 75-yard drive.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Penn State out-gained the Hawkeyes, 219-54, in the first half, but trailed 7-5. The Nittany Lions got a 19-yard first-quarter field goal from Tyler Davis and stopped Wadley for a 3-yard loss and a safety in the second quarter to take a 5-0 lead.
- Iowa forced the game’s first turnover late in the first half when Sam Brincks applied pressure on McSorely, forcing him into an errant pass that landed in Josey Jewell’s hands for an interception. He returned the pick 33 yards to the Penn State 21. On the next play, Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley turned around Penn State’s Troy Apke before making a leaping 21-yard touchdown reception to give Iowa a 7-5 lead.
- The Nittany Lions regained the advantage with scoring drives on their first two second-half possessions. Penn State took the lead on a 21-yard Davis field goal before scoring on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 15-7 lead.
- Defensive back Amani Hooker had 13 tackles in his first career start, while sophomore Manny Rugamba had a career-high nine tackles.
- Quarterback Nate Stanley threw two touchdowns today. He has thrown 12 touchdowns since being intercepted on his third pass attempt of the season.
- Freshman A.J. Epenesa forced a fumble in the third quarter, the first of his career. Epenesa also had a sack (5 yards).
- Punter Colton Rastetter punted seven times for 288 yards (41.1). He had two punts of 50-plus yards, including a career long 53 yarder.
- Iowa ran one play in Penn State territory in the first half (21-yard touchdown reception by Nick Easley). Iowa had 219 yards of offense in the second half. Iowa had 54 yards of offense in the first half.
- Iowa had three scoring drives — all touchdowns. The three drives combined for seven plays in 2:36 (1-21-0:06 | 3-74-1:30 | 3-80-1:00).
- The Iowa defense was on the field for 19:30 in the first half, and allowed just three points. It was the first time this season Penn State did not score a touchdown in the first half. Penn State held a 39:39-20:21 advantage in time of possession. Iowa entered the game averaging 35:35 in TOP, sixth in the country.
- Iowa had won five straight Big Ten openers. Before tonight, its last conference opening loss was in 2011 at Penn State (13-3).
- Iowa has hosted 15 night games in Kinnick Stadium’s history, holding a 10-5 record in those contests. The Hawkeyes had won four straight night games in Kinnick Stadium prior to tonight.
QUOTING IOWA HEAD COACH KIRK FERENTZ
“We’re all disappointed with the outcome of the game tonight, but I think I speak on behalf of the entire coaching staff, just incredibly proud of the effort and the toughness our guys played with. We told them at the beginning of the week they’re going to have to compete hard and play with tremendous effort and hustle every snap, and that’s what the team did tonight. We played a really good football team.
“That game is illustrative of what it takes to win in the conference. The Big Ten is a very tough, competitive conference, and tonight is a great illustration of that. It was a competitive game; both teams competed about as hard as you possibly can, and there were a lot of different swings in the game, certainly the last two drives; both teams executed well down the stretch.
“We’re disappointed with the loss; it’s going to hurt for a while, but we’ll move on. This team has had a great attitude and they’ve great character, and we’re going to push forward and get back to work here and flip the page on Monday.”
Click HERE to read the full coach Ferentz transcript.
The Hawkeyes hit the road, traveling to East Lansing to face Michigan State. The game is set to begin at 3 p.m. (CT) and be televised on FOX.